Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Your Next Big Idea…

It’s peak stargazing week, with the Perseid Meteor Shower set for its best show in 20 years. Which is the perfect time to imagine what’s out there, and brush up on your brainstorming abilities. After all, finding bright ideas that stand out from others can make you a star, too.

Perseids 2012
Perseid Shower Radiant: Image shows several Perseid meteors — eight in all if you look closely for faint ones. Image courtesy of Paul Beskeen Astrophotography

It’s peak stargazing week. The Perseid Meteor Shower set for its best show in 20 years, which is the perfect time to imagine what’s out there, and brush up on your brainstorming abilities. After all, finding bright ideas that stand out from others can make you a star, too.

So where do you look? How can spot them, or spark a few of your own?

Break Out Your Telescopes

By that, I mean look at problems with a different lens. Ideally, one with a long-range view. Too often when faced with a marketing challenge, we only see what’s right in front of us. Many will fixate on small details, forgetting that most customers aren’t so focused on BRCs, Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors or the metrics of SEO. (All of which are important, but first things first! Think bigger.)

Example: A creative director colleague — Jon Harcharek — was developing a campaign for Café Bustelo. Popular among Latino Americans, the brand wanted to attract a broader audience but worried they’d compromise its “authenticity” by advertising on English-speaking stations.

Cafe Bustelo adHarcharek’s solution: Air the same ad on all networks, Hispanic or otherwise. Those watching Telemundo saw promotions in their native tongue. Anglo viewers were surprised to see a Spanish-speaking commercial break during Breaking Bad, but early adopters were curious and sought out the “new” coffee at supermarkets.

See The Possibilities

Our ancestors saw bulls, rams and scorpions in the sky. One of them probably said, “This may sound crazy, but that looks like a lion to me.”

There may have also been a department manager who said “No, they’re just dots. Get back to work.” The point is to make indirect connections, not just straight-line conclusions. Look beyond the first right answer. And during the idea-generation stage, avoid “no-it-alls” — those who say no to every imaginative thought.

Think like Aristotle: As one of the world’s first astronomers, he believed “When you ask a dumb question, you get a smart answer.” Which inspired more great thinkers to ask “Why have we always done it that way?” It’s the elementary questions followed up by a dozen more penetrating ones that often yield results.

Whether you’re asking clients “Is this really the smartest way to spend your marketing budget” or “Why can’t this mailing look like it came from the government?” it’s okay to be dumb sometimes. Like a fox.

Kansas Tree SurveySeek other intelligent life: Give your initial idea to someone else and see where it goes. At my agency, we call that “brain-chaining” where another creative person takes ownership of a concept and builds on it. Then another “trained brain” might twist it, rearranging headlines or graphic design.

Try This Exercise

At the beginning of a brainstorm meeting, have everyone write down their first thoughts on a 3”x 5” index card. Just a sentence or simple sketch. Then collect the cards, shuffle and hand them out again. Whatever you get, your job is to make them better. Improvise. Suggest a different way to execute it.  There are NO bad ideas. Yet you’ll be surprised how many good ones happen.

The heavens are limitless, but your timeframe shouldn’t be: Like this week’s meteor showers, you only have a small moment when the stars and moons align. Brainstorms are the same way. They’re actually more productive when you give yourself a deadline.

So look up. Keep your eyes wide open, and explore while you can. Your wishes just might come true!