The Idea Business


February 3, 2012

Aren’t you going to write this down? We’ve all been to the trendy restaurant where the servers don’t write down your order. How do we know that they got it all and, if they did, that they got it correct? The same scenario can also play out in the realm of creative marketing.

Recently, when helping my wife brainstorm some concepts for a project she’s working on, I had an epiphany. As we got to riffing, we came up with several ideas. I was shocked to discover that, like the waitress, she wasn’t writing any of them down. Needless to say it irked me. However, this response led me to realize a few key points about me and what I do for a living.

  • By and large my living is made from ideas
  • They have commercial value
  • Clients often say, “you and your team bring us the creativity that we need”
  • As I am in the idea business, idea capture is a paramount concern

Why Is Idea Capture Important?

Capturing ideas is important for the simple fact that, as noted, ideas have commercial value and there’s no concrete process for manufacturing them. As advertising legend Hal Riney opens the documentary Art & Copy, “The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls a ‘creative person’ is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from, really. And especially, you don’t have any idea about where they’re going to come from tomorrow.” Sounds daunting, right?

Given the high stakes and value, creative professionals need a system for idea capture. Here’s how mine works.

  • Write it down — Moleskine pads by the bed; Evernote installed on all devices. Basically, I’m never without a surface to scribble or tap upon.
  • Sketch it out — Big pads, sketch books, and Sharpies help! The book Rework makes a case for Sharpies over other finer pens as their bold strokes encourage simplicity and clarity.
  • Photo capture — Use your camera to grab a quick photo of that whiteboard or that sign you saw in the airport that made you think of something. All of this goes seamlessly into something like Evernote, where it’s also searchable.

Capture Ideas So You Can Set Them Free

That’s right. One of the biggest benefits of capturing ideas is that you can forget about them. Kind of. You see, ideas need to marinate and germinate. That’s why after idea capture often the best thing to do is to walk around with the thought for awhile, allowing your mind to surface it again in a new way, often adding that missing dimension or component that your idea needed. Some of my best creative time is spent doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, or sitting in a waiting room working through my list of captured ideas.

Some skip straight to this abstract, organic stage without first capturing the ideas. The risk here is that they can drift off into the into the ether, never to return. If you’ve captured them, they are grounded and can grow.

The Idea Business

From here, you can crystallize your ideas and take them to market. The real benefit of a system like this is that it’s repeatable, which is important as Riney noted because creatives are called upon for new ideas — sometimes more than one — each and every day. Like any manufactured good, you need a production process. Though abstract in nature, ideas are no different. If you are in the idea business, you need a system for regularly manufacturing your core product if you want to compete and prosper.

What does your idea capture system look like?

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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.




2 comments
zahndrew
zahndrew

Ideation gives me a high. I love it love love it.

Have you connected with Ideasicle? Great podcast... get your Evernote ready!