How to Begin a New Creative Project

My biggest idea-generation secret.

How do I begin to tackle a new creative project?

People always ask me how I "get ideas"…either so quickly, or so many… or for projects in areas and industries that are not even in my realm of industry expertise…the answer (and one of my secrets) is that I'm never in the position of starting a project or creative endeavor, from a "beginning". My starting points are often far ahead. I've already researched and gathered hundreds of relevant examples and ideas that are ready to use, look at, applied to whatever project comes up. My ideation process is separate from that actual creative project…it's an on going habit of absorbing and harvesting absolutely everything.idea

My trick is that I am ALWAYS on the look out for ideas, and when I'm not on the look out, I still capture and save things I see that might have potential. All the time, everywhere…When I'm gathering in this way, I don't necessarily look for ideas for a specific project…I look at anything I'm inspired by. From multiple industries and sources. And I save. This is something that has become one of my best habits, one that has helped me for almost every single project I've been part of. When the pressure is on for a new creative deadline, I start with taking inventory of my collections, and from there I can build and solve and create. Having that foundation of resources, or hooks (that I've already discovered and labelled as "a great idea" either yesterday or last year)..makes the initial creative process for a new project so much easier. 

As I am in the business of connecting and transforming, I tend to look differently. That is another habit I've perfected as well. I "sweep" really…My idea gathering has a flow. It's like the ebb of the ocean, a constant energy…the sweeping waves never really stop, they speed up, they explode, they slow down, but there is always that current force…As I'm always in this flow when a new project comes along, I rarely antagonize myself into "being creative". I'm already in it.

I think of ideas as my design tools and construction blocks rather than solutions to the problem. I never really understood the "aha" moment…or putting ideas on pedestals. The final concept is built with ideas, from many different sources…unlike traditional design tools… "idea tools" need to be refreshed – often – so that's why, besides saving – I keep harvesting - first thing when I awake, in between client work, while I'm watching a movie, in the car, at checkout lines…I capture what's going on in marketing, promotion, branding, design, shape, copy, fonts, layouts…and I save it.

Idea gathering is so important because ideas cannot be generated instantly when a project needs one. Ideas are formed from masses and piles of insight and inspiration, and thoughts…

Anyone who needs to find solutions to problems and think of new ideas should have an idea vault…not just "creatives". In my next post on this subject, I'll tell you fertile places I go to harvest for my idea vaults.

Unfolding (From the MDCG tool box)

At any point in a creative-thinking situation, alone or in a group, new solutions emerge when those involved force themselves to think in an arbitrarily different way.

Unfolding: Gradually unfolding the real problem from the outside. unfold

When to use it
Use it to create many different ideas.
Use it when people in the creative group are likely to be biased by preconceptions.
Use it to prolong the creative period, allowing a wide range of ideas to be created.

How to use it
Select a group of uninvolved people
- For your creative group, bring together a group of people who do not know about the problem. These can have expertise in the general area in which you are seeking solutions or may be generally creative people.
Explore the outer concept
- Do not tell them what the problem is. Tell them first about the outermost concept, or perhaps an analogous situation and ask for ideas around this, or just get a conversation going around it and what it really means.
Gradually unfold into the topic
- When the ideas or conversation has reached a suitable point, add further detail that moves things a bit closer to the actual problem. Repeat the discussion or idea creation from the previous step.
Gradually, one step at a time, unfold the discussion into the main problem topic. By the time you reach the end point, you will have explored far more widely than if you had dived straight into the problem.

Example
I am seeking ideas for the company summer picnic. I start the session with a discussion about motivation, then discussing the company as a family, involvement of employees' families and what family groups enjoy doing. This results in a deeper understanding of the overall problem. Thus the idea for a picnic turned into a weekend camp, where people could get to know each other better and the company as an extended family grows and becomes more diversely cohesive.

How it works
When people know about a problem, they cannot help but bring along a whole set of subconscious biases about the situation. The mind focuses on the areas in which it is comfortable, seeing familiar patterns and missing things that could be important.

MDCG has a series of tools for creating ideas, by exploring different methods of thinking that will help those who use them produce surprising and useful results. I will be posting techniques, tools and methods from our series regularly here, so check back often!