How to Come up with Ideas? Prt.2-Structure for the Chaos

Compared with many other planners, I have been doing quite a lot of concept work. First, because I have been working in quite agile agencies with not too narrowly defined roles. Second, I belive strongly that planner has to be able bring views and ideas to actual creative product(like everyone else working in agency).Especially if you are stand-up strategist instead of desktop one.
The following list is based on those concepting work sessions I have had over the years. This presents more of the ideal state of ideation process. Many times it is not as structured, but especially when working with tight pressure and deadlines this framework has helped me to concentrate on the most essential parts when coming up with ideas.

Ten Steps to Good Ideas

1.Write rough ideas
This is just letting off steam and make your subconscious work around the problem. Jotting down every possible idea that comes in your mind for around 15 minutes is great excercise for getting the creative juices flowing and also removing the barriers. Usually 95% of ideas generated in this phase are useless, but sometimes intuition might present us the best solution.

Duration: 15 minutes

2. Going through the creative brief, strategy & background material
To simplify this example, let´s assume that the client brief is quite on-point and the strategy is quite settled at this point. The more urgent the project is, the less time you can spend on this. Usually with bigger pitches and projects, you are able to do quite thorough deep-dive to the subject. Sometimes with tight deadline, you pretty much have to trust your own intuition, experience and point of view.

Duration: From none up to weeks depending on the project scope.

3. First idea meeting: Kicking around the business problem
It is always crucial to really ponder on about what is the business problem we are facing and how we will address it. This phase is really important, because it usually gives lots of ideas which are not straight-up advertising solutions. Usually after this session the strategy will also be refined, because everyone has come up with their valuable views on the greatest challenges our client company is facing.

Task for the team(s) before: Everyone has identified their major concerns in the case & their views on business problem.

Duration:2-4 hours

4. Second idea meeting: Kicking around ideas
Many times team jumps to this phase, but have not really done enough background work. This results in superficial ideas, which are not really solutions to the problem. With careful consideration to the steps 1-3, this will be one of the most beneficial parts of the ideation progress. Still during this phase the main emphasis is to come up with more creative quantity than sophisticated quality. These sessions are more brainstorming and the initial killing and selection of the ideas will be preferably done in separate session.

Task for the team(s) before: Everyone has prepared their own ideas (either individually or with their working partner). In the most ideal case, people have had at least couple of full days to come up with those ideas.

Duration: 2-4 hours (preferably two sessions)

5. Start killing & promoting ideas
– Are they on brief?
– Are they relevant?
– Does it make me feel?
– Does it make me act?
– Is it effective?
– Is it groundbreaking?

These are some of the questions you should be asking at this phase. If answers are no, consider ideas killed.

Duration: Couple of hours

6. Separate ideas so strong that are concepts
We have already separated the good ideas, now it is important to find out which of them have proper depth and leverage to be concepts. I wrote about the definition of concept last week. It is important to have good one-off ideas still on this phase, because they can actually make certain concepts more thorough when combined.

Duration: Several hours in conjuction with the part seven and eight.

7. Select the strongest concept(s)
One is sometimes enough, but more is preferable.

8. Refine the concepts
No shortcut with this: Revisions, rewrites, re-layouts and prototypes. This part is highly focused on perspiration abilities instead of inspiration.

Duration: Till infinity

9. Select presentation strategy
Do we present one strategy and many concepts?
Do we only present one strategy and one concept?
Do we present different strategies and different concepts?

Besides thinking the strategy for our customer, we always have to think about our internal strategy: how we grow this clientship and how we can producce as much good and effective work to them as possible. Some people are fixated about presenting only one concept at time and some people want to always have more. I think the amount of concepts in presentation is quite secondary, the most important thing is to concentrate on what is the best way to sell the project. Other important guideline is the following:

“Never present crap”

Never present “safe alternative”, which you do not truly believe. The result is always that the “safe alternative” will be selected and you end up being ashamed of the final output. You can present hundreds of concepts if they are really good. However, if you present one good concept and two weak ones, you have been presenting two too much.

10. Craft the presentation
Many people spend long time just watching the powerpoint or keynote and trying to solve the problem and come up with ideas while they are making slides. I believe the best results come when you have the whole plot of the presentation already planned and making the powerpoint is more of a mechanical task. I have also met with people, who are really able to think within powerpoint, but I am not one of them.

And finally the most important one:

Avoid the work as much possible.
I believe in effective, but relatively short planning sessions.
Sometimes it might be beneficial that the team goes for different place outside the office to do the ideation work (more on this in later part of this series), but overall I am not big fan of spending the whole day in the same meeting room trying to force the ideas. Especially when they are not coming.
No matter how tight deadline you might have, the trick is trying to maximize the idle time when you are not actively pursuing the problem. This way you are still subconsciously working on the problem. There are different methods to help this idle processing and they vary for different people. For example I usually get best ideas when I am jogging.
After certain period, you just start to come up with new ideas all the time. The most important thing is to remember to keep your notepad within. More about these methods in the next part of this series.

Although there is ten steps in this ideation progress, it might be done quite fast if the deadline is thight. In principle this whole 10-step thing can be done during one really long day. Of course the best results come when you have more time. It is about finding the balance between meeting deadlines and coming up with groundbreaking ideas.

“With proper structure for coming up with ideas, you release more time for chaos”

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