What is a good, catalytic idea that can drive a process, that becomes the roadmap to move forward? A great idea needs to be simple but complex in its potential. A good idea is instantly understandable, resonates and communicates iconically - you grasp it in one. A good idea needs to have layers, depth and be able to be interpreted and expressed creatively in many ways and involve many people who each feel they have something to offer. A good idea connects and suggests linkages. It is dynamic. It breathes and implies multiple possibilities. With a good idea creativity and practicality come together. A good idea solves economic problems as well as others. It has to embody issues beyond the economic. If it is just economic it can become mechanistic. Ideally it should touch the identity of a place and so feel culturally relevant. Indeed it should support, build on and create it. In this way it should speak to deeper values and ambitions. It is significantly powerful and can be implemented in many ways.
Let's look at some ideas. Many cities around the world say they are going to become the 'education city'. This idea is narrow; it implies and feels as if it is only the education sector that is involved. It excludes everyone else. 'A talent strategy for ...' idea would be better: it is easy to understand; clearly many people would need to be engaged; and they can see their involvement from the arts to education to business providing professional development. It can be layered to focus on identifying, harnessing, attracting, sustaining or exploiting talent. Or it can focus on the stages of talent from getting people to be curious, enterprising, entrepreneurial or innovative. Its weakness it that it could apply anywhere. To say, as Memphis is beginning to say, that it is 'the city of second chances' is quite strong. It projects a positive ethos; openness, the willingness to listen, tolerance. It recognizes that the city is disadvantaged without over-egging the pudding. It acknowledges business start-up records are not too good. It opens out to the future and ideally in a decade the slogan will be less relevant, because enough second chancers will have succeeded. To say that Adelaide would 'waterproof the city' was a strong idea of theirs, but it has not yet happened. It had an implied economic agenda and spoke powerfully to green issues. The same is true if any other city were to claim it would become the world's first 'zero emissions city' or 'solar city', and really mean it. It would provide a mass of business opportuni ties and put that city on the global radar screen. It would seem interestingly counter-intuitive for a known mining centre or industrial centre to do it as the gut instinct is to see those kinds of city as macho.
Another example of broadening an idea or 'making more out of less' is if someone wanted to light a set of buildings or a bridge. Such a lighting scheme, with associated activities and linked publicity, would have to be about more than just lighting some buildings - perhaps it should be about enlightening a place, and Perth being enlightened. In short, lighting a building needs to work harder.
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