What's the big idea?

I’m on this whole plan to consolidate and concentrate my value… if that doesn’t feel too much like a collection of unconnected words. It’s a big hairy task and one that feels pretty daunting.

If you’ve been aware of me for a while, you might know that I like to experiment: try a project for a bit, see how it fits, and then move on. Most commonly I do that with podcasts, but I’ve started blogs, directories, mini web-apps, all sorts… I’m always just trying to find what sticks, and then put my weight behind that.

Podiant is one such thing, but I’m not a man to put all his eggs in one basket, hence thinking more long-term about what comes next. Again, this is not what comes after Podiant goes away, but as Podiant carves out its own arse groove in the industry sofa, I’m thinking about where I can next make a dent or kick up some dust.

In the past, thinking like this has led to some sort of low-grade depression, as I’ve not been able to find the beginning of the thread that leads me to the end. So often, I can see the destination, but can’t figure out how to even start getting there, because the bit of thread I need to pull is just out of reach.

On Friday, I feel like I started inching my way closer to that bit of thread. I don’t want to talk about it yet, as Twitch streamer and podcaster Justin Robert Young says, a great way to ensure a project doesn’t happen is to tell everyone about it (your mileage may vary, and that’s not a direct quote because podcasts are hard to quote).

But suffice it to say, it starts with a big idea: a concept around which you can build more stuff. A mini-movement of sorts, if you will. For Merlin Mann, this was “inbox zero”. For Seth Godin it might be “tribes”, but I’m so old I remember reading Seth’s writing around pachinko machines and permission marketing. For Cal Newport it’s “deep work”, you get the idea.

My guess is you need to start with one, but you can have more, as long as the idea is good. And I think it has to be more than a brand: it has to be a single concept, approach, umbrella or other unifying concept that helps tie other things together. Once you have that, you have a book, a TEDx talk, maybe a podcast…

So how do you come up with one of these big ideas?

I suspect it’s the same way anyone who actually knows what they’re talking about would suggest… you have to open yourself up and give yourself time and space. I’d been letting things percolate for a while, enjoying a Godin audiobook and then fairly quickly out of nowhere, an idea started to form. I tend to think in fairly fully-formed brands — I’m not a brand or marketing guy, but I sort of see my ideas in that way sometimes, which is why it’s often quite so easy to chase the new shiny — and it was one of those moments where the thing nearly wrote itself.

My industry has a lot of thirsty people in it, and I think we tend to look for shortcuts. And the bummer is I don’t think there is one. Once you have the idea, there are tips, tricks and hacks to take concepts, break them down, repurpose bits and so on, but I think the best way to find new ideas is to stop sending and start receiving, but with a genuine curiosity and the willingness to learn, rather than go on an expedition.

This one’s a bit ramble but I hope there’s something to take away from it. Having that core concept — there might even be a clever name for it I haven’t yet been pointed to — that your whole content or marketing strategy can pivot around can be impactful. It’s also an opportunity for generosity, given that ideas like to be shared.

It would, I think, be a mistake to think of that big idea as the end product. At least it would for me. But that doesn’t mean I view it as a cynical first step to getting what I want. I’m genuinely excited by what I hope to communicate, which is borne out of knowledge and experience I’m uniquely placed to take in, but viewing it as the destination would probably lead to disappointment.

OK, that’ll do for now. I’ll see if I can’t pull out something a little less woolly to talk about next week. No promises, mind.