What kind of a writer would I be if I never talked about ideas? Well, today’s the day. Ideas have been my stock and trade since my very first day, on my very first job. Actually, even before then. Goes back to my art college days.
Ideas are my life. No, I’m not exaggerating. Think about it. To put it bluntly, a creative person without an idea isn’t a creative person. That’s the beginning and end of it. Without an ‘idea’ I’ve got nothing to say. Or do. Or sell. That’s my reality.
The scary part of it is, though, if you ask any of us how we come up with ideas, for the most part I think you’ll get the same answer from everyone. “I don’t know”. There’s no formula. No mathematical equation. No template.
No switch you can turn on and off. No phone number to call. No idea therapist. No magic button. No swami. No genie in a bottle. No idea fairy. No idea swap shop. No iPhone App. Not even a recipe. There is no quarter cup of this, no pinch of that.
We just can. Until we can’t. God forbid.
So we all live in fear of the day (which will hopefully never come, but could) when there are no more ideas. You just sit there. And nothing happens. Like the power has just gone off, and it’s suddenly pitch black inside your brain. Gives me the chills, just thinking about it.
I’ve spent my whole career in advertising. An industry that’s all about ideas. What’s the brand going to look like? And sound like? How am I going to persuade consumers to like this brand? To want this brand. To need this brand. To rush right out and buy. What’s the magic ‘thing’, the essential ingredient, the trigger that makes people laugh? Or cry. Pay attention. Take action.
What’s going to charm them? Disarm them. Engage them. Involve them. Galvanize them. Motivate them. Compel them. Drive them. Thrill them. Scare them. Make them love my brand! And whatever it is I’m selling.
No pressure. But.
Ideas needed. Good ideas. Strategic ideas. Relevant ideas. Clever ideas. Brilliant ideas. I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that ideas. Memorable ideas.
This blog of mine has nothing to do with advertising. But I still need an idea. Without one, what am I going to say? I can stare at this blank space for the rest of my life, but without an idea, it’s going to stay just that. Blank.
Are you feeling sorry for me, yet?
Don’t. Because ideas are everywhere. And very often they come when you’re not desperately looking for them. Once you’ve relaxed. It happens to me in the shower, all the time. Or when I’m cooking and concentrating on something else. I’ve been woken up, out of a deep sleep, by an idea. It’s happened so often, I’ve learned how to write in the dark. I have pads of paper and pens literally all over my house.
Used to happen to me a lot when I was driving. I am the quintessential city dweller. At ten years old I wanted my parents to move into a downtown apartment. But there was a time in my life when I lived quite far out of the city. Don’t ask. I was in love and I was having a moment. It happens to the best of us. Eventually I came to my senses.
Anyway, I spent far too many hours, locked in a car, in gridlock. Anywhere from an hour to two hours, depending on traffic. Weather. Construction. Accidents. Road closures. Detours. Anything can screw it up. Regardless, there I was. Stuck. Twice a day. Five days a week.
But aside from the obvious frustration, it was the most productive time I’ve ever had. Because inevitably, I’d be sitting there, with no place to go, and I’d have idea after idea after idea after idea. There was nothing for me to do. My brain would be in ‘neutral’. And that was all it took. I had a colleague at the time, who used to laugh at me. Because most mornings, when she arrived at the agency, there’d be twenty or thirty or forty voice mail messages from me. Everyone, an idea. And she’d know that I’d been stuck in traffic the night before.
At one point we thought it was a waste of time for me to come to the office at all. I could have just stayed in the car and driven around all day.
So here’s my point. Relax. And they will come. Look around. And I know you will find inspiration. At a movie. In a cafe. At the supermarket. While playing in the park, with your kids. Walking your dog. Going to the dry cleaner. At a lecture. At a dinner party. At the gym. At the library. In the pool. During a yoga class. Waiting for a bus.
Something, or someone, will spark an idea. As long as your senses are on alert, your receptors are working, and your eyes are wide open. So you can see it, when it presents itself. When it just up and leaps at you. Which it will.