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How searching for a small headrush can kill your next big idea

The end of last year I went to AdAge’s IDEA conference here in New York City. I find most conference to be strange events where I never feel like I learned as much as i had hoped to and I usually leave feeling like I don’t give myself enough credit for my work. On that day I sat in a small dark auditorium and listened to a parade of leading marketers and agency heads spout small pieces of wisdom wrapped in large amounts of their own self promotional back slapping. Near the end of the day Alex Bogusky from Crispin Porter took the stage and he brings out mixed emotions with me because his cocksure personality just annoys me but you have to respect the work he has done. I think that I probably fall into the trap that since CP&B get so much press it also becomes trendy not to like them and wait for the bloom to come off the rose but on this day Alex hit on something that had been rattling around in my mind for a few years.

I have gone through art school, worked more really good ad agencies with designers and writers of all levels and through all of that one thing has become clear to me – everyone wants to have the next great advertising idea but no one ever gives you the tools or structure to help those ideas happen. This is a subject I am going to go into in more depth in future entries in this series but I wanted to start with what Alex hit on that day – that have a great idea goes far beyond the “Ah Ha!” moment.

We have all had them. You are sitting there trying to work through a concept and in a single moment of clarity everything lines up and you get the solution that has been sitting just beyond your reach usually followed by a small head rush and an “Ah Ha!”. That sudden sense of accomplishment and breakthrough can become addictive. I have known and worked with a lot of creatives who only feel like they have a great idea if they have had one of those moments. I think that is a trap because not all great idea come in one big rush. Some can be grinds where you have to work hard to break through the clutter to find what really works.

After years of being aware of this problem I started to look at my process to see what it was I was doing to get to good ideas. I found that I would have to soak by brain in two things – research/strategy and creativity/inspiration in equal amounts. The research/strategy would consist of me writing out things like the challenges the concept needs to solve, known issues with the brand, key research points, brand pillars, possible executional concepts, etc.. The creativity/inspiration would consist of advertising the brand has in market from online and offline, marker sketches of concept directions, competitive work, etc.. I have laid out my office to mirror this approach so one wall in front of my desk is a huge white board where I write out the research half of the problem and on the wall to the right I have strips where I can hang my sketches, photos etc.. By working in this right brain / left brain way I load my brain up with everything it needed and then let it soak so connections between the two halves can start to happen. This is a tough area and I would say to take some time and look at your process to see what you do when you come up with ideas you love and try to find ways to replicate it. It may be hard at first but over time those connection will happen more quickly.

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Creative Director, Designer, Brand Builder, Speaker, Podcaster, Crazy One. As a designer, I have 20+ years experience creating the strategy, concepts, and designs for award-winning integrated global advertising campaigns, building multiple global Fortune 500 brands and creating innovative digital experiences. As a leader, I have 15+ years transforming agency and client-side teams using a mix of creativity, business strategy, process and political skill to create innovative, world-class work and cultures that change industries and companies. My clients have included American Airlines, W Hotels, Disney, Citi, ExxonMobil, Acura, Old Navy, Nationwide Insurance, Verizon, Subaru and many others. My work has received over 150 international awards, my app designs have been named as one of the World’s 100 Greatest Apps, Apple has featured my work in 9 keynotes, 4 TV commercials and more.

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