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November 8, 2010 / davebirss

Where good ideas come from

The mystery of where innovation, inspiration and great ideas comes from has interested me for a long time. It’s really been a bit of an obsession. I once went so far as to do a stupid experiment on my brain to try to make myself more creative. It was complete idiocy. And it took me much longer to fix myself than it did to break myself. But I’ve never stopped searching for the magical ingredient that will make me come up with more ideas, better ideas and more effective ideas.  And it seems that I’m not the only one – my most popular slideshare presentation is a guide to sparking fresh thinking.

But when I’ve been questioned about how to come up with ideas, the questioners seem to be looking for absolute rules. They want guaranteed solutions that will cause them to start spitting out ideas like a modern day Da Vinci. And that’s just not the way it works.

When I’ve been talking to agencies recently about how to come up with the kind of ideas that work well online, I tell them that one important thing is to loosen the creative department’s stranglehold on ‘the idea’. It kind of comes back to this Smudginess™ principal I was talking about a couple of days ago. The best work comes when there is an open and collaborative attitude. When egos are put aside and other people’s input is embraced and encouraged.

One of the problems with most advertising creatives is that they are used to thinking within established constructs – the headline and visual approach of press and posters, the eye-popping, super-condensed narrative of 30 second TV ads or the envelope/first reveal/second reveal approach of DM. The wide-open territory of the new communications landscape requires a new kind of thinking. It still needs a ‘big idea’ – it just needs a different kind of ‘big idea’.

When it comes to digital work, some of the best work I’ve seen has come from the early involvement of tech people. (In fact, one of the best creative partners I ever worked with was the Head of Technology in a digital agency.) And then the job of the creative department is to find the best expression of that idea, make it look beautiful, make it sound the part and oversee it through to completion.

And I’m glad to see that other people are yabbering about this spirit of collaboration. Here’s a lovely little film that introduces Steven Johnson’s new book ‘Where good ideas come from’. It’s not focused on advertising – but it is all about what advertising is *supposed* to be about.

Preach it Steven!

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