What’s the Idea?

[September 15, 2009]

When today’s Nielsen numbers have faded and the latest Google analytics have gone to gigabyte heaven, there’s one thing that remains. It’s always relevant, fresh and forever impervious to fads, trends or whatever the word “cool” means in your hometown.

It’s the Idea.

Now, even without a scientific study, I’ll bet that the word “idea” fits snugly in the ranks of the Top 10 Vaguest Words in the English language. So, to be clear: by “idea,” I mean the carefully crafted piece of intellectual property that’s the backbone of all creative work.

Maybe the thought of crafting an idea seems foreign to you, because you’ve always imagined that a creative idea is something blurted out in a cold sweat by a “genius.” That is, after all, what happens in the movies.

In reality, a usable creative idea grows out of ceaseless observation and a talent for distilling observation into text and image. This is the process that leads Creative teams to find hidden connections in dreary reams of data, day in and day out.

It happens in a flash: A puff of smoke emerges from the snack room as a Creative makes a leap of imagination. But just as surely as a state fair magician has something up his sleeve, anyone who claims that a creative idea “just came to me,” is playing to the balcony.

Smoke & Mirrors
What starts as a white lie has serious consequences. It perpetuates the illusion that creative ideas are the product of mysterious forces. Yes, there’s talent involved, but it’s the application and refinement of talent that produces results.

That’s why I see the popular corporate parlor game we call “brainstorming,” as a complete waste of time. Blurting out metaphors over cupcakes is simply no substitute for skilled creative work.

Pressured to perform, people from all different disciplines resort to chatting about attractive features of existing campaigns. Pressured to conform, even the bravest are reduced to nodding and smiling—as senior executives vigorously promote “thought starters” of their own invention.

Under these conditions, brainstorming can only produce, at best, the raw material for a creative idea. Whatever nuggets come out of a brainstorming session still need a lot of work, including the effort it takes to cross them off the list.

Leaving it to Chance?
Ultimately, off-the-cuff remarks are no better at generating usable creative ideas than they are at managing agency finances or mapping out an effective new business strategy. All three take time, patience and expertise. What’s more, as key components of your business model, they simply can’t be left to chance.

“Brainstorming” does just that—by taking creative ideation out of the hands of those most qualified to manage it. If you disagree, why not invite your junior art directors to your next budget meeting? I’m sure they’ll have plenty of cogent, innovative ideas for financial planning, picked up, no doubt, from the upcoming sequel to Wall Street.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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