Birth of the Big Idea

If you want to make a creative person squirm, ask them where their most recent big idea came from. While they most likely can’t answer that question, they most likely can tell you how they arrived at the big idea by identifying some of the processes they most often rely on.


Some of my favorite creative people are childlike in their approach to coming up with ideas. They fearlessly explore their ideas, share freely, and rather than criticize, build on other people’s ideas. They explore the creative constraints of a project and then work within them—or slightly outside of them. A good creative brief will introduce those constraints, in addition to identifying valuable insights about the target audience that can often make the inner light bulb go off.


Experienced creatives love to take risks, recognizing their usual methods and then trying something else. Taking a different approach to a project or working with different creative partners forces you to see things differently, which can yield gold. It’s a natural instinct to want to stick with the same methods and teams every time, but shaking things up is a great way to stay nimble.


Another way to feed the creative mind is to get away from the computer. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes about the need for regular artist dates:

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”


I believe that while solo artist dates are best, team outings are great, too. Those outings can consist of brainstorming over beers, going for a walk at lunch, or seeing a movie together. Building a strong team is a powerful way to create the trust needed for great ideas.


Steve Jobs once famously told students to “stay hungry, stay foolish.” I love that because in order to survive in this industry, you have to stay curious by constantly taking in new information and asking questions. Being curious also means being collaborative and working with people who view problems differently than you do. And to stay curious, change is inevitable—whether it’s adapting how you think or trying a new method, you have to take what you’ve done in the past and build something bigger.


Finally, get all of your ideas out of your head—even the crappy ones. Everyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with writing things down. My love of whiteboards, notepads, and my Bullet Journal is legendary. I think that when you write ideas out, they feel less permanent and less intimidating. In the creative industry, there’s a lot of pressure to come up with a completely new idea—really, being creative is all about putting together pieces of different puzzles that several people have put together in the past. Ideas are notorious for hiding—sometimes, you’ll find them in something that had never caught your attention before. Look for ideas that inspire you and when something captures your attention, write it down.


If you’re in the creative field, I’d love to know about your process and how you innovate. Please leave your comments below.

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