It’s been said that creativity is a muscle and the more you use it the bigger it gets. Well if that’s true then my creative muscle should be on the cover of “Creative Muscle” magazine. As would anyone’s creative muscle who had spent as much time as I have being paid to simply “come up with stuff”, i.e. dream.

Most people complain that their job isn’t creative enough. I have the exact opposite problem. I am lucky. I know that.

I’ve found there’s really one big secret to reliably coming up with good ideas. And it’s this: to only think about the problem. And to never rack your brain for ideas. It might sound odd but it makes sense. A lot of people, when faced with a creative challenge, panic and start desperately searching for solutions to a problem they never really defined to themselves. So they literally don’t know what they’re looking for. And it spirals from there.

By purely focusing on the problem you are subconsciously building up a very clear picture of what the solution will look like. So you know what a solution will look like when it comes time to come up with ideas/solutions. Because ideas are cheap and may not solve the problem. Solutions are valuable. So don’t come up with ideas, come up with solutions.

And coming up with solutions should be done at the last minute. Sorry, but that’s just how it works.

17 responses to “COMING UP WITH IDEAS

  1. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    I get the last minute thing.

    I think the big risk you have as a creative is being given a false problem by a client. Sometimes it is hard for them to be objective about their own needs. And you can lose a client telling them the truth, vs taking the money and solving the problem they think they have.

    Two years ago you might know from reading the news and talking with people that Toyota had a QA/Safety Problem, and they could of asked for a campaign to address value. What do you do?

  2. I know exactly what you are talking about. A former CD of mine (who shall remain anonymous) quit his job after telling the client that the product they are trying to sell has so many inherent flaws that no ad campaign will be able to fix that. Big company at that as well.

    Sometimes it’s just a very complicated brief where you have to research for at least an hour to identify the problem that has been buried under two pages of client babble.

  3. howie, i think those clients want to avoid reality and the truth will generally tend towards agencies with a similar bent. it invariably bites you in the ass.

  4. I picture client being awake at 2 a.m. trying to come up with just one excuse/argument/rationalization that’ll relax him to fall a sleep. when they find it they cling to it. and don’t you go telling them otherwise cause the process will start from zip again.
    that’s why clients too often choose the agency which supports their illusion. not what the company needs but what particular person within this company needs.
    truth is a bitch. it’ll make you work harder. it’ll challenge your system. it’ll doubt your beliefs. it’ll force you to change something. and change brings stress and uncertainty.

    on coming up with the ideas.
    I always start with the reason product was invented in the first place. it’s often so simple cause for example Coca-Cola is not about brand building, raising awareness, strenghtening its DNA… it’s for quenching thirst. in my case projects automatically de-brief themselves.
    and yeah… it’s the last minute. and I just love the rush. the focus. the surgical cuts that come from a gut not from Kotler books. these are also the reasons I love this job and stick with it.

  5. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    All three of you thank ye for the great comments and insight. I agree wholeheartedly. We have all worked with managers (and sometimes for them) that prefer hiring yes people vs talented objective people.

    But to Vik’s tale on the CD. Is there really a product no Ad can help? Or is it more a matter that no Ad can change a product into the Vision the Client thinks it is. I mean don’t people buy crap even when they know its crap?

    Riki I hope Coke hires you. Before they think a Fan Page will solve their flat sales numbers!

  6. riki, me too. i always go back to zero. strip away the bullshit. and gut feeling is all we have. we can pretend otherwise.

  7. Howie, we couldn’t advertise the product’s real benefit, because every other product in that category did it 10x better. Instead they tried to sell some bullshit about media and entertainment. It didn’t say anything nor was it cool or funny. It was just some lame ass big corporation trying to sell you shit.

  8. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    I hear you Vik.
    I have had situations in B2B direct sales where some products in my product line (or sold by sister companies) I did not believe in. I was always very up front with customers, but man those ride alongs with the visiting VP who wants to meet customers were brutal.

  9. What do you mean by brutal Howie?

  10. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    Its hard balancing tact and reality. I never lied to clients when I was in sales. Most products I sold I strongly believed in. A few sucked and I never pushed them. I once had sister companies that were horrible for quality and their customer service was worse. But as a good soldier at trade shows or when a VP wants to visit my clients hoping to promote the other divisions products, I hated having to be partially untruthful in front of clients. I have a warped sense of uber ethics and was never greedy. Clients loved it but the Bosses not always and I just hated to be put in a situation that I had to be false in anyway with a client.

    Imagine knowing your vendor or manufacturing is always a few weeks late on delivery. And your customer tells the VP they would get the business if they fixed that, and the VP says they will, and your sitting there knowing not only will it not be fixed, but its me having to take the angry call holding up shipment of a million dollar machine being threatened with a lawsuit. Yet I have to sit there nodding next to the VP as he dreams false things.

  11. I’d whack that VP one. Seriously. I’m tired of idiots running the ship and think they are at the top of the food chain. The problem is there are so many snoozers who just say yes to everything. As soon as they have to man up or show some guts, they chicken out. Two timing bastards are the worst, just had the opportunity to witness one in action yesterday. Makes me want to throw up.

  12. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    That’s why working in big companies suck Vik. There are advantages but I am glad/lucky I was able to set off on my own, though the steady $$ are taking longer than I had hoped. And yes the two timers are the worst.

  13. What are you doing for a living then Howie?

  14. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    Trying to get my own business off the ground. I don’t do creative content. I have a very slick collegiate marketing service I think will be a winner. And I come up with ideas/concepts vs the content itself. My focus is mobile but I consult on all media types. And a bit of a contrarian.

  15. An ad contrarian? ;)

  16. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    Yes I love Bob Hoffman’s blog and book. And George Parker’s. But I had these views prior to finding them. That doesn’t mean I am anti-creative. The creativeness of advertising/marketing is the attraction for me.

    On that note Vinny I loved your Office Max penny spots they were awesome.

  17. thanks howie. it’s stressful trying to buy shit with pennies in NYC! hot summer day too.

    sounds like vik and you have really hit it off!

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