Tag Archives: ideas

Steve Jobs nailed it

Finally reading Walter Isaacson’s great book on Steve Jobs.

I’ve noticed over the years that the more people tell me I simply have read/watch something, the more my innate rebellious streak kicks in and I can stupidly avoid experiencing something great.

Anyway, among other brilliant things Mr. Jobs was quoted as saying, was this:

“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”

Isaacson, Walter (2011-10-24). Steve Jobs (p. 431). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

So true. I have always found that having ideas is like a random chemical reaction. You heat things up and pretty soon something unexpected happens.

There’s a tendency in our business to pretend that having great ideas is something that you can turn into a neat little process.

You can turn it into a predictable process. But the the output from this process will be very predictable. Never “insanely great” as Steve used to say.

A certain amount of pain and fear and uncertainty is absolutely necessary to create anything good. Sorry!

Execution. The only thing that really matters

I’ve always been a bit puzzled by the emphasis ad and marketing people place on “strategy”.

Like strategy is some mysterious thing that if they just get it right, magic will happen.

In my experience, great advertising is invariably a triumph of mere common sense and sound judgment that was readily accessible to all.

It’s never a secret.

And rarely is it the product of that beaten-to-death marketing term: “insight”.


That’s all there is.

Not “think” something great.

Create something that people will love.

In other words, execute.

Give people something to react positively to.

I think all the palaver about strategy – and that’s what it is, palaver – is just an excuse to hide from the tricky business of actually doing something.

integration across the nation

i came across an article recent that fretted that advertising agencies were struggling with “integration”. Which is, IMHO, frequently mistakenly taken to mean that every idea can somehow effortlessly straddle multiple media and platforms.

Like if you just really racked your brain your idea will somehow become magically “integrated”.

Here’s the deal. Great ideas have energy and go places, bad ideas don’t have energy. they just sit there.

My test of a good idea is that anyone – the milkman, your spouse – can come up with great additions to your original idea.

Because great ideas are usually fundamentally and obviously good. Your biggest problem is deciding which great addition to produce.

A nice problem.


i just watched Toy Story 3 (in 3D) with my kids. it’s a great movie. great story, great execution. but why is it in 3D? My kids all felt it was unnecessary and distracting.

3D has become the new thing. Why?

A couple of reasons. Just as 3D was the gimmick that was supposed to save movies from TV back in the 50s, it has become the thing that will save movies from piracy in the 00s. The files will be too big to download and you can’t watch it on your computer.

But the flaw in that thinking is something very familiar to anyone who works in advertising: 3D isn’t an idea, it’s a technique. And applying it willy-nilly is just stupid. I noticed my kids and i ditching the 3D goggles several times during Toy Story 3. It just wasn’t adding anything to what was already a great story really well executed. Isn’t knowing when to stop the most important creative skill? It is.

The World Cup in 3D? great idea. everything and the kitchen sink in 3D? bad idea.


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.

How to have a creative idea.

People who aren’t regularly and explicitly creative in their everyday lives (ie, normal people with real jobs) can sometimes have a distorted idea of what being creative entails. I know I once did. I used to equate creativity exclusively with the “arts” – painting, music, film-making, etc. And that’s wrong.

The Latin root of the word “creative” is the verb creo/creere, which means to think. Not to draw or play. Being creative simply means having ideas. Thinking about things.

There are creative plumbers, creative parents, creative accountants. Creativity is about problem-solving.

Richard Branson is one of the most creative people in business. He looks at existing categories -airlines, the music industry, etc, sees what they’re doing wrong and then thinks of an idea to make it better. That’s creativity. He then goes and cancels out all this creativity by being a stupid git who won’t stay out of hot air balloons. Kidding.

So how do you have a creative idea? First you define the real problem you’re trying to solve. It isn’t always obvious. And it can take a while to figure out. Making sure you’re trying to solve the correct problem is the most important part. For obvious reasons. But lots of people blow right by it. Or accept someone else’s definition of the problem without thinking. Then, you soak up all the information and stuff that is relevant to the problem. And then, and only then, you start thinking of ideas. Because now you know what you have to do. It’s a simple three stage process.

The mistake most people make is rushing to the final stage — execution, the glamorous bit — without doing the boring but necessary first two bits. They immediately start frantically searching for something that they wouldn’t recognize if it bit them on the face: the right idea. Because they’re not looking for solutions, they’re just desperately trying to think an idea. Any idea! But they’re not yet in a position to judge their own ideas. So they go around in circles. Like puppies. Labrador puppies.

A good analogy is to think of creativity in terms of firing a gun. Ready, aim, fire. Think of how much time you devote to each of the stages. Ready and Aim (should) take a lot more time than Fire, which takes just an instant. Yet the impulse is to go right to Fire. The fun bit.

Ready is the problem definition stage. What’s the real problem? What effect are you trying to achieve?

Aim is the thinking about it stage. What are all the factors at work here?

Fire is merely the having an idea stage. The final bit.

The first two stages should be done with a very open mind (uncritical, unanalytical ) with no thought to the execution stage. The reason is that focusing on execution can cause paralysis of the brain. The terror that you’ll never have the right idea. So don’t do that. Instead focus on what you want to achieve and load up your mind with the raw materials for ideas: the boring facts, think about the dynamics that surround the problem you’re trying to solve. And the effect you want to have. This way you keep yourself busy and you’re not worrying about the idea stage. Because it’s too early.

The great part about this approach is that, though you might not know it, your subconscious mind is doing all the work for you.

Because the dirty little secret about creativity is that great ideas don’t come from racking your conscious mind and anxiously chewing pens and pacing around a room. Like they do in the movies. Or from so-called”brainstorming”. Great ideas come effortlessly. They bubble up from the subconscious mind. But first you have to tell your subconscious that you need an idea and feed it the necessary data.

And that’s really all there is to it.