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Making windows punch holes in walls. How to generate stand-out ideas.

How to generate original, stand-out ideas

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…

Top tips for generation stand-out ideas.

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.

Enjoy it

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.

Try this when generating stand-out ideas.

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.

good luck generating your ideas

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!

Wanted: Gutsy Middleweight Creative (Full time – permanent or temporary).

If you enjoy creating attention-seeking work that stands out and gets noticed, we need you NOW.

We’re urgently looking for a super-talented creative with campaign and brand experience. You’ll have an obsession for ideas, the guts to be different, and a hunger to learn and succeed.

Ideally you’ll be a multi-disciplinary creative with at least 3 years’ top level agency experience – focused on ideas first, and as comfortable writing headlines as you are creating visuals. But we’re openminded and keen to hear from you – let us know what you love and what you’re good at, and if you’re not right for this one we’ll keep you in mind for future opportunities. We’ll put you on the best briefs around, and treat you right in a supportive environment where you’ll be able to shine (albeit from home for the next wee while).

Salary dependent on experience.

Please send your top 3 pieces of work and a covering note to before Monday 8th March 2021.

Creating brands that stand-out AND stand for something.

We’ve raised a few eyebrows with all our talk about guts. Particularly when we promised our clients we’ll serve up their guts on a plate. But it’s really not as aggressive or messy as it sounds. At StudioLR, ‘guts’ stands for two things – substance and bravery. If you’re looking to sharpen up your brand and stand-out, here’s where we’d start…

Part 1. Strategic substance
(AKA: Getting to the guts)

Dave Trott quote about creating brands that stand out and stand for something.

Having guts doesn’t mean shouting the loudest, or being the brashest brand in the room. It’s about knowing exactly what you stand for, and having total conviction in it.

It’s a question of focus. Sharp, single-minded focus. What is the one thing you want to be famous for? Don’t confuse narrow with small – a sharp, singular focus will propel you much further than a vague notion. Like a powerful power hose, rather than a sad puddle.

Here’s an example…

Imagine you just wanted your business to behave and be known as ‘good’. Seems fairly safe territory, doesn’t it? But think of the resources you’d have pour into covering all that vague ground. And think of the contradictions you’d have to make to your team and your customers…

  • You’d have to prove you were fast and responsive (because that’s ‘good’) but also that you were considered and fastidious with the details (also good)
  • You’d have to prove you were big and reliable but also small enough to be personal and to really care
  • You’d have to prove you were interested in unity, teamwork, and community but also that you had ‘stand-out’ and valued individualism
  • You’d have to prove you took safety and security seriously but also that you took risks to innovate

To be useful, brands have to be much sharper than people.

You’re probably familiar with these ‘everything to everyone’ sorts of strategies. The definition of ‘good’ is so wide that it’s almost impossible to convey and is an instantly-forgettable brand. Brands built on vagueness become walking contradictions that stand for nothing. They’re more expensive to build as they have to cover so much ground. Their employees don’t know what’s expected of them – so they don’t give a consistent service. And their customers don’t feel anything about them beyond the function of the product.

People are walking contradictions. We all are. But people care about people. Nobody inherently cares about your brand. Nobody will devote the time to really get to know every side of your brand. 

A singular, sharp focus will make you stand-out, be memorable and easier for people to understand. And, if you’re really lucky, to relate to too.

Getting to that singular focus takes a lot of gut-digging – poking around deep in the workings of your organisation, asking awkward questions about your leader’s vision, your competitive landscape, and your customer’s wishes. But once we get it, the rest is (almost) easy…

Part 2. Creative bravery 
(AKA: Having guts)

Armed with a single, sharp focus, we put our efforts into magnifying, dramatising, and following through on it – 100%. 

The beauty of focus is that it takes some of the subjectivity out of judging creative work. And it takes some of the personal risk out of making ‘brave’ work. 

We’re no longer looking for ideas we ‘like’, or the ‘best’ ideas. We’re looking for ideas that are right and ideas that are the most [insert your brand focus here].

For example…

If your brand was focused on freedom (like Harley Davidson), whether you’re judging a new product idea, a sponsorship opportunity, a new product name, an ad campaign,  brand identity development – your question is always ‘Is this the most free?’ rather than ‘Is this the best?’ or ‘Do I really like this?’.

