Look for themes, holes, relationships, structure
What’s the best way to come up with great ideas? What are the thought processes that drive the world’s most creative individuals?
For many, the secret is the 5-step creative process. The five stages of the creative process include the preparation stage, illumination stage, insight stage and evaluation stage.
In addition, there’s Step 2 of the process: analyzing your information. Once you’ve foraged the raw materials for your idea, focus, sift through and organize them to see how the pieces fit together.
This process helps creative people develop creative solutions to a problem in minutes that might otherwise take weeks or months to come up with.
So how do you get from market research to the aha moment? Here’s how to turn your raw data into creative ideas:
1. Seek connections.
While you’re sorting, look for themes, holes, relationships and structure.
“An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements,” wrote James Webb Young, the pre-Mad Men-era ad executive who invented the 5-step creative process and put it down in a book called A Technique for Producing Ideas.
“Innovation most of the time is simply taking A, B, C, and D, which already exist, and putting them together in a form called E.”
— Wolfgang Schmitt, chairman of Rubbermaid Corp.
“The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.”
Poet Robert Frost agreed. “An idea is a feat of association,” he wrote.
So did South African author William Plomer: “Creativity — the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.”
As did Wolfgang Schmitt, chairman of Rubbermaid Corp.: “Innovation most of the time is simply taking A, B, C, and D, which already exist, and putting them together in a form called E.”
2. Turn the kaleidoscope.
Those who develop the habit of seeing relationships between facts, Young wrote, will produce more and better ideas.
“The process is something like that which takes place in the kaleidoscope,” he wrote. “Every turn of its crank shifts these bits of glass into a new relationship and reveals a new pattern. The … greater the number of pieces of glass in it the greater become the possibilities for new and striking combinations.”
3. Develop your story angle.
To find your focus, start with a single idea.
Think of it this way: Like a tree, your piece might branch out in several directions. But you need to build the story on a single idea or trunk. If you find a sapling — a detail or message that doesn’t contribute to that single theme — pull it out.
A topic, obviously, isn’t an idea. “Kansas City” is a topic, not a theme. “PRSA Digital Media Conference” doesn’t make a good brochure headline, because it lacks an angle. Your product name is not an idea.
Build your story on a firmer foundation. What about Kansas City, your conference or your product?
4. Organize your information.
Save time — and hit your word count the first time, every time — by organizing your piece before you write it.
Upload your brain for Step 3.
You might call this step outlining, writing a walkaway sentence or developing a theme. That’s part of this process, sure.
But the real goal is to upload the information to your brain so it can take over working on this project while you’re doing something more interesting.
That’s Step 3 in the creative process: the incubation stage. It’s one of the most important stages for achieving your creative potential.
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