Gráinne Seoige is on an ad these days. She looks different. She’s not at all tense like when she’s announcing the winner of the All Ireland Talent Show. There’s no ominous music as Gráinne pauses dramatically, wondering how long more the series is going to go on for. This time she’s smiling, relaxed. Is leatsa é she says, a little huskily, those dark eyes looking straight at me. It’s Yours. She’s seems confident that I won’t let her down.
“Your Country. Your Call. Is Leatsa é” is the slogan for a new online competition to get people thinking about ways to get Ireland back on its feet. The suggestions are pouring in and it’s clear there is a wellspring of inspiration to be drawn upon.
All this idea-ism makes me envious. For me, success has always been about 95% perspiration and 5% copy-other-people-ation. As a 10-year-old, fascinated by the possibilities of what the world would look like in the future, I embarked on the ambitious project of writing my first novel. My book had a working title of What The World Will Look Like. It soon became apparent that the world looked a lot like Back to the Future 2. The hero ‘Colm McFly’ chiefly used a hoverboard to escape from the villains. In fact, the only original futuristic idea in the three and half pages I’d filled in my Aisling 88-page copy was the imagining of a new vehicle called a MaxiCar. The MaxiCar™ was bigger than a normal car and it had way more seats. It held about 20 people. Excited, I sketched it out and. It bore a stunning resemblance to a mini bus. I threw down my Bunratty Castle Folk Park pencil in disgust.
Nothing has really changed. Despite Gráinne Seoige’s best efforts to tell me that the prize money for YCYC is actually ‘liomsa’ for the taking, I’m finding it hard to come by ideas.
My ideas are like boybands – most of them are crap. I’ve done some reading on the subject and apparently the key to having a good idea is to not try too hard. Don’t go looking for it – it will occur to you when you least expect it. Take a walk in the fresh air and clear your head. However you can’t go out for a walk with the express intention of coming up with an idea because the idea will know you are still needy and play hard to get. You need to pretend not to be interested. Even if you feel an idea sneaking up on you, pretend not to notice. Act all cool, perhaps light up a cigarette and eventually say to your idea “Oh it’s you”. Your idea will beg to be used.
Of course, truly great ideas are about looking at something mundane and approaching it from a new angle. It’s known as ‘thinking outside the box’. If someone asks you to do this, make sure you get precise dimensions of the box and then measure the distance from where you are to one of the edges. That will tell you how mental your idea should be. Also, find out if the lid of the box is Sellotaped shut. Or worse, does it have those fiddly staples that make it really hard to open, so that you end up tearing the top of the box and ruining it?
Finally, it’s crucial that you’re given an understanding about how far beyond the perimeter of the box is considered acceptable. Gratuitous OTB thinking can make you look a fool. For example, your boss may ask for suggestions on how your department can improve employee engagement while still keeping a strict control on costs. If he encourages you to think outside the box he’s expecting something along the lines of: “I know, what about a baking club?” not “I know, we could build a raft made of underpants and sail to Macao!”
Meanwhile over on YCYCILé, there are two thousand suggestions already. If it keeps going at this rate, it will soon surpass the five thousand ideas that were submitted this time last year for The Ideas Campaign. The two initiatives are, of course vastly different. For a start, they’re a different colour. Your Country Your Call is a kind of greeny-yellow while the Ideas Campaign was more reddish and blue. The main difference is that Your Country Your Call has a prize fund of €200,000.
I was determined to get me some of that action so I redoubled my efforts to ‘tinkasumting’. Initial suggestions fomented the age-old problem – how to think of something new: A tunnel to bring heavy goods vehicles from Dublin Port to the M1 – Been Done , A phone you can carry around with you – Been Done, gloves tied onto your scarf so you don’t lose them? AArrrgh just saw someone on TV with those very things.
I was starting to despair so I went for a walk. And then it came to me. An idea so simple it couldn’t fail. A new free newspaper for Cork! Now the next step is to think of a title. It has to be Cork and newsy at the same time. What’s that? Oh right… I see.
That’s put me back in my box.