“The fly that prefers sweetness to a long life may drown in honey.” – George Santayana (Dialogues in Limbo, 1925)

Inc Magazine says Doug Hall is “America’s top new-product idea man.”

Hmm. I thought I was.

One of Doug’s most popular “new ideas” — the basis for the book that made him famous in the management-training circuit — was that good ideas are fun ideas. In “Jump Start Your Brain,” Hall is shown on the cover with a light bulb in his mouth. The message: Being brilliant is no harder than doing stupid party tricks.

The idea caught fire. The book became an instant bestseller, and Hall was soon making $10,000 to $20,000 for each hour-long speech he gave. His audiences loved the idea that they could get rich by playing with Nerf guns. And as long as the dot-com guys were making billions doing so, Hall was right.

Then something happened. Hall got tired of running around, giving the same old speech. So he did what all gurus do at such times: He went on a dogsled ride to the North Pole. When he got back, he started a business — something that would allow him to practice what he had been preaching.

But as he was getting that business going, something unexpected happened: Many of the fun ideas didn’t work. In fact, he discovered, there seemed to be an inverse relationship between how much fun they had with any particular idea and its eventual success. Most of the best ideas evolved from long, hard, brainstorming sessions.

ETR readers know my view on this. (See Message #286, “What Role Should Fun Play in Your Business?”) I’m all in favor of fun. And there is plenty of fun in business. The mistake Hall made was in assuming that fun comes only from playing. If you run your business right, care about what you are doing, and create an environment of enthusiasm around you, you’ll have all the fun you can stand — and make profits too.

So if you have been thinking about buying any pinball machines to improve your company’s marketing performance, consider allocating those funds for a good supply of paper and pencils — with erasers.

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