Today’s post is about ideas. Good ideas. Which in this industry, is like saying this post is about gold dust (and the production there of).
Think back to when you last had a good idea. What did it feel like? Exciting? Magical? Like a thought had come from nowhere, but straightaway you knew it was just right?
Well, sometimes it does feel like that. But sadly that doesn’t happen every day, three times a day, or however often one is asked of you. Coming up with good ideas on a regular basis requires almost limitless mental resources and a generous supply of blood, sweat and tears.
Good ideas are elusive, precious and fragile. Despite this, people often expect them to materialise on demand.
I’m sure that any creative will tell you that the hardest part of their job is being caught in a dichotomy: they work to very strict and often pressured deadlines to produce something that is, at its best, unpredictable.
So this post explores the best ways of producing good ideas while sticking to those deadlines – at least 99% of the time.
It’s an area that many eminent creatives have written about (in some of the books you’ll see credited on these pages). They’ve sought to chart where good ideas come from. And I’ve read a great number of their thoughts in the hope of distilling the answer, turning it into a pill, then sitting back and counting my millions.
That however has proven to be less than a good idea, not least because if you consult Ogilvy, Arden, Fletcher or anyone else for that matter, they all give you a different answer. And I’ll come to why in a moment.
But first let’s ask a slightly different question. ‘Where are you when you get your best ideas?’ Believe it or not, from the books I’ve read, there seems to be some consensus on this one. And the answer is…the toilet.
Well I can’t say I agree, but I would say this. After a long day of sweating over a creative problem, somehow, the moment that I’m on my bike cycling away from Bluefrog towers, answers magically materialise in my mind.
The toilet. On a bicycle. The point is that staring at a screen isn’t necessarily the most stimulating place to be if you need a good idea. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the worst. Go for a walk. Look at the sky. Flick through a book – lots of creatives put together scrapbooks with thoughts, ideas and pictures in it for just such occasions. Do anything that breaks the deadening pressure of minutes ticking away.
Because if you focus on the fast approaching deadline, you’ll feel desperate – and that means desperate ideas. Instead think about how much you can achieve in the day/hours/minutes you have.
You could also try running past whatever thoughts you do have by someone else. But choose that person or people with care. Some people who have a gift for recognising a nascent idea or saying just the right thing to push you in the right direction. Other people can squash a good idea before it’s really begun.
And I have a similar opinion about ‘brainstorms’. If you get the wrong combination of people, who come together without having done any prior research or thought…well good luck. That’s not a forum I enjoy. But that’s the point I said I’d come to earlier. Over the years, I’ve learnt that people come up with good ideas in different ways. Some blossom in a brainstorm. Others sit silently and intently looking at a screen and suddenly come to you with reams of great ideas.
So if you want to get good ideas from your team, you need to make sure you know how each individual works best and support them in that.
Not always easy.
But to my mind, coming up with ideas is the best part of the job. So if you can get people to enjoy it, that’s an important first step. Then you need to create an environment where that idea can blossom, which means remembering it’s not a competition.
Ultimately, a good idea doesn’t belong to anyone. It’ll start with something someone says/does/draws and it’ll grow into something great because of the thoughts that are generated from that point onwards.
This is a subject that clearly warrants more than one post. So another time we’ll look at other issues like how a brief can help the process of generating good ideas and how to judge whether something will work or not.
But in the meantime, here’s a last thought about the daunting combination of ideas and deadlines.
Or rather a request. If someone comes to you with a good idea, don’t be too hard on them if it happens not to be exactly when you wanted it. Think instead when or how you might be able to use it – even if it’s another time. By doing so, you’ll be playing your part sprinkling some magic on that idea to make it go somewhere and do something. Good idea?
That’s it for now.