What’s the big idea about Lateral thinking?

Excerpts based on Post by Mark Pollard “The big idea versus small idea debate is dumb. Here’s why.”


Linear thinking: takes a topic and breaks it into its natural attributes – it follows one line of thinking (hence, linear).

E.g. Let’s take tennis. Tennis – tennis ball – tennis racquet – tennis court – Wimbledon – grass – Nadal – ball boys. And so on. And let’s now throw in ballet. Ballet – ballerina – men in tights – Nutcracker – classical music.

Lateral thinking: simply moves across the lines – from one side to the other – with the output being an idea, a novel concept.

E.g. Perhaps we should create a tennis ballet? What about a new tennis serve called the Nutcracker? What about men playing tennis in tights – perhaps it would help them jump higher? What about a classical music tennis tournament?

Now, they wouldn’t all be good – as I’ve demonstrated – but they’d actually be ideas.

Creativity: it’s the bringing together of things that don’t normally exist together in a way that makes better, more useful sense. An idea is the output of this act.


Is it a big idea ?- Translations – “It’s time we got beyond thinking about making one TV spot that runs for months, possibly years, and create stuff frequently that keeps people aware, interested and buying from our clients.”

A big idea: A platform (based on genuine insights) that has the legs to stimulate a myriad of executional directions

Case Study – brand Baby Bjorn (baby carriers)

Insights: The world treats men who wears babies better (grandmas give you compliments, air stewards slip you free things they’re not supposed to, cafes give you bonus banana bread, people let you cut in line)

– How baby-carrying is the man’s job in many (not all) relationships and how many do it with pride reserved for very few things in their lives, how women physically respond to a baby-carrying man

– Research: a certain type of male ape that carries its young around to show the other male apes they’re not worth messing with, and then tried to mesh these sorts of insights into brand or product truths, out will pop ideas.

Put these all in the strategy….

The big idea in the strategy: to position Baby Bjorn as a new dad’s perk magnet (12 months of trick or treat every day)?

Executional Tangents: So, if the man is either the buyer or researcher of Baby Bjorn, perhaps the brand decides to create a content-driven community and utility to help men extract extra benefits from the world – the inside track on new-dad perks: which companies ‘put out’, what you can get and how to make the plays.

Do you think someone could write an interesting TV ad off this? Do you think you could come up with witty video content at least once a month with this? What about a daily tweet? What about a weekly blog post? An event? A book? An app?

What if the TV ad followed a man doing this around the world for 12 months to see what would happen? What if it was interesting enough to turn into a documentary? Which one of these ideas is big and which one of these ideas is small? Exactly. Wrong question. We should simply be asking, is any of this any good?


The role of the planner is about the un-obvious made poetic and compelling.

Second, ideas (big and small) should be riddled into everything. A new twist, a new turn can be added to all executional elements – every TV spot, every blog headline, every re-Tweet.

Finally, you’d rarely ask for one idea from the creative process so why just put one idea into it? The more I do this job, the less I believe in the purity of one strategy: execution makes strategy live or die. More rapid and earlier exploration of multiple strategies and creative ideas together is something worth exploring.


The big idea versus small idea debate is not worth having. It’s hung around for a few years now but I truly hope it disappears so we can focus on the power of great thinking – and making it happen as often as possible.

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