It all starts with an idea – the light bulb moment. Also known as the ‘eureka effect’ or the ‘Aha! moment’, where one minute you’re stuck in a mire of non-solutions, then suddenly it presents itself to you…as if by magic. The Greek mathematician, Archimedes, was famously known to have coined the ‘eureka!’ phrase – meaning ‘I’ve found it!’ – while in the bath tub (naturally. Although the displacement of weight in water did in fairness lead to his famous Principle …and most likely without the assistance of a rubber duck).
Everyone has ideas, but how do we tell the good ones from the bad ones? A famous scientist called Linus Pauling, once said: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas”. His point is that there’s bound to be a brilliant one in there somewhere; and the more you have, the more likely you’ll end up with a great one.
When I begin a project, I always assign myself with a brainstorming session – an unparalleled grey-matter stimulator. As a writer, I’m inspired by words. So, sometimes I’ll consider a brief in the form of synonyms: What adjectives does the brand bring to mind? What does it say to me, and more importantly, what should it be saying? By relating the subject to what it denotes and connotes I’m broadening the scope of it by standing back and letting a bigger picture unfold; allowing a snowball effect to form. So rather than just considering what it is, at face value, I think beyond: what it could be… For me, building ideas happens when I give myself the time to allow my imagination to soar. This is key. Getting into the right mindset, into ‘the zone’. And once I’m in, I feel exhilaratingly unstoppable.
The term ‘letting your imagination run away with you’ is often used as a criticism. But it’s quite the operative phrase in this instance. For when I chance upon something worthwhile, it’s as if I have mental magnets that attract one idea, then several others follow suit. While this delightful domino sequence takes hold of my head space, a concept suddenly emerges from almost nowhere. It’s an awesome feeling.
Perhaps other people experience a similar way of arriving at an idea. But what’s key to the process is allowing the time for the seed to sprout, and to grow. So that means our creativity is seriously up against it, in our world of fast-forward and getting it done yesterday. While technology has undoubtedly empowered our existence on so many levels, and can enhance our creativity, let’s not lie on our proverbial laurels and leave machines to do the thinking for us. Forming and honing ideas is what makes us human, and unique. Never concede to the danger of not digging deep for something lateral.
A man who knows a thing or two about thinking outside the box is Michael Michalko. Dubbed as “one of the most highly acclaimed creativity experts in the world”, Michalko has written several books on the subject, including Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work. I’ve long been promising to treat myself to these books. Given their accolade, they should enable me to unlock the genius within…I’m sure she’s there somewhere, and with a little help from Michael Michalko I should discover my ‘opportunity mindset’. Having worked for years in intelligence – which include facilitating CIA think tanks using his creative techniques – I figure he can make me think a little smarter. Heck, if it works for the CIA…
My tips on getting inspired, and maintaining it
None of us know when we’ll get a great idea, so these are a few must-haves for every creative:
• Be prepared. Always have something to hand, to make note of a great idea or concept.
• Take regular breaks. There’s nothing worse than staring at a computer screen, forcing yourself to get ideas. Walk away and take your mind off it for a while. When you return, you’ll feel refreshed and in a better mindset.
• What inspires you – a book? An art gallery? Music? Use the time in between doing your work to do something you love. This will give you a completely positive outlook – and may even influence what you create.
• If you feel you’re on a roll, stick with it and make as many notes as you can while you’re in the rhythm. You never know when you’ll get inspired again!
You don’t have to work at Leo Burnett to be the author of the next big idea – or feel you have to ring out your cranium to get a drop of brilliance. Original creativity is more accessible than you can imagine; and it often comes when you don’t think about thinking.
Get motivated – let your ideas breathe – jot down the goods. I defy you not to come up with something inspired.
What works for you? Let me know – I’d love to hear about it.