Tag Archives: ideas

Ferment and Distill Your Ideas

“Alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, may produce all the effects of drunkenness.” 
– Oscar Wilde

I like alcohol in its various forms and like with many things the more you know the background of it, the more you enjoy the experience. Therefore I don´t only consume ethanol, I read a lot literature about it (hence camouflaging it from problem to hobby). Besides Three Martini lunches, the art of making booze and the art of making great marketing have lots of similarities. For example this passage about the difference of fermentation and distillation in the “Proof” by Adam Rogers captures something essential about our field of work as well:

Fermentation is a natural process, as close to a miracle as a science-minded type like me would ever acknowledge. Over human history we have learn to harness and adapt it. We domesticated the micro-organisms that make it possible, designed containers friendlier to it, created business around it. But a winemaker taking credit for fermentation is like beekeeper taking credit for honey. Fermentation would happen whether men and women were here on earth or not. If a fig spontaneously ferments in the forest, a monkey is there to hear it. (And eat the fig. And get drunk.  

Distillation, though, is technology. Human being invented it; we came up with the process and developed the equipment. It requires the ability to boil a liquid and reliably collect the resulting vapors, which sounds simple. But to do it you have to learn a lot of other skills first. You have to be able to control fire, work metal, heat things and cool them, make airtight, pressurized vessels. You need a big brain with wrinkled cortex, maybe some opposable thumbs. But most of all you need a desire to change your environment instead of just live with what you have. Distillation takes intelligence and will. To distill, literally or metaphorically, requires the hubris to believe you can change the world.

The great marketers understand the difference of fermentation and distillation and when to utilize both of the methods to come up with ideas.

“Fermentation may have been a greater discovery than fire”
– David Wallace

Ferment: There is time and place to rely on your emotions and gut feeling. Fermentation is a skill that you either have or not. Let it flow and don´t try to control things. Use just pad and pen, technology does not make fermenting better. Usually when fermenting, the quantity is better than quality. Third beer tastes better than the first one. There is time to distill later on.

“Civilization begins with distillation”
-William Faulkner

Distill: After you had your ideas ferment freely it is time to distill your ideas to purest form. You have to try to control your ideas, make sense out of them. Use technology to find the essence of your idea. Distillation you can learn when you have the discipline. The less is more. If you have truly potent idea, one shot is enough and you don´t need to mix it with anything.

The best marketers are the masters of in balancing between chaos and discipline.

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Ideas Are Like Farts

Ideas are like farts.

You should let the flow free.

If you force them, they turn out to be shit.
You should not also force them on other people.
Even though your own ones are always the best.

Ideas are like farts.
They can come from anywhere, anytime.
But it can be tricky to capture them.

No matter what people say everyone has them.
But quite often they stink.
Although those that make the biggest noise seldom do.
But silent ones can linger with you for a long while.

Even amateur can release good one once in a while.
But it takes skill to create good ones constantly.
It takes vision to turn them into a profitable business.

There is a thin line between a truly great and a really shitty one.
And you don´t know until you have released them.
You should not be afraid to rip them apart.

It takes courage to share them to public.
But those who have that courage will always be remembered.

Ideas are like farts.

“One must never own up to a fart in public.
That is the unwritten law, the single most stringent protocol of American etiquette. Farts come from no one and nowhere: they are anonymous emanations that belong to the group as whole, and even when every person in the room can point to the culprit, the only sane course of action is denial.”
Paul Auster (Brooklyn Follies)

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10 Tips To Conduct An Effective Workshop


Don´t be afraid of scary ideas

Throughout my career I have been doing lots of workshops. I really enjoy facilitating them. At their best they can be really valuable tool to come up with new ideas and also to get client more engaged to the process.

Conducting a great workshop is not an easy task. Every one of us has been in sloppily conducted workshops, which are as enjoyable as water torture. Just coming back from a great workshop in London, I thought I would share some of my tips I have learned during the years:

10 Tips for An Effective Workshop

1. Plan & prepare well

  • It should go without saying, but it is really important to define what is the goal for the workshop and craft the day through the lens of what you want to achieve.
  • Groups make or break the workshop. One person who “knows it all” and remembers all the cases when something has not worked can poison even the best of the groups. Orchestrate the groups well and gently sideline the bullies if they start to be detrimental for the workshop process.
  • Have an extensive list of exercises before the workshop. Good workshop facilitators have an extensive cookbook of tried & true crow-pleasers and also more experimental pieces. Do not try to predict too much of what works though. Every group is different and the exercise you thought would bomb might be the most helpful of the day and the usually engaging exercise might fail miserably. If some exercise does not generate ideas, just move faster to the next one (see also point 6).

