Intuition is great but everyone else has it too. The most valuable ideas are the ones other people don’t have yet. Finding these stand-out ideas takes a bit of counter-intuitive thinking. Like the Buddhist fishermen who claim to ‘save fish from drowning’, it’s all about finding a new perspective on the familiar.
Whether you’re just starting out your creative career, or you’re looking to get some fresh ideas into your team, here are a few tips and techniques for generating NEW stand-out ideas. They won’t all work for every person or every subject, try them out with an open mind and see what works for you. Remember, all you’re looking for is the spark of something new, then you can allow your logical brain back in…
3 Top tips for generating stand-out ideas
The golden rule – think first, edit later
Creating and judging are two different things. Never confuse the two and never judge your ideas until you’ve put them down on paper and said them out loud. Your brain is wired to avoid embarrassment and will censor out anything remotely interesting or new if you let it. Do not invite a ‘devil’s advocate’ into idea sessions. They are useful after you have a list of ideas, not during the creative process. All they will do is shut down everyone else’s creativity.
Don’t be too serious about all of this. Serious makes people nervous and nerves kill ideas – encourage a laugh and the ideas will flow.
“When work sucks, the work sucks”
– George Tannenbaum
Search yourself, not Google
You’d have to be very lucky to find a genuinely new, stand-out idea on Google or Pinterest or Reddit or Twitter. They’re great sources for background info and even audience insights but once you’ve got those, shut the tabs and do some of your own thinking. You can always come back when you’re working up the idea, but for the initial spark nothing beats brains.
8 Techniques to try
Technique 1 – What if it didn’t?
1. List all the expected features of your subject. For example if you’re talking about restaurants, you’d list tables, chairs, menus, chefs, food, etc. Aim for 10 things.
2. Now take those things away one at a time and imagine how your restaurant could still work. For example – maybe a restaurant with no chefs is an open kitchen with ready-recipes and some porters. You book a slot and make dinner with your friends, using the best quality produce and kitchen facilities, the porters take care of the dishes etc and you pay less than normal.
3. Keep repeating Step 2 until you get to an interesting starting point for an idea that you’ve never heard of before – now develop it up.
Technique 2 – Bad ideas
The easiest way to come up with good ideas is to come up with lots of ideas and throw away the bad ones. Build your team’s confidence up by sharing deliberately bad ideas. For example, think of 10 innovative ways to lose a football match, bankrupt a business, or ruin a meal.
Technique 3 – 50 uses for…
1. Get a few sheets of blank paper and pick a simple object to do with your subject. For example, a brick, a spoon, a saw.
2. As fast as you can try to come up with 50 alternate uses for the object. What else could you use the brick for?
Technique 4 – What’s going on in this picture?
1. Find a photograph that relates to your subject and write down what’s happening in the picture.
2. Now make-up 3 alternative explanations of what’s going on in the picture. Be as wild as you can.
3. Now imagine what you’d think was going on in the picture if you were:
a) An alien
b) A child
c) A dog
Technique 5 – Non-stop writing
1. Agree the subject that you’re thinking about and set a timer for 5 minutes.
2. Write about the topic non-stop for 5 minutes – don’t stop to think, don’t lift your pen off the paper. Just write everything that comes into your head to do with the subject. Don’t stop to judge whether it’s good, bad, boring or interesting – write everything.
3. When the timer stops, go back through your notes and circle anything unusual that makes you think about the subject in a new way. Try to develop the circled bits up into an idea.
Technique 6 – Non-stop drawing
Repeat technique 5 but instead of writing for 5 minutes, draw for 5 minutes.
Technique 7 – Idea swapping
1. Pick a challenge related to your subject – for example ‘ideas for a new restaurant menu theme’.
2. Fold your paper into three columns and on the left column write the numbers 1 to 5. Now quick-fire think of 5 initial ideas and write them beside the numbers.
3. Swap your paper with a colleague. In the second column, they add 5 new ideas based on your 5 original ones. They can vary from slight tweaks to the original ideas, to whole new ideas inspired by them. Repeat with a third partner in the third column. With just 3 people in 15 minutes, you’ll now have the start of 45 ideas. Do it with 10 people and you’ll have a lot more…
4. Gather in all the sheets and review them as a team, circling the interesting starting points and deciding who will go and develop the best ideas.
Technique 8 – Forced connections
1. Make a list of verbs from a certain field, for example sports – jump, punch, kick, pull, lift, bend, climb. Aim for 10.
2. Make a list of nouns to do with the field you’re working on – window, jacket, rug, car, cobbles, radiator, light switch, roadworks. Again, aim for 10.
3. Combine them and see what sticks out as an interesting thought and the starting point for an idea. For example… windows punching holes in walls, roadworks jumping out of the ground, the light switch pulling your room into the light, or your jacket bending your arms behind your back.
4. Repeat the process with adjectives rather than verbs. So you might end up with a musclebound promise, a tall noise, or an arrogant morning. You’re looking for phrases you’ve never heard before that make you think of something in a new way.
Look for the start, not the end
None of these techniques are going to hand you your golden, stand-out idea on a plate, but collectively they’ll help you find new perspectives, and stop you banging your head against a brick wall. Go easy on yourself. You don’t need to find the final version of the idea or the fully fleshed-out idea, you just need to find the start. Good luck!