Posted by: kevinliebl | June 7, 2010

Can’t Find a New Idea? Reuse an Old One…

Karate Kid, A-Team

The Karate Kid and A-Team Remakes

Sometimes we all feel “stuck in the mud”.  The creative juices aren’t flowing and the new ideas just don’t seem to emerge.  The harder you try to come up with a solution, the more difficult it is to find one.

I have found that there are two techniques that can help a great deal when I am in this situation.  First, break the problem into smaller problems.  If you are planning a large project, break it into smaller tasks.  This always seems to make the project more manageable.  If you are developing a company-wide initiative, focus on an individual department first.  If you are planning a trade show, work on a single activity.  If you are looking for a new job, find a single activity that needs emphasis and accomplish that single goal.  The smaller task is by definition much easer and the sense of accomplishment helps you move onto the other challenges.  You may feel that you have already zeroed in on a discrete task.  This may be true, but I have always found that tasks can be broken down further.

Secondly, stop trying to identify a new solution and give yourself permission to use an old one.  There is nothing wrong with applying a “tried and true” solution.  In this case, we can learn from the movie industry.  Screenwriters are well known (and often criticized) for reaching back 10-20 years and remaking old movies.  The 2010 versions of “The Karate Kid or “The A-Team may not create home runs, but they will likely be singles or doubles.  There seems to be a stigma associated with re-using old material, whether it is a movie script or a project plan.  Many people fear that they will be criticized for lacking creativity and/or stealing other’s work.  In some cases this may be true.  However, if done properly, it will simply move your project forward and bring you closer to your goal.

Years ago I was the VP of Marketing for a software company.  The VP of Sales and I were trying to come up with a way of building loyalty in the reseller channel.  We had been in the conference room brainstorming ideas for well over an hour and had simply hit a wall.  All we could come up with was a simple awards program.  It had been done many times before and we couldn’t think of anything creative to differentiate the program.  I finally said, “Fine!  Let’s do it anyway”.  The reason everyone does it, is that it works.  We decided to launch a simple reward program and it was mildly successful.  However, over time, we incrementally improved on it and turned it into one of the best in the industry.  Our channel partners loved the program and we built tremendous loyalty – meeting our original goal.  The lesson learned was that we simply needed to keep moving forward.

It is far better to move forward with a marginal solution than to continue to be stuck in the mud.  Over time you can improve the program, but you can’t build momentum if you aren’t moving forward.  Sometimes you may get lucky and be able to put a new spin on an old idea and actually hit a home run.  Remember, it is always best to keep moving than to get stuck in the mud.  To borrow my son’s school motto, “Siempre Adelante – Always Moving Forward”.


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  1. Hi Kevin:

    I posted your thoughts on FB. Always good to hear from my UCI connects. Reflective thought and contingency planning did a nose dive over the past 2-decades or so. I feel fortunate merely to have survived the flurry of mass hysteria and compartmentalization.

    Hitting a single, depending on the context, is a win.

    Fond regards, mary anne

  2. Originality definitely is tough, but imitation may actually be a great source for new ideas or incremental movements forward. Siempre Adelante, I like that…beats out a lot of those fluffy corporate mission statements. Thanks to your kid’s school for that one, Kevin. I’ll put it to good use.

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