12 steps to creating brilliant ideas

“Creativity is the last legal way of gaining an unfair advantage.”

—Maurice Saatchi

Our industry is built on buying and selling creativity, yet the means of coming up with truly brilliant ideas often elude us. With this in mind, I went to D&AD’s Ideas Ideas Ideas course, a workshop designed to refine creative thinking and impart techniques for generating ideas. In an intensely interactive all-day session, I learned loads of useful tips and tricks. Things like…

  1. No more than five, but no less than two
    You don’t need any more than five people around a table to respond to a brief. Massive brainstorms are often pointless and most people don’t contribute much anyways. Whereas coming up with ideas by yourself isn’t terribly effective either. Between two and five people is the ideal number for coming up with great ideas.

  2. Get in the mood

    Great ideas come from playful minds, so get into the right headspace with some kind of game. In the session I went to, we had conversations in which every sentence had to end with a question and begin with “yes, and…” This ended up with everyone smiling, inspired, and in the mood to say “yes” to everything.

  3. Reduce your challenge to one line

    Before you start coming up with ideas, take the brief and summarise the problem you’re trying to solve in a single sentence. A famous example: the elevator pitch for Ridley Scott’s Alien was “Jaws in space”. It’s probably the hardest part of the process, but the one liner will inform everything that comes after, from the ideas you come up with to how you execute them. You can also use it later to test whether your ideas are right.

  4. Make creativity a physical experience

    You’re going to need a room with a big wall. There should be enough space to pace around. And Post-it notes. You’re going to need loads of Post-it notes.

  5. If you say it out loud, write it down

    You have your one liner, your wall and your Post-it notes. Now the fun bit: coming up with the ideas. Anything goes. Even if it’s a half-baked idea or just a random thought – if you think it, stick it up there. You want to cover that wall in Post-it notes. Honing ideas will come later.

  6. Do more doodling

    It’s easy for creativity to become a word-heavy process, so force yourself to be visual. Draw things on your Post-its, even if it’s just stick figures. Basic imagery can help spark people’s creativity.

  7. Kill your darlings

    This again. Once you’ve covered the wall in ideas, you have to pick the one you’re going to fully develop. Just one. Great work is single-minded; you cannot be all things to all people. So bin all the ideas that don’t quite work. Be brutal. Trust your instincts on what is – and isn’t – worth pursuing.

  8. Push it, push it, push it

    Once you’ve chosen your idea, it’s time to flesh it out. Milk it for all it’s worth. There are many ways to do this, but here are three that are useful starting points: magnify (blow up your idea to huge proportions), simplify (whittle your idea down to its leanest form) and beautify (make your idea as aesthetically pleasing as possible).

  9. Bring your passions into it

    In 1933, the electrician Harry Beck reimagined the London Underground map as a circuit diagram and created one of the most enduring pieces of design in history. Bringing your own interests and expertise into the creative process can create true brilliance. If you love comedy, how would your idea work as a sitcom? If Japanese manga is your passion, how would your idea work in that style? This is often where the germ of a brilliant idea comes from.

  10. Ask questions to get unstuck
    You’re inevitably going to hit a brick wall, but you can get out of it by changing your thinking. If you’re stuck, ask questions. Challenge and upend your assumptions. What’s the dumbest thing you could do? Can you turn a negative into a positive? What would LEGO do? How would Wes Anderson do it? Going down these routes can quickly get you out of a rut.
  11. Give yourself a break

    Coming up with ideas is hard work. Within an hour you might have exhausted all your ideas. So have a rest. Go and do something else for a bit. Occupy your brain with other thoughts. It means you can come back to the creative process with a fresh pair of eyes.

  12. Don’t forget that presentation is everything

    It’s great to have a brilliant idea, but it’ll live or die based on how well you can communicate it to the client. Spend time considering how to share your idea, how to tell its story in a way that brings it to life. The idea of a drumming gorilla must have sounded like madness at first, but someone figured out how to sell the idea to Cadbury, and we ended up with one of the most memorable ads in years.

    Has this got your creative juices flowing? Get in touch with us and let’s bring a brilliant idea to life!