The Big-Idea Man
By David Mantey, Editor, PD&D
He was an elusive character. He sat in a walled throne amongst the cubed peasants, door always locked, stern look and furrowed brow to anyone who ever dare enter. He was the Big-Idea Man.
The Big-Idea Man had no real responsibilities or accountabilities. His lone role was to pluck a finely polished light bulb from his thought cloud and hand it down to a hand-picked champion. Whether or not the champion followed through and the idea came to fully monetized, synergized, and energized fruition was no bother to this man. He was already onto bigger and better ideas.
While the Big-Idea Man has become easy to strike through on budgets during a down economy, even the big idea itself has come under scrutiny because the industry’s competitive landscape no longer lends itself to the plodding and planning associated with big idea execution.
Aside from Apple’s slow bid to become one of four countries to one day own and rule the world — divvying up the land mass with Google and two other corporations currently lurking in the shadows — most companies seem to load the cannon with bowtie pasta, aim for the closest wall, and see what sticks.
As you know, I’m no fan of the meeting. To sit around a table with a quartet of devil’s advocates certainly isn’t the way to go. Nobody’s armor is strong enough to sustain such an educated insulter onslaught — especially as each designer believes his/her baby is the company’s next cash cow.
Can we meet in the middle with a bit of careful planning? Develop a few of the ideas so the stain on the wall doesn’t take up as much real estate, yet have the audacity to jump in when the brainstorming session has become redundant and petty.
The current environment is wrought with new product releases that skyrocket with instant fanfare only to suffer a massive setback or recall as a result of an inexplicable oversight (cough, throat clear, iPhone 4 antenna debacle). Or the product dies in a fiery bargain heap in the clearance aisle for any number of reasons — if it comes out of the gate at all.
It is possible for such a process to exist without spiraling out of control in each infinite axis. However, Duke Nukem has become the poster alien annihilator for the most epic failure in a never-ending attempt to “get it perfect” when the highly anticipated video game sequel became nothing more than a victim of unchecked feature creep. Duke and his father, George Broussard, the man who spent 12 years developing Duke Nukem Forever before finally sounding the retreat (i.e. he ran out of cash), lacked an equivalent voice of reason.
Without a partner to stand up, push Broussard’s big idea out the door, and begin work on a follow-up, he became a mad scientist. Even Victor Frankenstein took a moment away from tinkering to fire up his monster and see if it had any legs.
What’s the big idea? Is it the lone project with obsessive-compulsive designers and a never-ending well of resources; or is it the one product out of a hundred that eked out atop of the sausage race? Typically, the winner of such footraces rarely has a subsequent success. It’s like expecting a lottery winner to cash in twice. I suppose that is the American way, create champions only so the subsequent failures can be well-documented, packaged, and resold to birth another victim-in-waiting.
We have smart phone wars, tablet wars, flat-screen TV wars … competition supposedly begets greater functionality at a lower price point, but such is not the case when each cannon is stuffed hard and fast before it is fired onto the market in an effort to be the first one out of the door. In this race, no one wins.
Nearly a decade ago, I stood in his office, an aspiring champion, and lay what I believed to be a 100-watt bulb before the Big-Idea Man. He listened and scoffed, “Son, I don’t believe you know who you’re talking to. If you don’t mind, I’ll let you know what’s best for this company.” Put in my place; I was nothing more than a silly Trix rabbit hungry for a bowl of sugary, fruit-shaped oats meant only for kids.
I found out then that this world is full of big-idea guys. Why not be unique and be the one who gets the job done?
Care to lament over your own run-ins with the Big-Idea Man and/or Woman? Fire at will to firstname.lastname@example.org.