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Sunday, February 18, 2007

RH: Robert's Ideas Paradoxes

From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
Subject: RH: Robert's Ideas Paradoxes
This is the only article in this thread
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Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore
Date: 2004-09-16 21:55:38 PST

PARADOX 1 : Nobody really wants ideas.

Now, this may sound strange or even unbelievable but it's true and can be explained by deeprooted human nature. Human nature is irrational and largely emotional. It is almost superhuman to be entirely logical and rational and driven by clearsighted self-interest. This explains why there are so many failures in the business world and so few successes.

For example, I once approached the venerable Apple Corporation, the
famous company that invented the pc. I had an idea that would
revolutionise one of the most basic peripherals of the pc system. It
would be a blockbuster idea that would put Apple [again] on the world
map and make it lots of money, some of which I had hoped would come my way as Originator or Ideator, as I coined the word.

But did Apple show any interest?

Not the least. I was put through to the corporate lawyer who informed
me not to give any ideas to the company [to avoid any subsequent claim by me that they had taken the idea from me which they could well be already developing or may develop in the future -- (to date, nothing of the sort or even the faintest glimmer of my idea, which, of course, could mean that my idea is so lousy Apple would never have thought of it -- or, on the other hand, so revolutionary that Apple, despite its background, have not thought of it and maybe never will)].

That lawyer also told me that Apple, as a company policy, does not
accept any ideas from outside the company.


Does not accept ideas from outside.

Once again, I run up against the famous term, the "Not Invented Here"
Syndrome. In other words, the kind of hubris that postures that, if
something is not invented by ourselves, our company, then it's
probably no good or we don't need it, thank you, because we have
better ideas to fry.

I had also tried selling other ideas to Microsoft, again, with no

It gets depressing but it's understandable.

A couple of Japanese companies I approached with yet other ideas also
gave me the cold shoulder, the same corporate lawyer cold shoulder,
because these Japanese companies also adopt American policies instead
of developing Japanese or Asian ones. The rejection letter was
entirely American legalese. Americana runs deep in the corporate

This brings me to my second paradox :

PARADOX 2 : Few can accept ideas in toto.

Also known as :

PARADOX 2 : Most people bastardise ideas when these are from other

Again, I can cite a personal example. I once developed an idea for
Retirement Homes in Johor Baru. See :


As I explained then in the very first article posted on the subject,
it would only work in JB and nowhere else. But did that idea take root and grow into a mighty banyan that could by now be sustaining our low-savings greying folks into a dignified twilight?

No way.

The idea was eventually taken up by the government but bastardised
until it could not work, because, instead of Johor Baru, the locations chosen were, of all places, Australia and even Thailand, then maybe also China [I have not followed events].

Thus, when people have to accept an idea from outside, they tend to
'customise' or 'make it theirs' by bastardising the concept. Often,
this makes the entire idea unworkable but these bastards would never
admit it. They probably have a million and one reasons for doing so.

I had worked 12 years in advertising as a copywriter and have had to
come up with ideas on a daily basis, as part of my job. It is slightly easier in advertising to get your ideas accepted in toto because everyone is supposed to 'do' ideas and it is so commonplace to conceive ideas and implement them that few feel the egoistic need to defend only their own ideas and reject or bastardise other peoples'.

When ad people do ideas on a daily basis, it loses its mystique and
allure and so, little ego is expended in rejecting/defending ideas.
Outside the creative industries, ideas are so rare that when one is
born, all those who are not the mothers immediately try to kill it or
bastardise it.

Thus, in non-creative industries, which means really the rest of the
world, ideas are firstly, rejected if possible, or bastardised, if
rejection is not possible.

This brings me to my third paradox :

PARADOX 3 : The bigger the idea, the bigger the likelihood of

I sometimes think of this in another, equally valid way :

PARADOX 3 : The more brilliant the idea, the more likely it will be

Again, this is deeply rooted in human nature with all its
irrationality and emotionality.

