There’s nothing more subjective – more likely to stir passions – than an idea. Wars have been fought over ideas. Lovers have quarreled over ideas. And closer to home, ad agencies have prospered or failed in the pursuit of the elusive Big Idea.

And there’s the problem. An idea that’s brilliant and breakthrough to one person is lame and disposable to another. So, how can you tell if you’ve stumbled onto a winning idea? Something that will make you famous, and make someone (probably not you) a fortune?

As a creative director, people pitch ideas to me all the time. (Sometimes in the strangest places, but that’s a story for another blog.) It’s the eternal quandary: “Is this a good idea or not?” Over time, I’ve compiled a simple set of rules for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of ideas. My litmus test of a good idea consists of five simple questions that my brain fires at me in quick succession as I’m looking at work:

1. Is anyone else in the category doing it?

Whether you’re doing marketing for hospitals, banks, cars or cat litter companies, rule number one is to find a unique voice. If someone else owns a certain territory, don’t trespass. If others are going down one road, build your own. Do the best, most differentiating work for that category. Don’t be derivative. Be different.

2. Do I like it immediately?

First impressions really are the most powerful. After all, that’s how consumers will respond to your ideas. They’ll give you about three seconds. They won’t care that you stayed up all night to craft this particular piece of genius. They’ll absorb what you create and then decide to act or move on. So yes, if the idea resonates quickly and I can see the possibilities immediately, I think we’re onto something.

3. Is it risky?

Does it make me uncomfortable at first because it is so different? That’s OK. Being uncomfortable sharpens your senses and leads to innovative thinking. Maybe I don’t fully understand the idea. Maybe I have no idea how to execute it yet. But that’s OK, too. Nurturing ideas takes time. They rarely appear fully dressed and ready to go out dancing. It’s OK to take a risk. Actually, not taking one is the riskiest course of all.

4. Does it generate an emotion?

Emotional work always sells best. I don’t mean doing a campaign designed to leave your audience in tears. (Trust me, there’s enough crying in advertising as is!) I mean a good idea should elicit a laugh, a smile or a moment of reflection. Ideas that move people, rather than just selling them, are always more relevant. And relevance sells. In the end, people want to feel an idea. Not listen to a lot of noise.

5. Can I sell it?

All clients have barriers. At the same time, I’ve never met a client who didn’t want to do the best work possible. So, how do I leverage the strengths of this idea to make my case? Can I talk about its buzz-worthy qualities? Can I point out that it positions the product and service in a new and fresh way? Ideas rarely sell themselves. You need a strategy for making them appear magical and timely. Having a good idea helps.

I ask myself these questions because at Strategic America, we’re always looking for that better way. A way to make our clients famous. A way to make us famous.

And, hey, making a fortune along the way never hurts.