The Difference Between an Idea and a Concept

In the world of innovation we so often talk about "ideas.”  We try to have as many of them in the front end of the funnel as we can.  We encourage people to give them.  We hold brain-dumping… sorry, brainstorming sessions to break records on how quickly we can get them.

We give them all the attention… all the hype… all the spotlight…

And then we kill them.

It just doesn’t seem right.

People have vested interests in their ideas.  They can be, literally, little "brain children.”

And when they finally get up the courage to share them it is like saying, "I’ll just put this little baby here in the bathwater…”

And so they hear us loud and clear, "Thank you… but we don’t think you’re really all that smart.”

Sure, we don’t say that… but it is what they hear.

We tell them though, "Keep bringing us ideas!  We love them!”

Love to kill them, that is.

But it doesn’t have to be.  They can live on.  Indeed, we really can’t kill them.  Why?


Because an idea is "a formulated thought or opinion.”

Can I take someone else’s thought or opinion from them and kill it? 


I can only reject it.  And that is why people feel rejected when we "kill” their ideas.

In corporations we want to know we are powerful, we want to be able to say, "Yes!  I killed it!  It is dead!  I am the winner!” (OK, maybe not that cynical)

But no one really wins in these scenarios.

What we can reject, without rejection someone’s idea (or them) is a concept.

A concept is an idea placed into a given context to achieve a desired outcome or outcomes.
Context is the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs.

We don’t really want to have to go through 1,000 ideas.  We would rather go through 100 concepts.

Consider how things would change if you said to your employees, "Bring us your concepts!”  instead of "Bring us your ideas.”

Things might just move faster.

And the traditional "ideation” activities could be a lot faster and a lot more focused if the responsibility of the one asking for input had to first give people the context into which they would be applied.

How often have we heard people say, "I gave them that idea ten years ago and they did nothing with it!”
They feel like their idea was killed… but they still hold the formulate thought or opinion, so it really never did die.  If they understood that the interrelated conditions had changed, making their idea more viable in the new context… they might get a little motivated.

And if they are so sure that their idea is a good one… they will seek to understand the context that they are in… or… maybe even seek to describe the ideal context for their concept to work in, and drive the company in a new direction.

So here is my challenge… stop asking for ideas.  Ask for concepts.



David Flynn
David Flynn
Hello Mike. This concept is terrific. I think a concept comes from an idea when the idea maker does just a little more with it like an example or a process on how it might be done. Then they present that process using the idea. Then it is more real to the "listener - killer" and so overcomes the problem of a service whereby noone owns a service like they do a physical product. If it seems more real to the listener they often are more emthusuastic about it. What do you think?
Monday, February 27, 2012
Maxine Horn
Maxine Horn
Thank you Mike - you express exactly what we have been saying for years - and that is that a differentiation between 'ideas' (notional) and articulated (holistic) concepts in context needs to be understood and valued.
It is a nonsense to us that the continued insistence that 'no' ideas have value until the people with a different skills set from the Creator and or the money has commercialised.

This is one of the core reasons we concieved of, developed and launched Creative Barcode - which seeks to draw that distinction, authenticate, protect and enable safe-disclosure to third parties best place to commercialise whether co-creation, IP buy-out, collaboration, funding or other forms of deal.

All innovation is collaborative on the basis that no product, service, process, technology, material ever came to market without the collaborative expertise of several parties - irrespective of whether the innovation was incremental, evolutionary, revolutionary or disruptive.
So the power play for the clever dick sake of it is a barrier to innovation not an enabler and the powerful people with the jobs, infrastructure, resources and money in place should understand that they are smarter if they support concepts rather than kill off ideas.

If indeed they were that smart they would have developed the concept themselves would they not?

And more than 80% of innovation is not subject to patent - so unless people listen to and support each other rather than try to out-smart each other then they will restrict innovation and miss out on great commercial opportunity to the ultimate benefit (in most instances) of the consumer

Thanks for starting this article - and I hope it gets read and understood by those that most need to read and understand it
Monday, February 27, 2012
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