Not everyone in your team has to like it. But everyone should remember it. And see how it fits your brand’s sharp focus. Remember, camp-splitting is usually the sign of a high-impact idea – it’s hard to have a genuinely strong opinion on a bland idea.

Focus gives you a license to think big, and create surprising, eye-catching, stand-out work. Safe in the knowledge that it’s underpinned by a sound, consistent strategy. It’s not about a marketer’s ‘bravery’, or willingness to gamble with their career. It’s about their guts to believe in their decisions, to shun vagueness, and to commit to building a sharp, valuable brand.

Wanted: Gutsy Middleweight Creative/Designer

Gutsy Middleweight with digital experience for immediate start, three month full-time contract with potential to extend.

If you enjoy creating attention-seeking work that stands out and gets noticed, we need you NOW.

We’re urgently looking for a super-talented middleweight designer with the guts to be different, a keen eye for detail, a love of the visual craft, and a hunger to learn and succeed.

Ideally you’ll have at least 4 years’ top level agency experience and be able to handle strategic brand briefs – especially brand identity schemes, campaign design, and content.

We’ll treat you right in a supportive environment where you’ll be able to shine (albeit from home for the next wee while).

Full-time temporary contract with potential to extend to permanent role. Salary or contract rate dependent on experience.

Send your top 3 pieces of work and a covering note to before Monday 4th Jan 2021.

Bitesize Bravery: Encouraging schoolkids to stay creative

Bitesize Bravery: Encouraging schoolkids to stay creative

At StudioLR, creativity is the name of the game. Strategy, ideas, execution – every stage is a creative task. It doesn’t matter whether we’re working with a CEO to craft her business vision, or working with a photographer to craft the perfect shot. To succeed, our work needs to be new, novel, stand-out, attention-grabbing. Creativity is the one ingredient we couldn’t do without.

Kids are creative geniuses

Kids are the most creative people in the world. But sometimes we push them to unlearn that skill as they get older. They get used to learning in blocks. An hour of Maths here, an hour of English there. They can start to see creativity as something that only belongs in the Art Department. But it doesn’t.

From the Fosbury Flop to the Ford motor car, creative thinking has changed on the world. Sport, business, science, conservation, entertainment. You name it, creativity powers it.

A simple, bitesize lesson plan

Working with Daydream Believers, we’ve created Bitesize Bravery – a framework for short lessons that bring creative thinking into every classroom. No matter the subject.

The framework is simple. Teachers can pick and choose to suit their plans – building lessons that last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. In Part One kids fuel their imaginations by finding and exploring examples of creative bravery in their subject. Then in Part Two they stretch their own creative muscles with an exercise. These exercises are all based on tried-and-tested tools that we’ve used in the studio.

It’s been great to hear positive feedback from teachers and we hope the lessons help a few bright sparks to carry on sparking.

Get the teaching tools

You can watch a re-run of Dave chatting through the lesson plan at the Creative Bravery festival below. Or download a free PDF of the lessons and get stuck right in. Rachel Nesbitt, a talented Edinburgh College graduate, designed the slide pack. (Thanks Rachel!).

And finally, make sure you have a look at the Creative Bravery Festival. There’s a tonne of great ideas and resources over there from so many great contributors, including everyone’s favourite company. (Lego, of course!).

Avoid the big TA-DA. And get your team behind your brand

Avoid the big Ta-da!

7 tips to get your team behind your brand

Are you rebranding and worried about keeping your team motivated? Worry not! We’ve put together a free PDF with 7 tips to help get your team behind your brand. 

This week’s tip sadly means putting away the top hat and waistcoat…

Who’s brand is it anyway?

“Volatile times are only scary for the powerless. If people feel like they can influence their own future they can move mountains.”
Nigel Girling

Crisis or no crisis, we’ve found this to ring true.

If you’re working on a rebrand, bring people along on the journey, don’t wait til the end to show them the big reveal of ‘your’ big idea, or ‘your’ new direction. If you want it to succeed, the direction has to be theirs.

