Great Ideas: The Fine Print
One of my favourite stand-out talks in recent years was from Gordon Cook, co-founder of Vega School. He asked us by a show of hands—a room full of agency folks—who were the creatives? The designers and copywriters, feeling smug (myself included), lifted our hands.
"Wrong, he exclaimed!" Then he asked the entire room to lift their hands. This is one of the most common misconceptions within our industry, one I'd like us all to unlearn.
You see, you can be creative in almost anything you do – from colours, shapes, letters and words to numbers, strategies, code and data. More so than ever, this applies to your ideas. This, then, is the launch-pad from which I'd like to share an idea with you.
Escape the old
"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” ― John Maynard Keynes
Our primary mandate should always be ‘to be creative’; being creative results in good ideas and vice verse. Ideas—and the executions thereof (to my second point)—are what we get paid for, to ensure our clients and their brands have a competitive and memorable edge. But, as we all know, it isn't always easy to escape old ideas ― they’ve become habits.
Blame the school system. Blame our parents. Blame politics. Either way, we have to undergo a paradigm shift, something that’s quite uncomfortable for many of us and almost impossible for others. My tip: being purposeful and deliberate is the only way to edge out the old and usher in the new. So, do things you otherwise wouldn’t; you need to make yourself uncomfortable.
Try reading books you've never considered before, listening to music outside of your playlist, or just try entering a discussion with someone you disagree with. Remember, the goal is not to be right, but to learn. You may even find it to be quite liberating.
As designers about to start work on a new campaign, this absolutely applies to our favourite bookmarks, too. We can’t keep going back to the same old ideas because they’re comfortable. That’s easier said than done, I know, but I can guarantee it’ll pay dividends.
Be a goat
“Ideas are easy. It's the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.” ― Sue Grafton
While there will always be exceptions, the best ideas we’ve had as an agency often come from a room full of keen, eager people. And coffee. And maybe some cake, too.
What really allows for ideas to flourish is a space where ‘stupid’, ‘weak’ and even ‘safe’ don’t exist. When there is a freedom to explore and bounce ideas off of one another, a kind of magic happens. Regardless of who the originator of a great idea may be, the whole group leaves the room feeling fresh and invigorated. So, why is collaboration so crucial for a group to reach their creative potential?
This, for me, is the kind of stuff that we’re privileged enough to be involved in. But, as "easy" as good ideas seem to flow, it’s quite another thing to see them grow into something more.
Can you imagine the people who first thought about walking on the moon? It was a ludicrous idea, to be sure, but what’s even crazier is the magnitude of the effort made to see it realised. The moment the Apollo programme was first conceived to launch, it took almost 9 years.
Expect toil and hard work before any of your great ideas see the light of day. Although none of our plans will ever be as lofty as putting man on the moon, there is nothing better than seeing an idea come to fruition and 'live' outside of a boardroom. Whatever it is—an ad, an app or even a single digital tactic—you’ll be proud of what you’ve achieved.
“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” ― Oscar Wilde
I know when it comes to a great idea, the knee-jerk reaction will be to say, "but the client will never go for this". For most, this may be true, but I would rather offer a 'dangerous' option when it comes to a creative pitch and have it shot down every time than play it safe.
As creatives—again, that's all of us—being a little dangerous should be what makes us tick. Why not aim for nutty-almond sprinkles with extra fudge? Client may not choose this flavour, but it may be enough for them to avoid vanilla and try, say, strawberry. Strawberry is good, right? I love going into a room with a client and seeing their reaction to an idea that, sure, may not align perfectly with the brief but that gets them excited.
There’s a lot of very clever content out there; some of these ideas must have been pretty hard to get signed off. Nothing is impossible, it may just require a bit of selling to make it happen. It's been said before, but the most dangerous expression in advertising may be, "I like it!" Our end goal at the ideation phase should never be to get the client to 'like' something. They should either love it or hate it.
It's these compelling emotions and reactions that are most likely to affect the end-user or customer.
An intense desire
Any number of ideas can prevent us from having great ideas, or even just good ones. Charlie Chaplin best summarised this thought in a quote from his autobiography: "Interviewers have asked me how I get ideas for pictures and to this day I am not able to answer satisfactorily... Over the years I have discovered that ideas come through an intense desire for them; continually desiring, the mind becomes a watch-tower on the look-out for incidents that may excite the imagination – music, a sunset, may give image to an idea. I would say, pick a subject that will stimulate you, elaborate it and involve it, then, if you can’t develop it further, discard it and pick another. Elimination from accumulation is the process of finding what you want.”
Have that desire for them. Be on the lookout. There really is no magic formula or silver bullet. Understand that the brain is a muscle and the more we use it, the better and the more effective it (and therefore we) become. Go get 'em you creative person, you.