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You know those Idol auditions where people make fools of themselves on national television? People do that in business all the time.

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We laugh at the people in Australian Idol auditions who are completely oblivious to that fact that they can’t sing. But hang on… These people pop-up in business all the time. You might even have had an ‘Idol moment’ yourself when you were younger.

The Idol series, whether you like it or loath it, has uncovered a curious component of the human psyche. I can’t say I’ve ever seen people exposed so brutally to a mass audience before. Yes I’ve watched a few series, off and on, but the most entertaining part of Australian (or any other) Idol for me is always the auditions.

The moment when an aspiring singer, in absolute confidence of their ability, having spent countless nights singing, karaoke-style, into a hair brush, has to step out of the safety of their darkened bedroom and into the spotlight of reality and perhaps a million-strong TV audience.

For some it is the first step of a professional singing career. For others, even during that uncomfortable silence that follows their ‘audition’ they remain oblivious to the rapidly approaching freight train called Dicko (or Simon if you are in the US), destined to steamroll their dreams. But not all.

There’s that one percent of contestants with zero vocal talent (but doubtless many other admirable qualities) who, despite being told by judges they haven’t a hope in hell, are absolutely steadfast in their belief that they are already better than Bono or Beyoncé. They are the ones that fascinate me the most and I thank Idol for bringing to our attention.

Of course, there are ‘Idol’ moments everywhere – not just on Idol. I’ve encountered many in my career in the area of marketing and communications. Seeing them occur on Idol has helped me reconcile them in my professional life. I’ll quickly tell you about an experience that helped me first form the ‘Idol’ analogy.

A potential client – let’s just say, a pure energy drink startup – came to me asking for advice on positioning, naming and how best to bring the product to an ultra-competitive market. Without going into details, the client had an enormous environmental advantage over every other product on the market and a great grass-roots story to tell the media. They also had virtually no money, so a strongly-differentiated, values-based, guerrilla campaign was their only option, but also their best strategy.

After recommending this, the client proceeded to show me their current selling tool – a 40+ page PowerPoint presentation, the epitome of dog’s breakfast, of which he was tremendously proud.

It also introduced his idea for the product name – something akin to the Versace of energy drinks – which was totally incompatible with the attributes of the product and impossible to back-up from a marketing spend perspective.

He also assured me all the distributors he had presented his PowerPoint to, thought it was brilliant. However, none had yet signed on. You can just hear Dicko warming up the engines of that freight train.

So I stuck to my guns and mounted an irrefutable argument, in the nicest and most diplomatic fashion (unlike Dicko), that his strategy was inappropriate, but with a few smallish (code for significant) tweaks we could make a great mark.

It was an ‘Idol’ moment in the making. I went back to my office and he went back to his PowerPoint. In the following days I felt deflated that my argument had been unsuccessful and the opportunity for a fantastic partnership had failed. It was during this time that the ‘Idol’ analogy came to me and provided solace.

Then the pattern emerged. This was not the first such moment. There had been others, all with similar characteristics. Inventors, startups and first-time entrepreneurs, all with brilliant ideas, unfaltering passion and unfortunately blind confidence in their ability to single-handedly bring their idea to life.

For some it is a protection mechanism that began as a defence against straight-talking angel investors but slowly spread to a distrust of everyone (except themselves). For others it is part ego, part not recognising their own limitations. One wonders how many brilliant ideas, particularly those that could enhance the health of the planet and its occupants, will never eventuate for these reasons.

In the case of Idol contestants, life need not end after a bad audition. The same applies to inventors with brilliant ideas. For those willing to accept that they need to complement passion and belief with some good advice, the opportunity to realise the dream still remains.

Nigel Malone is a freelance brand strategist and writer, with particular expertise in the fields of tourism, finance, technology, sustainability and social change. Find out more at www.icycalm.biz

Photo: Evil Erin

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