Is my idea of an idea the same as your idea?

The most common challenges I hear when talking to people about the prospect of being a TEDxFolkestone speaker is ‘I don’t know what my idea would be’.

From many discussions with both successful, aspiring and reluctant speakers, I believe one of the problems may be down to the different interpretations of this inconspicuous little word: idea. 

We might think that we all know what it means to us and to others, but with the dictionary quoting nine (rather abstract) different definitions, and the thesaurus giving us a huge range of synonyms, it’s easy to see how we could potentially be interpreting it differently.  

Let me give you an example …

A few months back I was having a conversation with someone who I believe should do a TEDx talk but he doesn’t think he has an idea.  When asking him what he interpreted an idea to be, he described it as the ‘lightbulb moment’ of a plan, goal or solution he might make happen in the future.  When I asked him what he thought a TEDx idea was, he said it was an opinion, experience or personal story he might like to share. 

I told him that I thought his idea was (and, incidentally, why I thought he should do a talk) the 15+ years he’d spent refining and delivering a really unique service unlike any other in his industry, and from which he’d had proven success.  The ‘idea’ would be exploring the how through which he’d achieved this, in order that more people could benefit from this alternative, yet proven, approach.

However, he’d never seen this as an ‘idea’ – this was just ‘what he did’!  It wasn’t a new, exciting flash of inspiration, it was simply an alternative approach he’d consistently worked on, tested and refined over the years.  

It wasn’t new to him, but it was new and potentially revolutionary for the industry, and could offer huge value in solving the persistent and long-standing problems of the sector’s clients.  Sharing the idea may not change or add anything to his understanding or excitement for the idea, but it did have the potential to greatly inspire the right audience. 

By contrast, when he shared his ‘lightbulb moment’ ideas, although they sounded interesting on the surface there was little we could discuss about them because they were just theoretical at this stage – there was no substance to them yet and no evidence upon which to qualify whether or not they would work or add value to others. 

His ‘TEDx idea’, based upon the personal experience and beliefs that came as a result, would have provided to be heartwarming stories, yet had nothing hugely significant to differentiate it from similar stories from many others who had experienced similar challenges.  

This is not meant to discredit either of those versions of what an idea is and means to an individual, but, rather, to shed some light on what, from my interpretation and experience (as a TEDx event curator), makes a good TEDxFolkestone idea.  I believe personal stories and inspiring embryonic ideas are SO powerful and important – it’s just not what TEDxFolkestone are looking for. 

I believe the more we know of what we mean with our choice and use of words, the easier it will be for us to feel that we can authentically express ourselves, and know that our words accurately resonate with others and are understood in the way we mean. 

I’ve explored just three possible interpretations for ‘an idea’.  I’m sure to many of you reading this it will mean something else, which will ultimately affect what ideas you think you do or don’t have, and what you do or don’t do with them, be that on the TEDxFolkestone stage or otherwise.