The easiest way is to involve people in hands-on workshop situations – answering questions, giving opinions, working up ideas. Let people be honest and get hopes, fears, issues and strong opinions out in the open early. They’re not a bad thing! These are great fuel and often trigger original, authentic ideas.

Let people get involved in the idea

The bonus result of doing this is that more brains end up working on making the ideas better. In the less-collaborative way of working, most brains are just used to ‘sense-check’ an idea. Working together boosts your chances of coming out with a high impact, creative idea.

Of course, we’re not talking about creative by committee. At some point you need to ruthlessly believe in, and drive, an idea. But by that point you should have all the input you need to make your team believe in it too.

For more free tips, download the PDF.

Be-sharply single-minded

Be sharply single-minded

For our organisations to flourish we need our people to believe in themselves, in each other, and in what we’re doing as an organisation. They need a clear direction.

Be sharply single-minded. 7-tips for rally your team.

If you’re trying to rally your team behind your brand, download our free PDF tips here.

Here’s a little taster…


Like any audience, you can’t expect your people to remember, understand, and buy into a complex series of messages. 

Think hard to get down to one thing. One specific thing that your organisation should be famous for. What’s your idea? What do you stand for? Hone it until it’s razor-sharp.

Then use your idea as a way to show your people how important they are. 

So, if you were Harley-Davidson, and your brand idea was ‘Freedom’, you’d find an interesting way to show your people why freedom matters. And ultimately, why their job matters.

Download your free PDF for more tips.

Don't mention the B-word

Don’t mention the B-word

If you’ve ever gone through a rebrand you’ll know it can sometimes cause a bit of friction. The phrase “going through a rebrand” tells a story itself. But it doesn’t have to be difficult – it should be a positive experience for everyone.

7 tips to help your team get behind your rebrand - free download

We’ve put together a series of 7 tips to help get your team behind your brand. If you’re looking to set a clear direction, boost morale and get the most out of your team, download the free PDF here.

In the meantime, this one is maybe the most important tip… 

What is a brand?

When we talk about making your team feel connected to your business, we’re talking about brand strategy. We’re talking about positioning… what makes you different… why you exist… what your values are. It’s all brand.

But whatever you do, don’t call it brand. 

Do not mention the b-word.

The word brand, to anyone who isn’t in the field, means ‘logo’. Or sometimes it means ‘expensive, waste-of-money-when-our-jobs-are-at-risk-logo’.

While it’s not true – and nobody ever spent half a million on a new logo – it makes a good headline, and a powerful morale-buster. Being right in this case doesn’t matter – being effective matters. It’s usually more effective to put it in the context of your team’s day-jobs. 

So, talk about service, experience, expectations, culture – anything but brand. Unless, of course, you’re investing in training for your whole team on what a brand really is. But that’s a different matter.

Remember to download your free PDF for the rest of the tips.

Proffesional attention seekers: We'll serve your guts on a plate

Don’t worry we’re not savages – just professional attention seekers.

As we head into our 17th year, we’ve been focussing on what we do best for our clients.

In a nutshell ‘We’re your gutsy creative agency’.

We’re here to help ambitious organisations stand out and win in their sector. If you work with us, you can expect us to get our hands dirty – poking around until we get to the heart of your organisation. And you can expect big, bold, attention-seeking ideas that get you noticed and remembered.

Gutsy creative agency. New website

If that perks up your ears, head over to our new website
for a look around, call Andy for a chat, or watch our one minute showreel…

And, before you go, we’re sending a HUGE thanks to you all – clients, collaborators and friends. We’ve had 16 fantastic years working with you. Here’s to 16 more!

A reward for reading this far…

Wish your brand was gutsier?

