Friday, July 9, 2010

Big ideas and a banana hook

The CEOs and world leaders participating in the Allen and Co. convention in Sun Valley this week didn't get where they are by thinking small.

They didn't achieve success by risking nothing, playing it safe and sticking to finding solutions for small problems.

The list of participants is a Who's Who of bold and creative leaders, many in the communications business, who built and continue to build successes based on big thinking, big ideas and big visions.

Their companies' paths today are no less troubled than any other business in the U.S. or the world. They face economic, technical and competitive challenges that are different from the challenges of Sun Valley-area businesses only in scale.

They know full well that not every big idea will succeed. Many will fall flat, but they know they must try and that in trying they will figure out how to succeed.

At some point, each of them has started with an idea of what they want to achieve and what success will look like. Then, they made a plan and went for it.

The Sun Valley area's new marketing brain trust should take a page out of their book.

When Union Pacific Railroad Chair Averell Harriman decided to search for place to develop the nation's first destination ski resort, it's a good bet that a lot of people snickered at the idea that it could attract customers to train travel.

It's a good bet that his marketing man Steve Hannagan wasn't sure where to start to convince Americans that they wouldn't freeze to death or risk life and limb if they decided to climb aboard Harriman's dream train for the adventure.

Yet, Hannagan became the Pied Piper of skiing in America by corralling Hollywood's star power, combining it with the allure of European amenities and illustrating it in advertising with the glistening torso of an Adonis on skis.

It would have been a lot safer not to invent Sun Valley and to realize the railroad's fortunes by delivering minerals, wood and livestock to market.

It would have been safer not to bet that UP employees could invent the ski lift by trying to scoop up a person on roller skates with a banana hook bolted to the bed of a pickup truck.

It would have been easier to worry about stock prices and bank balances instead of invention, marketing and making a business of pleasure.

As the embodiment of a big idea, Sun Valley is the perfect place for this week's meeting of CEOs and other leaders.

Their comfort in gambling risk for reward is worth emulating as the Sun Valley area begins to reinvent itself in the eyes of the world. The marketing committee needs to think big—and act boldly.

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