You are not original

by Wednesday 15th February 2017Blog

If there’s anything more depressing than January, it’s a January spent driving continuously. This year, I spent most of it in my car visiting clients, visiting family and visiting the car park known as the M5 on a Friday. Ever the optimist, I’ve been trying to make the most of this time by working my way through my list of ‘To Listen To’ podcasts.

A couple of weeks ago I raided the TED Talks Archive (my personal favourite), and was drawn to one from back in 2014 on the topic of originality. I was blown away by their guests’ assertions that 21st Century humans are no longer capable of an original thought. Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson claimed that – almost unilaterally – “our most celebrated creators steal from everything they’ve ever seen before”. DJ Mark Ronson talked about how sampling other people’s music was a way of “hijacking nostalgia wholesale” and the greatest form of flattery and writer Johanna Blakley gave a fascinating insight into the fashion industry and an almost complete lack of the concept of copyright.

As I dug deeper, I saw that scores of respected thought leaders agree that every idea, every concept, every view, belief and every design are simply re-hashes of ones that have gone before. When someone credits their ideas to an individual “Eureka!” moment, many argue that it is actually just our personal articulation of a recipe of life experiences and exposures. Indeed, even back in the 19th Century Mark Twain famously proclaimed that “there is no such thing as a new idea… we simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into some sort of mental kaleidoscope, give it a turn to make new and continuous combinations…”.

Hearing this, I thought about our position as Bid Professionals. We operate in highly competitive commercial environments where winning or losing a £billion business critical project all too often comes down to a few points awarded by a subjective evaluation committee, who have reserved the 4s and 5s for genuine and significant point of difference, or that magic word, ‘innovation’.

But if we are all incapable of being original, how can we truly demonstrate innovation in our bids?

For the last three and half years I have bid extensively into the NHS market, 3 years as an employee of the largest NHS Foundation Trust in the country by geography, and now almost six months as a freelance consultant. The NHS industry is particularly cyclical in nature, and for those few years, the Urgent Care market has dominated healthcare.

More than ever, the NHS wants gold, but can only afford bronze, and providers are constantly being asked to do more for less. As part of the proposals, providers must identify specific innovations that will deliver efficiency savings during the life of the contract. Here, all eyes are on the national leaders to verify pioneering models of integrated pathways of urgent care, before they are inevitably replicated across the country.

It’s a tricky one. There is a finite amount of funding and a limit to the art of the possible. As bidding organisations, how many times can you reinvent the wheel? And if we are all getting more sophisticated with our bid best practice – how do you offer something that scratches those itches that no-one else has thought of?

While Twain and Ronson et al would say that while the actual subject on which the answer is based are fundamentally similar to those of our competitors, I suspect the solution is in finding new and exciting ways to express these derivative ideas and concepts in a unique and compelling way.

Have a think: when did your bids last communicate something truly innovative? And next time you bid for that service or customer, will you try and replicate the same? Would love to hear your thoughts.


Vicki Jackson is Managing Director and Lead Bid Consultant of Intellitender Limited – a boutique bid consultancy that supports organisations like you to bid better, improve tender win rates and ultimately deliver long term competitive advantage. Intellitender has an industry-leading tender success rate of 87%. 

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