HAVE A GREAT IDEA THIS SUMMER
HAVE A GREAT IDEA THIS SUMMER WITH TIPS FROM THE BEST [EXCERPT]
… Geoff Vuleta, chief executive of New York-based innovation outsourcing company Fahrenheit 212…[is] a South Island boy who’s become a bit of a legend in the ideas world after moving to the Big Apple, getting some uber-corporations on Fahrenheit’s client list (Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Hershey, Adidas and Gucci among others), and some mega coverage in magazines like Fortune, Esquire, Forbes, and, of course, Idealog.
Fahrenheit’s team dreams up what Fortune called “big, risky” solutions to these global companies’ brand or category problems, then executes those plans, producing workable, saleable products. A cunning twist in these troubled financial times is Fahrenheit’s business model: the company earns its pay cheque commensurate with the market success of its idea. So, although it charges big bucks (US $1.5 million isn’t unusual), typically two-thirds of its revenue is dependent on the new products reaching key milestones.
This unique ‘success fee’ model came from Vuleta himself (“The best idea I’ve ever had”). But the key to Fahrenheit’s achievements is not Vuleta or his top team having all the ideas, he says. Instead, the boss estimates his staffers need to come up with an average of six great, workable ideas each a year (350 in total for the company) on anything from sex aids to cat litter, credit cards to home improvements.
And these aren’t the product of out-of-the-office jaunts, Vuleta says. “Ninety-nine percent of the stuff we do is done here.”
And it isn’t a product of foosball. “There are no toys to play with. These Gen Y kids are restless, but they aren’t clamouring for games. Pillow fights and balloon races are for people that don’t know how to come up with ideas.”
First, Vuleta says, it’s the very diversity of the company’s client base that produces the creativity. When you’ve got projects about high-tech vending machine screens, rice snacks, soft drink packaging for Bangladesh and incontinence pads all buzzing around in your brain, something interesting is sure to emerge. “The intersections between disparate things create an ability to see things you couldn’t see before… the extreme difference of the work you are doing at one time is totally disruptive and totally stimulating.”
Also important for Fahrenheit 212 is the close mix of ‘the money’ (the company’s financial experts) and ‘the magic’ (the creative people) on each project, Vuleta says. Ideas come from “disconnections and collisions of stuff”.
And talking about your work all the time is key too. It’s even better, of course, if you have what Fortune has described as Fahrenheit’s “boho-chic Manhattan loft”, full of glass walls and bright-eyed, jeans-wearing twentysomething employees. “Right now I can see four different groups of people just talking about different projects. The more people talk about stuff out loud, the more it allows people to think in jazz, not in a straight line.” (Thinking in jazz is a popular phrase in creative circles these days. The theory is that in the same way jazz music isn’t fixed but evolves, so ideas should emerge and develop throughout the creative process.)
Another trick à la Vuleta is not to give yourself too much time, as time creates doubt and fear. “Set tight deadlines, force yourself to do it faster. You get scared if you have too much time.”
The best ideas people, Vuleta believes, are generalists, rather than specialists. But once they start on a project they have to surround themselves with as many different perspectives on the subject as they can. “If I need to crack an idea, I get online and I read as many points of view as I can, points of view that are different from each other and probably not my own.”
Another characteristic of great ideas people is being able to cope with imperfection. “You want people who are setting out to be great, not setting out to be right. Because you need to be comfortable dealing with things where there’s no right answer.”
Learning his ideas don’t have to be perfect before he tells people about them has been a huge change in his thinking about innovation since he came to New York, Vuleta says, adding that Larry Ellison, the dominant figure behind US software giant Oracle, has never put out a perfect piece of software in his life, Vuleta says.
“There’s that expression here: ‘Put it on the porch and see if the cat licks it.’ It’s about putting your fledgling ideas out there and seeing how people respond. If you’ve told a few people and no one picks up the idea and builds on it, then you’ve got a dud.”
By Rebekah White