Into the Wild: Adventures beyond Ideas #77 #cong18


Organisations obsess over ideas. But stories are more valuable than ideas, because stories involve action and adventure, and can teach us much more. An idea rarely survives its impact with reality intact. The interaction of the idea with the world, and the stories that come from that, are the really interesting bits.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Beyond every meaningful idea there is a really interesting story
  2. Few ideas survive their impact with the world intact; and once they get into the wild, that’s when the fun begins
  3. The true value of an idea is the action and the stories it inspires
  4. Great stories codify & transmit knowledge, and teach, inspire and forearm others

About Morgan McKeagney:

Morgan is an entrepreneur & user experience pioneer, passionate about how great design and a relentless focus on the user can create business value.  Morgan is a co-founder of Framlabs, a business design company that helps progressive organisations make tomorrow better, for their customers and themselves. Morgan is also a mentor on two of Europe’s best startup accelerators: NDRC (Dublin) & Startup Sauna (Helsinki). Previously, Morgan co-founded iQ Content, a world-class user experience company, which delivered brilliant digital experiences for millions of people in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Contacting Morgan McKeagney:

Always up for chat, you can follow Morgan on Twitter, send him an email, visit him, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

By Morgan McKeagney

Beyond every meaningful idea there is a story. The story is nearly always greater than the idea, because it involves real people doing stuff. The idea is the boring bit. The fun bit is when the idea is let loose on the world, with humans at the helm.

In the summer of 2014, through one great storyteller, John le Carre, one failed entrepreneur, yours truly, learns of the exploits of the legendary Norwegian artic explorer, Fritjof Nansen, and is inspired to start again.

Nansen took an idea – that it is possible to float to the North Pole – and brought it on an scarecely believable adventure. A remarkable boat, the Fram, is designed and built to get locked into the ice, in order to float over the Pole. The Fram enters the ice on the 10th September 1893 at 78° North. Their target is the North Pole, 90° North. The boat floats south at first, and then meanders North, but slowly. By November 1894, their progress painfully slow, Nansen calculates it will take the Fram five years to reach the Pole, if it does at all.

The limits of the idea are met and a decision is needed. Persist, kill, pivot? Nansen chooses to pivot. On March 14th 1895, the Fram is at 84°N. Nansen and one companion, Hjalmar Johansen, leave the boat with 28 dogs, to try to ski to the Pole: a distance of 660km across the world’s most treacherous and uncharted landscape. Nansen’s right-hand man Svelerup, stays with the Fram, and persists in the attempt to float North.

Initially, Nansen & Johansen make good progress. They get to 86°13.6′N by the 7th of April – 3 degrees further North than anyone has previously reached. But progress slows. The way ahead is perilous, supplies are low. They decide to cut their losses, and turn back for home.

Their journey home is an incredible tale of survival against all the odds: bears, damaged canoes, broken chronometers, wrong-turns, starvation, and near-disaster. After more than a year surviving and edgeing southwards, a seredipidous encounter with the British explorer, Frederick Jackson on Franz Joseph Land, means they’re saved, and provides a safe passage home.

On the 9th of September 1896, the Fram, reunited with Nansen and Johansen, pulls into Oslo to a tumultuous reception. The expedition had been gone, presumed lost, for more than three years. They had travelled further north than anyone else ever had. They all survived. And Nansen quickly turned the adventures into a bestseller called “Furthest North”. He became a true global celebrity: known and admired everywhere. An inspiration, ushering in a whole new era of exploration, and a new generation of explorers.

Immature organisations obsess about ideas, thinking that more ideas will lead to better outcomes. They create platforms and campaigns and invent prizes to encourage staff to dream up and submit ideas. This itself is nearly always a bad idea, and rarely yields anything tangible. The fethishing of the idea obscures the meaningful and hard bit: making the idea real in the world. We end up with an abundance of ideas, but a dearth of executed outcomes.

Nothing real happens. After the hoopla dies down, the bosses move on to the next shiny thing, and there’s nothing durable left. Just a sense of – well, that was a waste of time. Staff who participate in good faith end up less motivated than before. A stench descends: the idea initiative mutates into that terrible dreaded thing: the misunderstood, unowned, unloved corporate failure, that noone wants to talk about. We tried that before but it didn’t work.

The idea of floating to the North Pole is the easy bit. Actually executing it, as Nansen showed, is impossibly hard. The idea itself is daft. But the story of its execution is incredibly valuable. Nansen’s story continues to inspire people to attempt the interesting and seemingly impossible. His bravery in doing it & sharing it continues to accrue immeasurable value for all of us in the form of new discoveries, methods, attitudes, tools and techniques.

The idea is not the thing, the story is the thing. As soon as we start doing, we move beyond the idea, evolving it, creating a story. The more human the story, the better: it invites others to participate, to empathise, to dream and to share. The better the story we tell, the more impact we will have: codifying our insights, inspiring and forearming others, and providing the raw material for others to build on.

Get your skis on. Take your idea into the wild.

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