A good idea doesn’t care who has it.

The Igl Family

The Igl Family: Tom, Nancy and Brian

The world of business communications is changing so fast that it’s hard for anyone to keep up. It’s safe to say that the future belongs to the quick-witted, and that perhaps the greatest commodity of the 21st Century is ideas. There are people who get paid to come up with ideas (and I’m lucky enough to be among them), and big brainstorms certainly come easier to some than others. But I believe everyone has some good ideas inside of them.

In future posts, I’ll share some idea generating tips that have worked well for me, but today’s story illustrates how important it is to keep your mind open to good ideas, no matter where they come from.

Tom Igl is a lifelong potato farmer in northern Wisconsin. He enjoyed reasonable success and raised seven kids, one of whom, Brian, has pretty much taken over the farm which started transitioning to organic in 1997. Brian has helped the farm ride the waves of local and organic farming to good success and is always on the lookout for innovations to help them along.

I met Tom and Brian when they wanted to update the packaging of their potatoes from a generic bag to something that might stand out on the shelves of Whole Foods Market. As is my custom, I started quizzing them about their business in order to get any information that might help the packaging become a true reflection of their mission and character.

After about a half hour, Tom rather timidly pulled out a piece of paper with some scribbles of potatoes with faces and hats. “I was once playing around with some characters that I call Spuddies. Maybe they might be useful.”

Brian rolled his eyes and quickly changed the subject, but I couldn’t quite get the Spuddies characters out of my mind. I told them I thought we should explore the idea, and the more I thought about it, the better it looked. Igl potatoes are very good, but if you place them in a bin with potatoes from ten different midwestern farms (which they often do), it would be impossible to tell which were theirs.

By adding whimsical drawings and applying the name Spuddies to the product itself instead of the characters, we were able to create a family friendly brand that stood out from their competitors. With the new packaging, Whole Foods Market and a local organic distributer quickly bought out their entire crop.

More and more companies and organizations are recognizing that the best ideas often come from people outside of the creative teams, and often from their families or their customers, and they’re finding new ways to harness this creative power. The key is understanding that an idea usually has to go through two stages: first it has to be conceived, and then it needs to be applied so that it fits the needs and goals of the product.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the researcher at 3M who spent months developing a new adhesive only to become discouraged that it didn’t hold things together very well at all. Several years later, a co-worker found that a small strip of this seemingly useless adhesive would hold a bookmark in place, and came up with the idea of placing the adhesive along one edge each piece of a stack of tiny sheets of paper. Within a few years, Post-It Notes was one of the best selling office supplies in the country.

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