2. Define clear responsibilities

  • Nothing is worse than loosely orchestrated and chaotic workshop. Therefore it is crucial to define clear roles and responsibilities:
    • Who is facilitating?
    • Who is leading?
    • Who is doing the background info?
    • Who is preparing the stimulus?
    • Who is taking notes?
    • Who is doing the memos?
    • Who is leading each group?

3. Stay on time & agenda

  • One of the most important things for facilitator is to be the fun-spoiling stopwatch Nazi. Because when your schedule starts derailing, it starts derailing bad. Good healthy discussion is for good, but instantly when it starts to go around in circles you have to move to the next exercise. Everyone has to have an opportunity to talk, but not everyone needs to talk in every possible exercise.
  • Exercises should left participants feeling hungry to come up with more ideas. Time constraint is one of the most effective methods to force ideas to come out. If you give too much time to polish, people will fall into safe territory.

4. Collect all ideas

  • Post-its are your best friends. They are easy to move and they nicely fit one idea. They have different colors, which can mark the different ideas from different groups. Instruct the usage of the post-its right from the beginning so that all the thoughts are captured.
  • One of the key roles of the facilitator is to develop a laidback and open feeling to the workshop. It does not hurt if you are able to make people laugh. You need to establish vibe, where ideas are flowing freely and no one is shooting them down too early.

5. Plot the drama

  • Good workshop follows the arch of drama. It starts from the chaos and despair and steadily goes towards more clarity. This should be reflected in the exercises as well.
  • Usually participants need a while to get warmed up and eventually will start to lose of steam towards end of the day. Therefore it is good to end the exercise with compiling exercises and idea voting, which does not require as much idea firepower. Brain is muscle as well.
  • Remember that workshop is not a lecture. If you need to go through certain presentations, have them throughout the day so that it does not start to feel too cumbersome.

6. Be strict, but flexible

  • Sometimes one exercise starts to show so much promise that it makes sense to stop and start concentrating on it. Experienced facilitator is able to change things on the fly so that participants do not even notice. The rule of the thumb still is that until lunch you should be more or less on time or you are screwed.
  • Therefore it makes sense to share loose agenda, but not necessarily detailed list of exercises you want to do. This allows you to switch things seamlessly and improvise based on the overall flow of the workshop.
  • When explaining the exercises to the group, be clear and concise. Explain the role of the task, what people need to do and how much they have time to perform the exercise.

7. Document well

  • Even the most enjoyable of the workshops is totally useless if it is not well documented. Quite seldom you come up with readymade ideas, but you have shitloads of great starts. The real work starts after the workshop, when you need to synthetize, compile and find synergies from the workshop ideas. The documentation should be done as soon as possible after the workshop. So sorry, no sleep for the planners.
  • Bonus tip: As part of preparation, assign people with the best handwriting to write down the ideas. This makes your job way easier on documentation phase. Case-in-point: quite often I cannot even comprehend my own handwriting after couple of days.

8. Different exercises

  • You need a good combination of individual, pair & group exercises. I personally want to start always with individual ideation on post-it notes. This ensures that there are enough of ideas when the exercises go forward. It is also refreshing for majority of the people to be alone with their creativity and blank sheet of paper. Either it let’s them loose or show their limits.
  • Loose creative gangbang and brainstorming does not benefit anyone, so give numeric demands for the number of ideas for the groups as well. Do not be afraid to switch the groups if for some reason your pre-planned group dynamics are dysfunctional. Everyone should feel free to express his or her ideas in workshop.

9. Stay hydrated & energized

  • You need to have enough breaks, so that people are not constantly watching the mobile phones during the exercises. When you have enough breaks you can start punishing and publicly shaming people who use mobile when they should be present.
  • Also ensure that there is enough food for all the people. Nothing is more horrible than room full of cranky participants with low blood sugar. Although I try to avoid eating sugar (especially on weekdays), having candy around actually helps people to ideate.

