Daniel Doherty
Daniel Doherty 5 November 2013

Where do good ideas come from and where do bad ideas go?

I was at the Royal Geographical Society to attend Inspiration: The Life Cycle of Ideas, a one day conference organised by Digital Doughnut. These are some of the lessons I took away.

I was at the Royal Geographical Society to attend Inspiration: The Life Cycle of Ideas, a one day conference organised by Digital Doughnut. These are some of the lessons I took away.

Let me preface my comments by saying that this is what I heard not necessarily what wassaid. So, if I’ve misrepresented anybody, I apologise.

Let’s start with the flippant: it seems to me that if you want to be the successful head of a British creative agency, you need to cultivate the Jonathan Ive look. Not an identical copy, but enough to confuse the biometric passport reader at Heathrow airport. Buzzed hair and stubbly beard seem to be the creative director’s stock-in-trade look this season.

The British can be passionate. There was a fair amount of talk about passion; this was the British (we were mostly British) at their most energised. Perhaps my American and Nigerian friends wouldn’t have noticed. If they observed us yesterday and rated us for engagement on a scale from a) Londoners’ care and concern for their neighbours’ well-being (none whatsoever) to b) an evangelical pastor’s interest in what physically happens during gay sex (a disturbingly large amount), they’d probably have scored us as a quizzically raised eyebrow.

But they’d have been wrong. Anybody who listened to Brian Cannon talking about his determination from the age of 12 to follow his passion and create album covers for bands like The Verve and Oasis could not have been misled. His delivery might have matched his gritty, understated determination, but it was there, like a rod of steel.

It was heart warming to hear these marketing folks acknowledge that anybody can be creative. We have a tendency to fetishize creativity and to ghettoise it in specific departments. As an IT professional, I’m struck how Digital Marketing has made the boundaries between marketing and techy careers much more fluid and created a bridge between two departments with quite different outlooks on the world. Paul Doleman even showed a picture of a data centre.

This appreciation for anyone’s creativity has not been my experience when I’ve mixed in fashion circles. I’ve often observed my fashionista friends’ attempts to suppress a disdainful sneer when they ask the question, “And are you creative too?” and hear that I work in IT. For them, the fashion designer is the grinder of the organ – the rest of us are just monkeys. Perhaps the advent of additive manufacturing will change that and they’ll become more techy too.

Urvi Bhandari
 took a much more generous approach. You can be the originator of the idea, its developer or the person that implements it. It’s all good; it’s all innovation.

As Dave Birss pointed out, creativity comes in two halves: part of it is craft and part of it is in solving problems. Solving problems is something that everybody does – when you do it in a new way, or when you improve somebody else’s solution, that’s creativity too.

Many of the talks concentrated on how to improve creativity. Dave Birss suggested that not looking at the obvious, not focusing too sharply is one way. Looking above and below the Starbuck’s sign. Seeing what other people don’t see: not missing the gorilla. But in another talks, speakers emphasised maximising your productivity when you do focus.Antony Mayfield entertained us with some absurdities of modern-day office life: he reminded us that our job descriptions very rarely have “replying to e-mail” written in to them and invited us to think about thinking – after all, if your job is thinking, you’d better be good at it. His advice was to break the day into chunks, along the lines that Benjamin Franklin used to do, including time to address the Powerful Goodness. There was some powerful goodness in what he said. There was also some conflicting advice about where to find inspiration: for Nils Anden it lay in the interactions with his customers; for Tom Ollerton, listening came first before any attempt to find ideas; Ian MacArthur counselled against the tyranny of enforced collaboration in developing ideas – have the courage to work by yourself too.

There’s no shortage of ideas as Matthew Patten pointed out (in between plugging Roast Restaurant at Borough Market – it’s very good apparently) – somebody quoted 20,000 ideas per day per person (not quite sure that I believe that based on my own introspection). And as Ian MacArthur underlined plenty of bad ones – brainstorming is  an excellent mechanism for producing bad ideas. So many speakers spoke of the need to have a process to winnow the wheat from the chaff. 

David Marks was one person who likes to have lots of options to present to clients and a clear process for choosing and developing them. Resisting the pressure to simply put an idea or content out there was something that both Eileen Brown and Ian MacArthur emphasised. The quality needs to be good.

Because even good ideas don’t get implemented unless you’ve got a good process (again) for selecting them and the people behind them can build the case for implementing them.Patrick Younge had some good advice on helping people build the case for their good ideas. After all, innovation is about ideas that create value.


With thanks to Danny Barnett for this article originially posted here.

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