I could put it this way : An idea is good only if it's yours.

Human beings are illogical, irrational and emotional. They seldom act
or even think logically and rationally. This means that human beings
are prey to all sorts of self-delusions and totally lack
self-knowledge. Not understanding himself, and the illogic and
irrationalities that actually drive him, he thinks and acts in warped
manner, often sacrificing his own self-interest in the process. Often
becoming his own worst enemy.

Therefore, big ideas or brilliant ideas seldom make it. I could put a
corollary to this third paradox :

COROLLARY TO 3 : The smaller the idea, the smaller the risk of

Or :

COROLLARY TO 3 : The more mediocre the idea, the better its chances of acceptance. In toto.

This is self-explanatory. When an idea is mediocre, and almost all
ideas in advertising fall into this category, nobody's ego is deflated by accepting it in toto or having to accept it in toto. Usually, the tight deadlines in advertising help in having these mediocre ideas accepted.

Which gives rise to another version of the corollary to 3 :

COROLLARY TO 3 : No superior need feel inferior or stupid by accepting mediocre ideas, so mediocre ideas survive while brilliant ideas are rejected/bastardised.

To put this in another way, everybody wants to have ideas, to be an
Ideas Person, [in caps] because it is extremely flattering to be known as an Ideas Person or a person who is bubbling with ideas. We all want to be creative and even companies that are not creative also call themselves Creative. Thus, the most humiliating experience a superior can experience is to have a subordinate come up with a big or brilliant idea because it immediately puts him on the defensive --
namely, why didn't HE think of it in the first place?

Thus, to propose a brilliant idea or solution to your superior is to
insult him in the deepest way, because it is tantamount to ridiculing
him with, "Why aren't you clever enough to think of this, in the first place?"

This means, as I have found out, that there is no place in the world
for geniuses or ideators. Lots of companies declare that they are
always on the lookout for the 'best and brightest'. This is true only
up to a point. You are fine if you are an ordinary 'best and
brightest'. That is, with a good degree and an impressive resume. But
if you are a true genius, you will not go far. True geniuses are so
rare that there are no established systems to nurture them and to
exploit their unique talents. There are lots of established policies
governing ordinary 'best and brightest' but none for true geniuses.

Thus, if you are a genius, you are better off getting a good degree
then joining a top company and then, keep your genius to yourself and
not shine too much. Since nobody above you is a genius like yourself,
you only annoy them with your ideas and solutions -- you become a
standing rebuke to their ordinariness and even a threat to their self
esteem and ego, perhaps even their positions above you.

Many years ago, I read a science fiction short story in which the
author pondered and started his story from the well-known proverb "In
the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

In that story, a sighted man happened into a country where everybody
was sightless. Did the sightless inhabitants welcome the sighted man
and made him king, and to make full use of his unusual faculty?

Sadly, but not surprisingly, no. The blind people of that country
discovered that this sighted man was different, possessed a faculty
none of them had or even understood, since nobody could see in all
their generations, so they did not understand the gift of sight.

The sightless people soon found this sighted man disturbing and
concluded that his sight must be what was causing him to think and act differently from them. So, eventually, they captured him, and in order to 'rehabilitate' him so he would be better able to 'integrate' into their society, that is, be one of them, they operated to remove his eyes, just as we have excised parts of brains in lobotomies.

True geniuses don't fare well in this world of the blind.

To conclude, practically all people who make it to the top in
government or companies are not geniuses and so, there are no systems
for spotting and nurturing geniuses. There are also no established
procedures to tap their talents. Since no superior, from the President or Prime Minister to the Chief Executive Officer or Chairman, is a genius, and they all got where they are using other qualities rather than genius, geniuses cannot make it to the top unless they have and use these ordinary qualities instead of using their genius.

This brings me to my final paradox :

PARADOX 4 : People with ideas fail while those with lesser talents
succeed because the world is not designed for, nor need, geniuses.

Robert HO
17 Sep 04 1255