10. Have fun

  • Participants will immediately sense, if you are not experienced workshop facilitator. So don´t stress and try to create a good vibe. If you maintain or have created a good chemistry after the workshop with all the participants, half of the battle has been already won.
  • Workshops are great way to get to know how your clients think, which will be beneficial later on. Have open mind and prepare to have a blast.

For those conducting workshops and looking for new stimulus for exercises, I have found Hyper Island toolbox really useful. Also these cards are good for branding workshops (and the NSFW versions are good for blowing off steam).

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Digital Years are Dog Years

Someone opposed an idea, because it was “already” proposed three years ago.

Three years?

Are you kidding me?

Maybe three days, three months but three years!

Normally during three years in advertising, all of your clients and colleagues have already changed completely. How anyone can even remember what happened three years ago? I generally believe that if you have a good idea, you sell it as long until someone buys it. Or you are bored with it, which might indicate that it was not good idea to begin with.

Three years is a lifetime.

Digital years are like dog years. Things change and age faster. To get matters in perspective, here are collection of things that has happened during last three years:

I had to just write these as a reminder, so I can guide people here when they say something as stupid as that to me again.

Just because something has been done or proposed before, does not mean it cannot be done. Just do it better. Sometimes the proposed idea was right, but the time was just wrong.

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Building a Successful Failing Company

Each year over 30,000 consumer products are launched. 95% of them fail.
The failure rate of TV shows is about the same 95%.
75% of advertising campaigns are failure.
(Probably the real rate 95%, but the years of crafting those Effie entries probably helped to shape that number down)

The conclusion is clear. We are doomed to fail. Or actually we have planned ourselves to failure.

Companies, who do not tolerate small failures, end up doing big ones. Perversely companies are obsessed of micromanaging the staff and punishing for minor mishaps, but eventually end up messing up themselves big time. There is too much strategy & planning, not enough doing (ironically coming from planner). The trick is to fail often and fast to avoid the big failures and to ensure big wins. Actually it is not about failing, but just doing things.

Four ways to encourage doing actual things and failing fast in your workplace:

1. Taking ownership of the ideas and making it a habit
The problem with the companies is not the lack of ideas. Not even good ones. The problem is that there is a lack of ownership of the ideas. Throwing ideas is worthless, planting and cultivating them priceless. That is why Orange idclic works. You do not just throw an idea around. You get the opportunity and responsibility to build that idea.

I remember time selling digital ideas, when clients only wanted TV ads. We always presented those ideas, even though client had not asked for them. First they were irritated, then amused, then interested and finally buying them.

Selling idea is about creativity, vision & perseverance. Mostly the latter.

If you make the habit of producing five presentable ideas to improve your business (or your client´s business) every month, you have presented 60 good ideas by the end of year. I recommend changing the client or the team, if you have not sold any of them.

2. Something Concrete/Month: Test & research with real audience
If after numerous focus groups, strategy workshops and numerous alternations to body copy you still end up messing the project, what is the real risk of just trying stuff out? Also company, which gets its Facebook status updates approved by ten different managers, cannot really be agile innovator.

Your website and social media channels give great opportunity to test things with real people before you commit millions of dollars behind certain idea. When you commit to test one of those ideas every month, you have done 12 prototypes a year. On a worst case you have 12 small failures. On the best case you have done couple of breakthrough successes.

3. Reaction fund: Show me the money to show that you care

World does not spin around your strategy. Your strategy spins around the world. And that world is changing rapidly.

“Ability is little account without opportunity”
-Napoleon Bonaparte

Every company should have reaction fund to react to current events. Something relevant happens in the real world, which opens the opportunity for your company. When the opportunity rises you should have budget to react to it. Whether you produce event, application, flashmob, social movement does not matter, reaction and taking the action is the key. The designated budget is also a proof that your company is serious about that agile innovation.

4. Skunk works Exchange program: Spreading the change to whole company

Big change starts with small movements. That is why it is crucial to start with task force, skunk works or lab, with progressive individuals who are hungry to change the company.

The challenge is to spread their impact to whole company. If people in skunk works are the only ones doing the cool stuff, it helps quite little the struggling company around. Thus every member of that skunk works should be member for only limited time. When revolutionizing the company for appropriate time in that small unit, they would be located all over the company in different units. This works also other way around, task forces giving new meaning to bored employees. Think of it as a work exchange, where you do not move geographically but mentally.

The future is uncertain and the failure is unavoidable. It is how we seize the opportunities and try out new things, which determines our success.

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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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