What image does the word “creativity” conjure up for you?
A musical genius like Mozart pacing around the room, pausing now and then to furiously ink notes onto a sheet of paper?
A child wildly spreading and splashing finger paint on an easel (or on the walls, floor, etc.)?
We find a gripping portrayal of creative ideation in the movie Apollo 13. When the space module suddenly experiences a serious malfunction, the ground crew must creatively solve a life-and-death problem by providing the space crew with a makeshift CO2 filter. The space crew is running out of oxygen and the clock is ticking!
The ground crew dumps boxes of random parts on a worktable. And the leader tells his team, “We’ve got to find a way to make this (a square scrubber) fit into the hole for this (a round, cylindrical filter) using nothing but that (a pile of odds and ends available in the space module).” The ground crew comes up with a creative solution and saves the lives of the space module crew members.
Beyond the drama of that intense situation, I find that scene so fascinating because this team was able to come up with a creative, life-saving solution under pressure with limited time and scant resources. We don’t often think of creativity and idea generation within such cramped confines.
Many view creativity and imagination as acts of luck or a series of fortunate but unexpected events. Is creativity purely serendipitous, or can we exercise it, grow it, and plan for it? Read on, and I’ll let you be the judge.
10 Principles of Ideation
1. The greatest enlightenment often occurs at the darkest hour. When all seems hopeless; when you’re at the end of yourself and things look bleak, that’s when the shining ray of an idea breaks through the darkness and lights up your way.
In the midst of pain and suffering—whatever its source—our first human reaction is to flee from it. We want it gone. We pray for deliverance. But trials, pain, and suffering have a way of revealing what we otherwise could not see. So, leverage these troubles to release your creativity in ways you’ve never known.
2. A great idea often begins like a lowly worm. But when we allow it to cocoon and incubate, it emerges as a beautiful butterfly capable of soaring to great heights. Don’t underestimate the potential of any idea. Pursue it, and let it morph and flourish.
3. Ideation is often like the travail of childbirth. We might like to think that great ideas simply appear in a vision without struggle or effort. But the best ideas usually come after hard labor, so keep at it! Discipline yourself to generate numerous ideas and create.
4. Not every idea has a future. Some ideas are like the morning fog that dissipates as the sun arises with its warmth and light. Let them go and let other, more workable ideas take their place.
5. Worry and anxiety are imagination’s worst enemies. Alan Loy McGinnis observed, “Worry is the misuse of the imagination.” When you let worry and anxiety occupy your mind, it saps your imaginative strength and robs you of what you might create.
6. Playing unlocks the shackles of the mind. Too often, we are all bound up in the confines of being too “adult” and too “grown-up.” This is an artificial prison from which you must free yourself. Permit yourself to play with an idea as a child would, freeing you to make new discoveries.
7. Don’t stop playing with an idea until you’ve looked at it every which way. In tandem with the previous principle, look at an idea like a Rubik’s cube, turning it every which way and trying new solutions, combinations, and applications.
8. Cultivate an appetite for childlike curiosity. Greet each day and situation as though it was your first. Open your eyes and ears to all the wonder around you. Ask great questions. Turn over every rock. Learn something new every day. Bask in the thrill of discovery.
9. Believe that there is a unique solution and that you can create it. “Belief is the thermostat that regulates what we accomplish in life. A person is the product of his thoughts. Believe BIG! Adjust your thermostat forward. Launch your success offensive with the honest, sincere belief that you can succeed. Believe big and grow big.” – David J. Schwartz, in The Magic of Thinking Big
10. Imagination is a divine gift. The Bible claims that God created us in His image. If this is true, then we bear the image of the most creative being in the universe! Think of that!
So how can we apply this to copywriting?
We can apply the ideation process to generate creative and innovative ideas for a particular marketing campaign or communication objective. This will be the initial stage of the creative process, where we (as copywriters) come up with concepts and themes that will be developed into compelling copy.
First, we brainstorm and explore different angles and approaches to the topic or message that needs to be communicated. This can involve researching the target audience, analyzing competitors, and identifying unique selling propositions that will set the product or service apart from others.
The goal is to come up with a range of possible ideas that can be refined and developed further into a well-crafted copy that resonates with the audience and achieves the desired outcome. We can collaborate with other members of our creative team, such as designers, strategists, and account managers, to ensure that the ideas are aligned with the overall marketing objectives and brand messaging.
How to generate countless ideas
Even with all this understanding of ideation, we sometimes find it difficult to start things off. For example, it could be an urgent project, and we end up wasting so much time trying to come up with new ideas. Oh, don’t worry. I have a straightforward method that will enable you to generate endless ideas:
- Take a blank sheet of paper and rotate it to landscape. Ignore the lines on lined paper.
- In the center of the page, write “Book ideas” (or whatever it is you want to brainstorm) and circle it.
- Then, like satellites in orbit around that topic, begin brainstorming as many ideas as possible.
- Postpone evaluation and critique of ideas. Just jot them all down haphazardly on the page.
- If you get stuck, want to speed up, or increase your ideas, engage the help of others.
- When you hit a wall, climb over it, go under it, around it, or through it!
- When it feels like you’ve exhausted all possibilities, walk away from the page and go about your day. Let those ideas incubate. As more ideas come to you during the day, add them to your page.
When you follow through with that exercise, you’ll come up with more ideas than you know what to do with. Your mind will be brimming with thoughts about which ones to tackle first and how to do so.
And once you’ve landed on that true gem of an idea?
You can go ahead and put pen to page (or finger to keyboard), but I highly suggest you begin with framework to structure your idea in a way that will make writing your copy so much easier and more effective. You can learn more about that here.