Tag Archives: ideation

Never Think Outside The Box

One of the most annoying cliches in advertising is the”thinking outside the box”. This term is usually used by people, who are not usually known for their thinking at the first place. ”Thinking outside the box” means totally useless brainstorming for hours and random ideas you cannot use anywhere.

Not too fond of brainstorming either. Workshops have to be very tightly defined and organized to be useful. Instead of huge committee circle-jerking half-boiled ideas, it is usually more productive to force people to write ideas alone.

The first problem is not that we don´t think outside the box, it is that majority of people don´t think, period.

Second problem is that we just don´t know what our box is.

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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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Sushi Train: The Best Ideation Exercise For Workshops

I have probably spent quarter of this year (or even more) in workshops. And I love it.

The collaborative boiler room environment is something I truly like. You generally come to the solutions faster. All the important stakeholders are present, so participants are more involved and invested in actual results.

Because of the sheer volume of workshops I either attend or moderate, I rotate quite a bunch of different idea exercises. Some exercises work better than others with different groups, and one size does not fit all. One of my current favorites which seems to be generating golden ideas every time is the following:

Sushi Train (group exercise 5 to 10 people)

sushi train

Ideas just keep on piling and piling up…

What you need?
– blank paper (A4) for every group member
– pen
– timer
– fresh ideas
– hopefully readable handwriting (my biggest challenge)

How long does it take?
Depending on the group size, i.e. 5 member team takes 5 minutes to write ideas and about the same to share. Good to have about 30 minutes for this exercise.

How does it work?
1 Min Write your idea on a blank paper. After minute is done, rotate your paper within the group to the next person to you.
1 Min Build upon idea you received from your group member. Rotate the paper. If you cannot build the previous idea, just write a new one.

Continue this until you will receive your first paper back.
Share the ideas within wider group.

It is generally way more effective to force people to write their ideas quietly at first, before you are going to discussion. Brainwriting is better than brainstorming, because latter favors the loudest and those highest in the company food chain. When you have to write, you have to think. And more people think, better and more effective ideas you will generate. Sushi train also encourages collaboration and is a quick acid test for ideas. If other people cannot continue with your idea, it was not probably that good to begin with.

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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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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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How to Come up with Ideas? Prt.1-Food For Thought

Disclaimer: I have no idea (no pun intented), do the following methods help to actually get the ideas or insights. At least they seem to work for me. Also, this is somewhat representation of the ideal world. I have never really enough time to read all the books, magazines & websites I intend to. But I surely try to.

I think coming up with ideas and insights is mostly hard work. Writing them down, bouncing them with the team and killin the not-so-good-ones. That is why I also do not really believe in being inspired when coming up with ideas. It of course helps. You might wait whole your life of inspiration and watch as the deadlines pass by. There is no shortcut for perspiration.

I am more of a believer of being in a state of constant inspiration all the time. This is achieved by the following method:

1. Mental Scrapbook: Picking things constantly at random
I do not even know all that I don´t know. That is why I really believe in constant idea gathering. You just observe, read and pick things at random all the time. Do not stress about how useful they are, just round yourself with different ideas. They might or might not become handy later on:

a) Internet
For gathering food for thought for ideas in Internet, I rely on social media:
1) Facebook: What is really popular?
Besides I think Facebook is the pulse of what is really happening on the Internet. What news start to catch on? What videos are hot? What topics are people discussion on? Also knowing most of the people, you can socially filter the content: why this people share this and may be. Also it is always great to just spy on your old friends.
2) Twitter: What is popular in professional circles?
I follow mainly Twitter accounts, which are somehow connected to my professional life (and couple of rap artists). Through this channel you encounter ideas from places you are not that used to and which you are not yet familiar.
3) Google reader: The thinkers I want to follow
Some have said that blogs are dead, but those who say that are dead wrong. The sheer volume of blogs I actively follow has probably reduced during the years. The quality on the other hand has increased. Coming up with a blog post of a good thinking is a respectable feat and if done well, it beats 140 characters any time. Good blog post is also timeless. That is why I do not stress if I have not for some reason gone through my blogroll for a while.
4) Writing blog: Testing out ideas
I learn by writing. That is the most important reason for me to blog. This is the litmus test for the ideas. If some of the ideas spark a discussion, it is just an added bonus.
5) Bookmarking: Making an idea scrapbook
If I encounter something interesting I bookmark it. I use del.ici.ous, mainly because I have gotten accustomed to it. In there I have just lots of odd stuff, which might become useful some day.