A reward for reading this far

Give us a shout for a free one hour Zoom workshop. No strings attached – an informal chat, some new ideas, some free inspiration. We have 5 slots, when they’re gone they’re gone…

Ok, make that three rewards. If you’re thinking about rebranding, we’ve got two free PDF downloads to help you make the most of it…

Don’t Fear The Rebrand: 5 Top Tips for Rebranding

Get Your Team Behind Your Brand: Employee Engagement Tips

Shout if you want to stand out:

Shout if you want to stand out

Edinburgh’s gutsy creative agency:
0131 454 3200

Brand Strategy for Cheaters

Do you have a clear brand strategy that you keep coming back to? One that guides the way you do things and the decisions you make? If the answer is no, and your budget is zero, it’s not the end of the world. As a bare-minimum, a quick cheat-sheet can make a difference…

There are 1,001 ‘strategy’ and ‘brand’ words out there – don’t worry if you’ve heard some and not others. And don’t let the long list repel you. There’s no exact right or wrong way to do things and no exact right or wrong answer. If your brand strategy answers the question “What do we want to be famous for?” you’re in decent shape.

Brand strategy cheat-sheet – illustration of a character holding the cheat-sheet.

The Cheat-Sheet

Putting together a simple one-page ‘Brand Strategy Cheat Sheet’ will help give you some focus and clarity. Your one-pager should include:

  1. Your brand idea
  2. Why customers choose you
  3. Your personality

Let’s go into a wee bit more detail on those three…

1. Your brand idea

This should be a sort of emotional shorthand for the benefit of choosing you (whether you happen to be a product, a service, even a place). Don’t feel pressure to do it a certain way because you’ve seen it in a case study. Brand ideas come from all angles – from a social purpose to a time-of-day…

Brands with ideas.
Apple = a mindset, creativity.
Harley-Davidson = a feeling, freedom.
Disney = a feeling, magic.
Volvo = an issue, safety.
Innoceny = a personality, chatty.
KitKat = a ritual, break-time.
Patagonia = a cause, save the planet.

While they’re all totally different brands and totally different ideas, you’ll notice these all have a few things in common:

They’re easy to understand
You get the idea in a couple of words.

They’re single-minded
It takes a lot of effort to be famous for something.
It’s almost impossible to be famous for multiple things. Stick to one idea.

They’re specific
Paint a specific picture in your audience’s mind and you’ll stand out and be remembered. Your brand idea can’t be to be ‘good’,  ‘the best’, ‘customer-focused’ or ‘engaging’ … None of those paint any sort of clear picture – they’re all too vague.

A quick and easy test for your idea is ‘Could someone use the opposite of this?’. If yes, you’re onto a winner. For example a motorbike brand could be about Freedom (like Harley) but it could just as easily be about Control. If the answer is no, there’s a good chance your idea is just an expected feature in your sector – like a ‘fun day out’ or ‘reliable advice’ or ‘products that work’. This doesn’t help you stand out or be remembered.

Your brand idea – illustration of a character that stands out.

2. Why customers choose you

Start with a simple statement or list of exactly what type of people you appeal to. Then add what they get out of you – rationally and emotionally. If you haven’t got any up-to-date research, dig through your old surveys, Twitter mentions, Facebook comments, TripAdvisor reviews for the rough raw material.

3. What’s your brand personality?

How do you express yourself? Bigger organisations might have clear values that shape the way they behave and the way they communicate. Or you might have a full tone of voice guide. At a minimum you’re going to need a statement or a short list of adjectives that describe how you want to come across. But make sure they’re sharp, specific adjectives…

Don’t tolerate ‘engaging’, ‘vibrant’, or ‘professional’ here. Aim for personalities that would really shape a brief.

For example… 

  • A fastidious, detail-focused ‘geek’ who can’t wait to show you the special editions in her comic collection.
  • A warm, friendly grandad who greets you with open arms and tells you a story.
  • A rebellious teenager who wants to bring down the system.
  • A well-schooled butler who you don’t even notice is there, but who puts everything in the right place at the right time.
  • A cheeky chancer who’s always spinning a tale (think Del-Boy).

A quick tip 

If you’re doing this yourself and getting nowhere – don’t be afraid to define what you’re not. Find a load of personality trait adjectives and discuss them with some colleagues. When somebody says “We’re definitely not that”, the discussion about why will usually lead you towards what you really are.

Express yourself creatively – illustration of a character with a pencil

And finally – express yourself creatively

With your Brand Strategy Cheat Sheet as a brief, you can now get creative with anything new you put in place. So before you create anything ask yourself – how could we make this fit our personality? How could we tie this into our idea? How do we do this our way?

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