One of my favourite words is exhaust. It comes with different but closely related meanings:
to drain of strength or energy
to use up
to draw out all that is essential
I like the last two definitions especially. When I think about these words, I think about important things like compassion, courage, creativity, imagination — and I wonder if we ever really exhaust these things.
I want to tell you one of my biggest dreams...
One of my biggest dreams is for every creator to be able to make the most meaningful product, service, or experience they can possibly offer. Despite popular belief, I’m learning that humans are deep. We crave connection, awareness, meaning, and beauty more than ever. Why do you think the world has been consuming art and poetry all of a sudden? Why do you think we’re drawn to memes? Why do we enjoy being a part of a community? Why are we now into meditation? See, we’ve begun to search for more ways to make sense and survive an otherwise confusing and, other times, unbearable world. Now, imagine if architects, engineers, entrepreneurs, legislators, and every kind of worker have the passion and sensitivity of empaths and poets, how much better do you think our conditions would be? How much more conducive our cities, inclusive our laws, and value-adding our services...? That’s why I’m wondering, are we truly exhausting our creativity in coming up with the most meaningful products and solutions possible for those we serve?
But the more important question is, can we come up with better, more relevant, and more meaningful ideas? Even better than the ones we already have?
My answer? An emphatic YES!
In fact, I want to share with you a super simple but powerful brainstorming technique that will help you break through conventional and uninspired ideas. You can totally use this for brainstorming product concepts or ideas for marketing campaigns. Heck, you can even use this for thinking up the best surprise party for a friend! Whatever your purpose is, I am hopeful it will help you find solutions that inspire and deliver better results.
So let’s get to it!
Before you start brainstorming, you have to get specific about the problem you want to solve and who you’re solving it for. This can be a company issue, an industry or community problem, to name some examples.
Your goal: to come up with the most innovative and most relevant solution possible.
THE NATURE OF IDEAS
The first thing you need to know about good ideas is we have many of them, believe it or not. We only think that we don’t because the cliche and conventional ideas have been encrusted in our minds over time. They are those old beliefs, old patterns, and very common analogies and connections. And this is what we need to break through because deep beyond that boring and brittle surface lie the more precious and exciting concepts.
Which leads me to the second thing to bear in mind…
Purge your ideas by writing them down. You need to empty your mind from worn out ideas first to make space for new ones.
Remember, we are trying to get the new ideas to come out so as you purge your ideas, refrain from judging them, no matter how boring or uninspired they may seem.
The third and last thing to remember: Ideas come in three waves — or at least they should. You must let them!
As mentioned, the first wave will contain the most mundane and conventional ideas.
For example, if we were asked to work on the visuals for a feminist brand, the first thing we are likely to think of is to make it color pink. That’s the convention. That’s the cliche right there. But this is okay! The point is you first get those old concepts out of the way.
The second wave is when ideas start to breakaway from the cliches. Here, you will start to generate some interesting and more adventurous ideas — but they may still need a little boost. You wouldn’t want to stop here, though, because the point is to exhaust your idea reserve 'til you get to the golden bits.
The third wave is where the golden ideas lie. Here is where the possibility of innovation is potent because, although your ideas now seem unusual or “crazy," most of the time they are better than the ones in the first and second waves. Here is where a lot of new and relevant questions and connections are formed.
You know those ideas that are brilliantly simple you wonder why you hadn’t thought about it sooner? Yep, this is where it all happens. And the reason you hadn’t thought about them sooner is the conventional ideas were still getting in the way. So be patient. Stopping at the first “good” idea will impede you from getting to the many better ones. The trick is to list down as many ideas as you can. The more ideas you can generate, the higher the chances of coming up with new and relevant ones.
Note: There is no specific duration or volume of ideas required for each wave. This is totally up to you. Just make sure that you go through three rounds of purging.
One of my friends just recently ventured in developing all-natural skincare products. We were working on delivering a better experience for her users who are young women who care deeply about their skin.
The challenge: Since her brand is new in the market, we had to come up with a solid strategy that will earn the trust of her users to make her products more relevant among the skincare community.
