We’ve all been there. At some point in life we’ll all come to a point where in we’ll run out of ideas and we’ll find ourselves staring helplessly at a blank screen with absolutely no idea what to fill it with.
It’s part of the joys and pains of creation. And it happens to even the most brilliant and the most creative. Sometimes the underlying cause is that we tend to second-guess ourselves sometimes, or overthink things, or do any number of things that cause us to get in our own ways. The problem disappears once we have dealt with our own neuroses.
But more often than not, the issue doesn’t really get that serious, and all we need to get out of our creative rut is a whack in the head, or a jolt of stimulation, just a little push to get us rolling.
That’s where brainstorming comes in. Advertising creatives are pretty great at doing this and they’ve got it down (almost) to a science. Each agency would have its own “method” of jumpstarting creativity. In the Lowe agencies, they use what is called the “Blue Sky” method, in which participants just put ideas in as if anything were possible.
Brainstorming with the blue sky method gives you permission to fail, and license to fly. When we take away the issue of falling to our deaths, many of us would probably be perfectly willing to jump off a cliff. When we take the fear of failure and fear of rejection off the table, you’d be surprised at how many interesting, kooky, wacky ideas we can bring forth.
Step 1: Write down the central topic, statement, or the problem to be dealt with.
You can do this old school on a huge sheet of paper. Or you can use a mind-mapping software like Xmind (used with an LCD projector if in a group setting). Determine the essential words and phrases — these will be the seeds from which your ideas will spring forth. If you get more than 3 seeds, it may be a sign of wordiness or lack of focus in your main statement or topic. You may want to simplify.
Step 2: Make word associations.
For each “seed”, write down everything that pops into your head. Continue branching out from each of the items you come up with. Keep on churning them out for 15 minutes or so, or until you feel you’ve exhausted your mind.
You can take a break after this stage.
Tip: Don’t edit yourself. If you’re doing this in a group, don’t shoot down others’ ideas either. Don’t think about cost, or political correctness, logistics, or “practicality”.
Step 3: Find or make connections.
Take an idea in one “tree” and try to associate or combine it with a word or idea from another are in the sheet. This brings in a lot of fresh takes on the issue and a lot of Eureka! moments.
This time, you can make a list of the ideas that you come up with. Generally, the first few ideas that you come up with are the most obvious ones. Come up with a few more.
Tip: Don’t get too attached to an idea. Advertising honcho Frank Lowe used to say, “The good is the enemy of the great.” Fixating on a particular idea might keep you from seeing the great idea when it comes.
Step 4: Detach, then come back.
Do something else. Take a nap, watch a movie, run errands or do chores. Just take your mind off it for a while. This is a very good way to get those ideas to marinate (to use a meat metaphor) or to steep and brew (to use a beverage metaphor) — which is an essential step in any creative process.
When you’re ready to come back to your blue sky, you will find yourself better able to judge on which ideas to move forward with or you may find yourself in the midst of a second wind of Eureka! moments.
Set up a criteria for judging and evaluating ideas and shortlist those that have the most merit. Trust your instincts and your own internal BS detector, and remember to not get too attached to an idea.
Now that you’ve given your creative juices a whack, go forth and see where an idea takes you! It should bring you to come up with better solutions to your problem or better content for your website.
Need more brainstorming ideas? Check out this article in INC.