I hate to tell you, but you can’t just ‘have ideas’. You can only create conditions conducive to having good ideas by equipping yourself with as much intellectual ammunition as possible and keeping those creative muscles well exercised.
Steve Jobs said, ‘creativity is just connecting things’ and that’s exactly what having ideas is in its simplest form: connecting one thing to another thing to come up with a new thing.
Whether you’re in a creative role and it’s literally your job to come up with ideas daily, or they’re needed in a less obvious way, like finding a solution to a client’s problem, ideas are always needed in the workplace in some capacity.
So here are some things we do at Builtvisible to create the right environment for the ideas to come.
An obvious first step, but one that often gets skipped in favour of getting down to it.
Have a look at what’s currently out there about the topic you need ideas for. This will show you what types of content or solutions are already out there and therefore where you need to get to with your idea. There’s nothing more frustrating than a Eureka moment only to find out it’s already been done to death.
Inspiration is something that happens to you. You need to capitalise on it when it does, rather than letting it pass you by. Making notes of ideas as and when you have them will save you time and preserve ideas that could later be connected.
These notes don’t even have to be ideas, they can be keywords associated with a topic, client or niche, for example.
There are hundreds of note apps these days, and for good reason, but we’ve found the best to be:
- OneNote, the black sheep of the MS Office family, allows you to cross-reference notes between multiple notebooks, and have as many people as you like to share the same notebook and use it collaboratively.
- Mural is an online brainstorming platform. Make mind maps, create sticky notes and share them with your team for them to view, add and edit.
- Evernote is a note-taking app that helps you make, prioritise and archive lists.
Remember: when you are making notes, try to explain yourself instead of writing vague one-liners. Try to provide context, a source, or even the client the idea is referring to when you’re jotting something down.
We’re not talking about War and Peace here. Read the widest variety of material you can. Sit and click on random articles on Wikipedia or pick up a book because it’s on a topic you’ve never heard of before.
Accruing knowledge from a host of unfamiliar and broad subjects will equip you with knowledge about things you find interesting, all fodder for making connections and ways to relate one topic to another.
It helps if you’re naturally curious about pretty much everything, but you also have to be interested in the topic. It’s hard to really engage with something if you just don’t care about it, and your level of interest will certainly come through in the finished piece.
Ask questions (and answer them)
Who am I coming up with this idea for? Why do I need to come up with this idea? What problem will my idea solve? The answers to these questions, no matter how simple, will be the formulation of a vague notion that, when connected, develop into a concrete idea.
Change your medium
There are myriad ways that switching from laptop keyboard to old-fashioned pen and paper can get your creative juices flowing:
- It allows you to retain the information you’re writing better, which can help to formulate ideas later on.
- Handwriting slows your cognitive processes down to make room for new ideas and creativity, which is handy in our hyper-connected world.
- Writing with a paper and pen works a different part of your brain than typing, unlocking creativity that can’t always be accessed easily.
Once you have this arsenal of information (and a pen and paper in hand), begin to write. It may seem difficult at first but take your topic and write continuously about it for a few minutes. Your conscience may throw something up that you didn’t even know was in there. This constant stream of thought spilling onto the page will also help you connect all the thoughts and bits of information you’ve read much quicker.
Try something new
Doing something you’ve never done before, getting out of your comfort zone, allows you to gather new snippets of information from different worlds and apply them to the areas that require it. Remember, inspiration is often hiding in the most unlikely places.
Coming up with ideas is so much easier when you’re bouncing them around amongst a group of people. Ideation sessions can be effective, but only when they’re done productively. Here are some tips for a fruitful ideation:
- Make it a morning session: as the day goes on, your brain becomes increasingly jaded. A post-coffee session when the minds of your attendees are fresh will invite the group’s best thinking.
- Have terrible ideas: no idea is a bad idea. Think of 100 concepts and pick the best three.
- Write everything down: use a whiteboard to keep a record of any idea mentioned.
For more tips on ideation you can read our blog post on how to get the best out of your team in ideation sessions.
Ideas that work
Just like headlines follow certain conventions that grab reader attention, there are some themes you can use to help you come up with ideas when you’re stuck, pushed for time and inspiration isn’t striking you. These are the ones we have found to gain the most traction amongst a wider audience. As you’re reading, see if you can think of any recent campaigns that have used these notions at their core.
Think about the fields that are in a constant state of change: politics, technology, environment, economics and style. People like to see how history has changed things over time. Take the crux of your idea and see if you can’t create a campaign that would show how it has changed in recent years.
Nostalgia is the sensation you experience when you hear a familiar sound or see an everyday object that takes your memory back to another time. You experience a sense of happiness or slight sadness for a time that has passed. In essence, instilling nostalgia makes someone feel warm and fuzzy inside before you plant your message.
How many campaigns have you seen that use the idea of taking something impossibly big and breaking it down in an easily digestible visual format? People measure the world in comparison to themselves, so comparing humans to the size of the planets, or a number of bacteria on a surface or the population allows them to make sense of that new information in a way that is engaging and relatable.
People respond to content that identifies activities or commonly accepted themes that we barely think about. Social conventions, especially. We rarely question conventionalism, such as shaking hands, so questioning these behaviours or explaining the deeper meaning of the familiar is fascinating to audiences. This is especially true when looking at cultural differences, languages and traditions that are a far cry from our own.
As with all good ideas, the trick is to understand the emotional triggers that will encourage a reaction to the work. Put simply, it has to be exciting and it has to resonate with people.