A few ideas we came up with:
- Make the packaging prettier — make it about the visual experience
- Share stories of customer experience on Instagram
- Curate bloggers and celebrities to sponsor
- Send sampler kits to potential customers
- Emphasize on ownership by personalizing the experience - add their names on the bottles
- Make the application of the products enjoyable
(Better than the first wave.)
I was inspired to explore that last idea — to make the application of products enjoyable. I then wondered, how might we make it enjoyable? I encouraged us to really imagine ourselves in her ideal customer’s shoes. We thought about what really matters to a person obsessed with skincare aside from natural ingredients. Why does a person who takes care of their skin take care of their skin in the first place?
I thought about this for a while. And then the obvious came to me:
People who are obsessed with skincare want better skin. They are aiming for a result. What then creates those results? Well, we got to another obvious answer which is habit and regimen. Through habit and regimen, of course, there’s a great chance you will achieve a better skin. And just like that, we had something we weren’t thinking about earlier!
So, I told her, rather than just emphasizing on the product, why not make their brand story about inspiring regimen. The thought excited me and something else clicked! I told my friend:
Why not, for every time someone buys their kit, they include a nifty tracker card that customers can post on their mirrors and help them keep daily tabs of the effects of the product, and on which they can write their feedback? And when they’ve filled it up, they can take photos of their entries and email it straight to the company.
I know it’s too simple but why do I think this could work? Because not only could it help the users achieve results, it will cultivate trust by allowing feedback, which could then help the company improve their products at a much faster rate. Ultimately, with this tracker card, they are telling their customers a trustworthy narrative about achieving better skin.
Now, I’m not saying this is the best strategy to gain trust. I’m sure we can come up but with better ones. But do you now see that the solution that came out of the brainstorming went from something superficial to something much more significant? Do you see how it evolved to a much more relevant, more personalized, and more caring solution?
Again, the point of brainstorming is to get to the best, most empathic solution possible.
Source: Think Better by Tim Hurson
The story is about a small restaurant supply company. One of the company’s key products are their glass tumblers which are supplied to lunch counters and roadside diners.
The company encountered a problem: the packing line started to slow down because, upon their discovery, the workers who were stuffing the glass with old newspaper to prevent it from breakage were being distracted on the job in reading the stacks of newspaper. The company wanted to solve the case but there were two constraints: 1) using unprinted newspaper was too expensive, and 2) using Styrofoam was environmentally damaging. The challenge then was to come up with a solution that will not require them to change the materials.
So as expected, during the company’s brainstorming session, the first ideas included very common solutions:
- Adding a CCTV camera to monitor the workers
- Punishing/firing the workers
- Giving the workers bonuses to inspire better performance
Eventually, they moved on to a second wave in which they made suggestions like:
- Rotate the workers
- Distract the workers
- Acquire foreign language newspaper
They pushed for more and more answers until they got to a third wave. Suddenly, one of them yelled, “Why don’t we just poke their eyes out!”
Now, you would be right to think that this is an insane idea. But the group was somehow willing to explore the thought of “poking the eyes out.” From this concept, a new question ensued: “How might the workers not see the newspapers?” they thought. And what came up were more silly answers like having them work in the dark, blindfolding them, or hiring people who can’t see in the first place.
But then it made sense. Why not, they thought, they hire people who are blind!
Believe it or not, this turned out to be the most promising solution. Because not only were the new workers no longer distracted by the newspaper resulting to the speed of the packing line, breakage was also reduced tremendously due to the tactile senses of the visually impaired workers. They were also able to offer jobs to these people who were having a hard time finding employment.
There was no chance that they would have broken through to this solution had it not been for purging out many ideas.
And this is why it’s so important to exhaust your imagination and creativity, Because we don’t know what we don’t know. We are so stuck on old beliefs, old connections, old ways of seeing things that we forget to seek what else is out there. How else can we help? What other connections and meanings can we make? And doesn’t it scare you if you will never get to explore those things? Doesn’t it bother you that if you never seek and dig deeper you will never get closer to the heart of things?
I hope you enjoyed this free lesson! If you want to know more about innovative thinking, again, I highly recommend Tim Hurson’s book, Think Better: An Innovators Guide To Productive Thinking. It’s one of my true favorites!
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Thank you so much for listening! Keep making true and beautiful things.