It’s that light bulb moment! The little spark that will illuminate everything. It’s a great idea to have lots of great ideas, but how do we get them? Recent changes in how we do business means that creativity is demanded of more of us: through the blogs that we write, the social media updates that we share and, most of all, through seeking to cut through in a busy marketplace where our competitors are all shouting at once.
There’s nothing like the pressure to be creative to cause the brain to seize up, so here are a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.
1) Crash your internet
Some of my best ideas have come to me when the wi-fi is down. To get an idea that feels fresh and different, you have to do something fresh and different, interrupting your normal thought patterns. Even if you just head to the nearest cafe and use the wi-fi there, already you’re in a new setting, with a new view. Sometimes an actual object, person or encounter in this new environment will trigger an idea, or it may just be enough to physically put yourself somewhere out of the ordinary to shake things up a little.
2) Take a different route
And while you’re on the way to that cafe to use their wi-fi, don’t take the quickest way there. Try a back street. Look at the upper storeys as you walk by, peer round corners and into alleys. You may get some funny looks, but you don’t get to be creative without attracting a few raised eyebrows. Be curious. You may not find something that directly inspires you but your brain will be livened up the new stimuli around you. If you’re trapped in an office, try a walk to the loo. And not the nearest loos either: walk up to the next floor via the fire exit stairs and use the facilities there. (Some of the best ideas come to people when using the facilities: it’s that enforced time-out in a new setting – see (1) above).
3) The sensible behind the crazy
An idea is not a wacky thing dressed up in a jester’s hat. It has to work hard. You may conjure up a concept that is outrageously off-the-wall, but it won’t work if it’s not on-message. So first you have work out the sensible stuff. What do you want to achieve? The answer should never be newness for its own sake. You want to be relevant. What do you want people to think about you, your product, your service or your company? The answer should be one thing, or, even better, one word. It could be an defining adjective (‘dependable’, ‘futuristic’, etc ) or a key feature (‘refreshment’, ‘luxury’, etc) which is the essence of what you offer. Never mind if that one feature has been the same for a century or is not world-shaking in itself. That’s where the ideas come in. But now you are focused on what your ideas are going to dramatise. Your wackiness will now be relevant.
4) The sensible behind the sensible
If you hate being creative then you’ll love this next bit: research and lists. Gather your raw material together. List your known facts about your brand and uncover a few new ones. Can you make any connections between the words in your list? Think of those scenes in murder investigation shows where the wall is covered with leads, maps and photos and the detectives are trying to put two and two together… here’s your chance to recreate that scene. Some people don’t bother to concentrate and immerse themselves in generating ideas as they would on other tasks because they see being creative as a different sort of activity. However this sort of work needs just as much patience and application, if not more so, to get to that eureka moment.
5) Say the opposite of what you mean
An idea is often two old familiar things put together in a new and surprising way. (Haute couture knows this and is forever pairing unlikely combinations such as tracksuits with heels). So think of what your product or service is similar to, but also think about what is its complete opposite. If your company’s key advantage is ‘speed’, then you can of course illustrate it with cheetahs and jet engines. But if that feels a little predictable, think of illustrating it with its opposite, such as a snail or tortoise – but this time on roller skates. Or think of scenarios not just with your product or service, but without it. What would happen if the speedy package delivery service didn’t get there in time? Who is the least likely person to use your product? What are the 5 worst things that happen without it? Showing the opposite of your key advantage can be memorable and disruptive, and can get your point across better than telling it straight.
6) Stretching the point
How far can you push things? Creativity allows us scope for exaggeration. Not that we should claim to be something we’re not or mislead people about what they can expect. That’s plain unethical. But just as when we go to an action movie, we excuse the unlikely explosions and near-death escapes, in the same way consumers know when we’re exaggerating to make a point, and enjoy the ride. So if we use an army tank to demonstrate strength, people know that we are not necessarily promising the exact same strength as a tank, pound for pound. But a picture of a tank can say a lot more than ‘quite strong actually’. Or maybe not – in a world where the boasts get ever bigger, a more modest claim can stand out as authentic and charming. So try stretching the point, but if you feel you’ve stretched it too far, let it ping back a bit.
And don’t just stretch the what, stretch the where and how. If your idea is in words, how would it look as a picture? And vice versa. Or if it is a one-liner, what would the longer story be? What’s the video version? Or audio only? Could it become an infographic? You may find a better expression of your idea in a different format, or find yourself with a multimedia vehicle.
7) Get into character
This is where we go a bit method acting. If you were an actor preparing for a big scene, you’d take a few moments to go into character, so you can express the emotions and personality of the role that you’re playing. It can be helpful to get into character when generating ideas for your company too. If your brand is a bit cheeky and mischievous, get yourself into that mindset before getting your notepad out. Or if your brand is about serious quality, try and ignore the chaos of your desk and picture yourself in the rarefied luxurious lifestyle of your clients, and adjust your tone of voice accordingly. If your imagination is failing you, sample something that triggers the same world, perhaps a magazine or film that captures that mood.
8) Polishing the diamond
Sleep on your idea. And when you wake up in the cold light of day, see if you still love it. If you do, introduce it to your colleagues, family and friends. See what they think. See if you care! Ask a few more people. Test your idea on limited audiences. Test it against another idea, or against a variation of itself. See which variant gets the most clicks or likes on social media. What does this tell you? Could your idea be even better? Shorter, more to the point? Do people still get it? Does it say what you need it to say? Do people think it says what you think it says?
Having worked on campaigns with lots of interested parties, I’ve seen ideas taken in one of two directions: either ‘death by a thousand cuts’ where by the time everyone has had their say there is nothing left, or alternatively, benefiting from challenging input that sees the idea evolve into something even better. You need oxygen on your idea, it can’t just exist in your head alone. But make sure you’re clear on its merits and your objectives first, so you can evaluate other people’s input and use it wisely.
9) Granddad dancing
I’d like to say that everyone can have good ideas. And I’d like to say that by reading this you’ll have even better ones. I hope both points are true. Imagination is like a muscle that grows bigger with exercise, so do take your creativity for a walk more often (and not just to the office loos on the next floor up). But if when generating ideas you feel a little bit like granddad dancing, don’t take it too badly. Instead, the best idea you could have in this instance is to give the brief to someone who has a passion for creativity that works to your strategy (that’s me, standing up and waving over there).
Ah, looks like my wi-fi is working again. It’s been a great chance for me to take some time away from the inbox to jot these few ideas down. Now it’s over to you.