Big, crazy, off-the-wall idea

Seth Godin has a post today about, “I’m not asking your advice because I need help coming up with a tried and true, predictable, safe or proven idea. No, I’ve already tried all of those and they didn’t work. I’m asking your help in finding something creative, untested, unproven, off the wall, risky, fashionable and challenging. Don’t let me down. Don’t hesitate to share your crazy idea… it might just be the one.” (UPDATE: Godin must’ve been slammed with people like me throwing up ideas…and did a humma, humma about his request being hypothetical. The more I think about this though, the more I realize that an open-ended query like this could be amazing and I’d like to see the ideas sent).

I love ideation (and it’s one of my strengths). On many occasions, I’ve been with people around focused brainstorming (i.e., ideation) and if the lights were off, you could see my synapses firing like flashbulbs at a concert. If I’m with other people that have ideation as a skill set or strength, it’s like a couple of people dying of thirst in the desert that see a real oasis. Better get the hell out of our way ’cause we’re heading there for a drink!

OK Seth….here you go…

We all know the hot trend is the participatory culture that has exploded as the world has increasingly become internet-connected. Wikipedia is one excellent manifestation of the collective consciousness of humankind either participating or contributing to this collection of knowledge. Others are MySpace, YouTube and all the other next generation internet products and hosted offerings that have proliferated.

Daniel Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind” summed up why the creative class emerging (in my opinion enabled by all the enabling tools to participate and connect with others via the ‘net) is going to connect dots in new and innovative ways. The collective effort and thought leadership is going to astound even the most optimistic people.

Companies are finally groking that they should enable the collective to help innovative. “It was clear to us that our invent-it-ourselves model was  not capable of sustaining  high levels of top-line growth.” (a case study about how Proctor & Gamble has leveraged and harnessed the collective energy of employees, suppliers and customers is in this Harvard article here).

I could go on-and-on about the trends…but am saving it for an ebook I’ll deliver in this blog soon. Now to the idea…


The best ideas are common property
Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD)

I’ve floated this as a trial balloon by such people as Ward Cunningham, father of the wiki. He liked it but the proof is in the deliverable, heh? Anyway, what if there was an “idea hub” that, like Wikipedia, was setup so that anyone globally could insert problems and participants globally could input solutions? (Although a wiki might not be the perfect technology…the participation aspect by the collective is key….and could be a social promotion (e.g., Digg); participatory news aggregator (e.g., Newsvine) and community forum).

One example of an idea hub use: there is a young man here at the University of Minnesota who has begun a third world country solar lighting initiative. He and I interacted and I pointed him to an article about something similiar that had been done in rural India on which I’d posted in January of this year. So rather than reinvent the entire wheel, he is able to leverage great ideas and solutions already moving forward by others and stand on the shoulders of others. Who else is working on LED/solar lighting solutions that could positively impact people globally? It would sure be great if they all could come together and work collaboratively.

People by the millions are already carving out pieces of need and focusing on solutions…and have done so forever. However, there is so much inefficiency and redundancy in the non-profit space (and if you don’t believe me, just troll Idealist, a directory of 16,000 non-profits around the world) that either coordinating like-minded people tackling problems by creating solutions is one need…and keeping them from reinventing the wheel again-n-again is another.

With this idea hub in place, I could envision:

  • This hub would be an orchestration, collaboration and communication place to focus on ideas that change the world and bring together the interested, the altruistic and the catalysts
  • Companies trolling the solutions postings for ideas to productize (and some would probably try to patent like Nathan Myrhvold…look here and here for more). In any event, it would be an oasis in a desert of creativity that smart companies would drink from
  • Models in place that could compensate “idea creators” in some fashion would provide economic incentives…though it would be best to keep it free of entanglements
  • Sponsorships could be possible for key areas (e.g., GE for lighting; Mercedes for biodiesel or alternative fuels; Flextronics for manufacturing expertise; etc.)
  • Virtual think-tanks and research groups could be formed and/or accelerated with smart people all over the world participating.

I talk to so many people that are acutely aware of how the world is shifting dramatically as economic models move toward non-monetary, non-barter means of value exchange — and this idea hub would be that for knowledge and innovation. Best example of this is open source software which delivers amazing value by those who participate in development…but the value of the open source project itself is proportional to the use of it by the ecosystem of users (great debate raging between Yochai Benkler and Nicholas Carr about this entire matter of altruistic value participation vs. monetary).

In any event, having a place for the collective to jointly work on solutions to problems we all share seems exciting, innovative, WAY TOO GRANDIOSE TO WORK and one of those things that I have a knowing about as the world needs it to be done.

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  1. Mike O on September 18, 2006 at 7:36 am

    Sounds like you might be suggesting a World Wide Web.
    That is a Big, Crazy, Off-the-wall idea.
    Hum… I wonder how it could be accomplished?

  2. Steve Borsch on September 18, 2006 at 8:02 am

    Smart aleck. 😉

    Let’s say you had a great idea to, for example, provide solar lights to rural villages in third world countries (which is being done, by the way). Now go to and find the organization that is handling/managing initiatives that are focused on this need.

    If you’re not as overwhelmed with that exercise as you are by going to Google (and looking at the entire WWW) and typing in “ideas for change” — and seeing 167,000.000 results — then help me understand how the efforts in the world focused on that one singular idea (solar lighting for third world countries) can be brought together.

    Progress is doing things better, cheaper and easier. Wringing inefficiencies out of systems, processes and methods is where innovation lies. People have ideas simultaneously all over the world BUT they’re each doing their own thing (there are 16,000 non-profits globally tracked by Idealist). Is that efficient? No. Is there redundant effort? Yep. Is it a “boil the ocean” scheme? Yep.

    That’s what the idea was all about. What’s yours Mike?

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.