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Your Important Big Idea

Beneath the Cover, writing a book, bestselling books, big ideaIn our last post, we looked at how bestselling books must appeal to each of the four main personality types – competitive, humanistic, methodical and spontaneous, by providing a big idea (for the competitive personality), hope (for humanistic people), nuts and bolts (for those who are methodical_ and entertainment (for those who are spontaneous). All must be present – and there’s a lot of crossover.

What’s your Big Idea?

Do you have a big idea? Is it really a big idea? How do you know it?

Advertising legend George Lois, the art director, designer, and author, is known for many distinctive covers he designed for Esquire magazine between 1963 and 1972, in which he was able to visually capture something particularly telling in contemporary culture.

But he is also known for his catchy advertising campaigns. Among them are the campaign for now-shuttered Braniff International Airways, “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” and the ubiquitous catchphrase for the station that launched the age of video clips, “I Want My MTV.” He also named that little frozen food product “Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine” is one of the definers of a Big Idea (he even founded a museum with that name).

Lois says that a Big Idea is one that:

  • Explains and illuminates through powerful and succinct images and concepts
  • Provides a surprising solution to a communication problem, expressed through vivid imagery
  • Is seemingly outrageous, or at least counterintuitive
  • Organically combines the imagery to the message .

Now this list isn’t definitive for authors. You’re writing a book, not crafting a 30-second commercial. But the bigger the idea, the better off you’ll be.

Let’s take the Big Idea of the book Made to Stick as an example. Here’s one of its introductory statements:

Urban Legends are all inherently memorable and repeatable, which is why they’re told and retold and spread. We’ve cracked the code on what makes them memorable and repeatable – i.e., sticky – and we’re going to teach you to make your business messaging just as sticky and persuasive. All you have to remember is the SUCCESs acronym: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories.”

Now that’s a Big Idea.

The idea of studying urban legends for help with business communication seems outrageous and even counterintuitive. But it creates a vivid mental image: Cracking the code on what makes urban legends go viral and, to borrow from the image of a mad scientist, genetically swapping what makes those legends work into business communication. This also combines the image to the idea and then goes on to use its acronym of the SUCCESs model to explain and illuminate in a powerful way.

So what’s your Big Idea?

Chances are you already have one, but you haven’t REFINED it.

We’ll explore this idea further in our next post.

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