Technology has changed everything. And in last week’s blog post, The Five Rules for Creative Success in 2011, we talked about the five factors we’ll need to deal with in order to manage for results in the brave new world:
1 The Future Started Yesterday – Online technology is now ubiquitous and must be an important part of all of your marketing endeavors.
2 Good Enough is Good Enough – Because data is created, disseminated and discarded so quickly these days, the time it takes to craft perfection might be more time than you’ve got before your audience has moved on to another issue.
3 Faster. Cheaper. Better. Pick All Three – Thanks to the worldwide industry that has sprung up to provide online marketing solutions, buyers have become pickier and pickier. What do they care about now? Everything.
4 Be Different. Or Be Dead – If your brand doesn’t stand up and stand out no one will notice…or care…or buy.
5 They Don’t Buy What You Do. They Buy Who You Are – Function has been reduced to the cost of doing business. Your consumers want much more than what you do for them. They want a relationship. They want you.
The way to successfully deal with all of this is to focus on creating ideas that make your clients’ lives, and their businesses, better. As we said last week, whether it’s a new way to get attention, a new way to deliver customer service or a new way to build a better mousetrap, 2011 will be the year of the idea. After all, despite how powerful computers have become, they haven’t started to think…yet.
You would think that the natural questions would then be, 1) where do great ideas come from and 2) how do we create more of them? But in my experience, great ideas are all around us. The problem is that they don’t get recognized, or used, with enough regularity or respect.
In a vacuum, ideas are both worthless and priceless at the same time. When they’re fully exploited, they can change the world. But when they’re ignored, reduced or simply not employed to their fullest potential, they have little value. Unfortunately, the forces of bureaucracy, inertia and comfort are constantly conspiring to keep new ideas from flourishing.
To benefit from great ideas, then, one must become their protector. Because ideas are so fragile, and so easily spooked, extra care must be taken not to damage them.
When we do ideation sessions, one of the first things we do is draw a picture of a bazooka inside the red circle and slash of the no smoking icon. The pictograph, a simple illustration of the adage “No Bazookas,” serves to remind everyone in the room that criticism is the death of great ideas. An unkind word, a sarcastically rolled eye or even a loudly cleared throat can all serve as a signal to the idea’s creator that their thoughts aren’t worthy. And when that happens, the ideas stop flowing.
This is not to suggest that every idea generated is a great idea or even a good one. We all know that’s not true. But even bad ideas need to be acknowledged and respected, both to keep the ideas flourishing and because a bad idea can be the inspiration for a much better concept to come.
I think that the best way to generate ideas is to feed your creative mind a stimulus-rich diet of as much creative input as possible. Like the robot Johnny 5 in the movie Short Circuit, absorbing brain-nourishing information gives the creative mind things to draw on and stimulation for new ideas.
Think of your brain as an artist’s sponge, constantly soaking up the different colors of ink and paint on the palette. When it’s time to come up with a new idea, you just squeeze the sponge and watch what beautiful swirls of colors come pouring out. You never know exactly what’s going to come out, but that’s the beauty of the process. Of course the ink is metaphorical; instead your brain should be soaking up all sorts of media – art, music, literature, essays, and travel experiences – all the best examples of human thinking, and letting them swirl around willy-nilly.
Next, accept the fact that good ideas don’t necessarily show up exactly when you want them. Instead, open yourself up to the ideas that are dancing around you all the time. If you’re serious about generating ideas you’ll need to get in the habit of always carrying around a notebook, a camera, a little digital recorder or some other way of memorializing your inspirations and a way of storing them so you can retrieve your great ideas when you need them.
But before you invest in a new Birken or manbag to carry all that stuff, remember that thanks to technology an iPhone, Blackberry or Android smartphone can serve as all the devices you need. Soap crayons will let you mark down the ideas you come up with in the shower and a little pad, pencil and flashlight on your bedside table will take care of your middle-of-the-night brainstorms. Finally, a free download of the program Evernote will provide you with cloud storage and an infinitely customizable tag-based search and retrieve system on both your computer and your handheld device. Use Evernote regularly and properly and you’ll never lose a great idea again.
Most importantly, stop being so damn hard on yourself. The only thing that can kill your creativity even faster than an errant comment from someone else is self-criticism. When the ideas are flowing, record them faithfully without any judgment. There will be plenty of time to pick and choose later. And who knows? Your next brain fart may well turn out to be the solution to that nagging problem you’ve been working on for months.