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The ideas path

18 Sep 2018 by Steven Giannoulis

Tortoise with jet pack

I’ve always been an ideas guy. I feel comfortable looking at a problem or an opportunity and then generating lots of ideas about how to tackle it in a creative way. I’ll go one step further and say, it’s one of the things I’m good at. But if I am going to be so shamelessly boastful I should be a bit more specific: it’s the quantity of ideas - not necessarily the quality – that I’m good at.

I’m not saying all my ideas are rubbish (though many are), just that the particular skill I bring to the idea generation process is helping generate that initial long list that eventually leads to one or two nuggets coming alive. After all, all innovative ideas have to start somewhere. Often one of my seemingly random thoughts gets refined, expanded and turned it into something good that barely resembles the original idea.

So, what’s the trick to coming up with lots of ideas quickly? The honest answer is, I don’t always know where my ideas come from. I’m not shy in coming forward so often it appears as simply just saying random stuff. It’s not all that loose though, I do have a couple of techniques to help find ideas, wherever they are hiding.

  1. Learning. There’s not much in the marketing and comms field I haven’t seen before. Yes, technology is different and some channels are different but clients’ objectives and customers’ basic needs remain largely the same. So, I examine a challenge in order to understand the real problem that needs to be solved. I then consider other scenarios where I’ve solved this same problem before. This isn’t about copying the same good idea again and again but about leveraging past learning. I think about why I used that solution and what worked and what didn’t. This gives me insights on how to start thinking about the challenge in front of me. 

  2. Parallels. It’s one thing to look at what other agencies around the world have done with the same challenge. This is a useful start but can often lead to ‘me too’ thinking. I find it’s better to seek the parallels in other industries and other environments. How have they solved this same problem in their field? What’s the core insight and idea behind their solution? How can we apply this same thinking here to solve the challenge in front of us?

  3. Building. My approach to idea generation is to be unfiltered. I love mind-maps so, when brainstorming, I look to rapidly connect ideas and follow the path to see where it leads. Follow your head. Follow your gut. Often this means spitting out whatever half-baked idea is forming in my head and then building on the idea out loud. This gives others the opportunity to add their thoughts and perspectives, helping the idea grow and take shape.

  4. Perspectives. The most useful tool I use for idea generation is looking at the challenge differently. I always have this Matrix image in my head when I talk about this. The challenge is suspended in mid-air and we spin around it in slow-mo, looking at it from different angles. I run through a checklist of what ifs in my head. What if the client was different? What if the target audience was different? What if the goals were different? What if time and budget were no issue? What if there was no money or time? What if we doubled the problem? Halved it? Multiplied it? Most of these perspectives go nowhere, generating ideas that have others thinking I’m a complete idiot. But sometimes one of those idiotic thoughts becomes the first spark of a really good idea.

My advice for generating ideas is to free your inhibitions and let your ideas take you to new and unexpected places. One idea sparks the next, taking you down an uncertain path until a moment of clarity reveals itself. And avoid judging your ideas too early, as you’ll quickly close off the most interesting and rewarding paths.

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