b) Other reading
1. Books
I have always at least three books going on and it is very rare that I don´t finish a book (with the expection of Ulysses, which nearly ruined one of my summer holiday). Depending on the time, the finishing of the book might take a day or month. I usually only read books when I commute or have to wait for a long time somewhere.
I use libraries quite a lot, because it is great place to find great books which you would not read otherwise. I just pick up books with interesting names, covers and blurps. Sometimes they are great, sometimes horrible. However, I really have not read so bad book that I have not learned anything from it.
For the three books I try to have a healthy balance of different content:
a) Professional: Just opened Del Breckenfeld: The Cool Factor, a book about partnership marketing.
b) Non-fictional (but non-professional): As a big fan of 30 Rock, I am currently reading Tina Fey´s Bossypants.
c) Fictional: Trying to test out Singaporean literature, I started out easily with Singaporean detective story:Shamini Flint-Inspector Singh Investigates: The Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder

I think the biggest mistake many professionals do is to read too little of fiction books. Mediocre fiction beats good business book.

I read couple of magazines frequently (VF, New Yorker, Fast Company), but try to grab occassionally pretty much everything I see. For example, when I go to the barbershop, I always check out Cosmopolitan and other women´s magazines. Other thing which I always try to do is to read all the stories cover-to-backcover in certain magazine. This way you encounter stuff you would not necessarily choose to pick if you would choose it yourself.

d) News
I read newspaper every morning. I know it is old-school. That is usually enough to know what is happening in the world so that you do not appear stupid during the day and you do not have to spend time during the day to follow all the news in Internet news channels. Usually if something major happens during the day you will see it in social media.

e) Other popular culture
Actually the same process that goes to the books applies to movies, music and other things. I try watch the most popular movies, just to understand what makes people tick. Then you just try learn from the experience. And enjoy it as well. Although the enjoying bit is easier for me with the new Superhero-movies than for example Twilight-series. Other than the smash-hits, movie or music festivals are great way to get yourself familiar with the more obscure art. For example there is Japanese Film Festival going on here and I would haven´t probably see those movies anywhere else.

f) Personal talks
I think one of the hardest thing about ageing is that you do not get to see as much new people as you used to be. Especially being in the same place for a long time, you end up spending your time with the same people all the time. That is good to move once in a while, so that you are forced to meet new people.

g) Travelling & observing
It is easy to pick things at random when you are in totally new place. The skill is to find something new and worthwhile in the place you are staying for a long time. It is so easy to just fell on the certain routines. My noble goal is that whenever I am, I try to test something new every week. Currently it has been really easy, because I have been in Singapore only couple of months.

2. Building up specialty: Frequent deep-dives

With couple of topics I tend to go deeper and also frequently and actively search the information about it. Those topics include such as social media (professional) & hiphop-music (non-professional). I think the main difference with frequent deep-dives and random idea gathering, is that former is more conscious effort and the other just happens more organically.

3. Hitman-for-hire: Case-specific deep-dives

When I start working with a new client, project or am working with the pitch for a new client, I usually follow the following steps to gather food-for-thought for ideation process.
a) Search of your mental scrapbook
I first go by all the material from the category, brand, company and product which I have already encountered: all the books, bookmarks, magazine stories, discussions and such. This provides the backbone of where I continue my search further.
b) Specified reading
After going through the mental scrapbook, I dive deeper to the subject.  I try to read at least couple of the highly-regarded books and industry magazines about the subject to get on the right mood.
c) Industry outreach
Picture might worth a thousand words, but a good discussion is worth probably a million. Try to spend as much time with the client as possible. Meet people from the same category, client´s customers and people from the target audience. Try to pick them brain as effectively as possible.
d) Observe the marketplace
Especially with FMCG gategory, I try to spend as much time as possible in different retail stores packing that brand or competitor´s product as possible. By observing actually shopping behavior you learn so much.
e) Use the product
With B2B-category this might be trickier and there might be certain limitations with other products as well. You should still try to immerse yourself with the product in question as deep as possible. And again I cannot stress the importance of talking with the target audience and the actual users of the product.

On the next part, I will reveal the “process” of the actual ideation process when I am working with the tight deadline.

Inspiration is hard to come by when you are forced to, that´s why you should try be in a state of constant inspiration by randomly stumbling on interesting things.

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