What Are IDEAs Made Of: Templates

Mike Rea

IDEA Pharma

Many people have completed a paint-by-numbers exercise, and none of those people considered their output as art… You follow the rules, paint blue where you’re told to paint blue, stay within the lines, and yet they still hang the original Van Gogh in the Louvre.

The same is true of templates. It is possible to perfectly fill in (or fill out, depending on which side of the Atlantic you sit) a template and produce nothing of any value whatsoever.

Templates are the last bastion of the company, or the consultancy, that wants to standardise inputs in the hope of raising the floor level of quality, to take the unfortunately rather heterogeneous quality of the people out of the process. Well, the unfortunate and inconvenient truth is that it is entirely possible to have zero quality WITH a well-filled template, to have no thinking of any value, whereas it is also possible to produce a high-quality concept or world-class thinking without any template at all. Psychologists (and gamblers) call this a ‘bad equilibrium’ – where everyone involved knows the rules of the game, but where no-one is taking part with a view to a great outcome.

 

“Well, the unfortunate and inconvenient truth is that it is entirely possible to have zero quality WITH a well-filled template…”

 

Filling out a template is what you do AFTER you’ve done the thinking. You can perfect a Target Product Profile template to within an inch of its life, and still have no product concept in it. You can mandate a forecast template that looks NASA-standard, and still have whomever completed it miss the big thing that matters the most. You can train staff on what good looks like in a well-filled template, and still sit back and wonder what it was they missed.

Unfortunately, templates give the air of competency. They provide a shield between the absence of an idea and the reader. “Hmmm. Look at all these well-filled boxes, with their decimal places, and references. This must (because the template was designed for this purpose) be the answer.’

Where is the template that produces value in our industry? Is it in positioning, Target Profiling, NPV assessment, brand planning? That list could be as long as you like, and the truth is that the template will be almost singularly unhelpful to real value. It is Marketing 101, for an industry that expects to see revenues head over the $1 billion mark for its products, it is ‘make sure they do the minimum steps’ for an industry that is meant to add value to physicians and patients’ lives.

 

“The problem with templates is the premise. That anything of any value can be generated with a pattern.”

 

The problem with templates is the premise. That anything of any value can be generated with a pattern. Templates assume linearity: that if you do Step A, then Step B, then…, that you will eventually produce ‘it’ – the thing that you wanted to produce. Unfortunately, strategy, creativity, concepts, ideas, don’t work that way. Management consultancies work that way, so that they can standardise outputs regardless of which team of juniors they put on your project. Computers works that way. Templates don’t allow disruptive innovation, the crystal-clear elegance of a perfect concept. They give the appearance of depth, but are just a thin veneer of work on top of some cheap plywood.

If the industry abandoned templates tomorrow, there would be a lot of uncertainty, and a thousand horrified management consultants, but there would be the start of a revolution that produced art instead of copies, that produced real product concepts, positionings, helpful forecasts and value.

About the author:

Mike Rea is a Principal with IDEA Pharma, who enjoys taking a look outside the industry to learn how it can think differently. For direct enquiries he can be contacted on mike.rea@ideapharma.com and for more information on IDEA Pharma please see http://www.ideapharma.com/what/default.htm.

Are your templates increasing standards or stifling creativity?