Want the Best Ideas to Flourish? Learn How to Cultivate Support
So much of what you do as content marketers relies on your creative abilities – coming up with new solutions to old problems or devising fresh angles for tired topics. However, all the creative genius in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t effectively convince everyone else to come along for the ride.
By Jonathan Crossfield
New ideas face many obstacles on their journey to reality. There are stakeholders to satisfy, reservations to resolve, comments to consider, contributors to convince and – no doubt – plenty of other factors that don’t always spring to mind when you present your kick-ass new idea.
And the more radical, risky, or creative the idea, the harder it can be.
You may be excited and want to share it right now – but have patience.
An idea is like a knife: It cuts through so much better if you sharpen it first. Here’s a virtual whetstone you can use to hone your technique into a precise tool of marketing construction.
Craft a logline in 30 words or less
Your first mission is to translate those swirling, abstract thoughts in your head into concrete language others can understand.
The litmus test of any idea is whether you can summarize it clearly in a few words. Imagine you have only 30 seconds to get the central idea across before the celebrity judge of your choice shouts “next” and cuts you off. This can help you get to the nub of the idea, the bit that matters, without the distraction of multiple tangents and related thoughts. Details can come later.
This is the start of your logline – a one-sentence summary screenwriters and novelists use to drum up interest in the projects they pitch. A good logline doesn’t tell the whole story, and it never gives away the ending. Rather, it focuses on expressing the core idea that distinguishes it from the hundreds of other loglines that cross a movie exec or publisher’s desk. The logline helps them determine which manuscripts to read and which will end up wedging shut that dodgy door to the stationery cupboard.
For example, the logline for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window reads: “A wheelchair-bound photographer spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.” OK. Interesting. Tell me more.
Note this logline doesn’t include fluff about it being a thriller (obvious) or list the supporting characters (unnecessary and subject to change). Every word is unambiguous and serves the core idea. While anything else is a mere detail to be contained in the script, this single sentence is what the story is about.
If you can’t summarize the essence of your creative content idea as succinctly and clearly as a good movie logline, maybe it isn’t as compelling, distinct, or strong as you think.If you can’t summarize the essence of your creative content idea as succinctly and clearly as a good movie logline, maybe it isn’t as compelling as you think, says @Kimota via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
The logline isn’t just about communicating ideas to others. It also helps focus the work that follows so the initial concept doesn’t get lost in the execution shuffle. Many writers won’t even begin their script or novel until they have a razor-sharp logline, having spent hours getting it just right.
Summarizing and refining your idea this way also gives you the best possible opening line for your content brief when the time comes to delegate the execution to your marketing team and editorial colleagues or commission external writers and producers.
Drop contextual breadcrumbs to inspire supporters
Have you ever explained an idea you’re excited about only to become frustrated when the other person clearly doesn’t grasp it? Or maybe they do, but they don’t think it’s as exceptional as you do?
“They just don’t get it,” you think to yourself. The idea is so clear in your mind, it seems obvious. Yet the reaction you receive proves that it’s anything but.
This is known as the curse of knowledge – and we all suffer from it. It’s where we struggle to get across our ideas because we wrongly assume others are drawing on the same knowledge, beliefs, and experiences that live inside our own heads.
In his book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?, acclaimed multi-hyphenate Alan Alda describes a simple experiment conducted at Stanford University that illustrates the curse of knowledge in action.
Test subjects were divided into two groups: tappers and listeners. Tappers were asked to choose a simple tune, such as Happy Birthday, and tap out the rhythm on the table for their listener to guess. The tappers were then asked if they thought the listener would get the right answer.
The tappers estimated an average success rate of 50%. The actual success rate was only 2.5%.
The tappers’ massive overestimation of success was attributed to their being able to “hear” the song in their heads as they tapped. As a result, they subconsciously assumed the melody would be just as obvious to the listener. But without the benefit of having the tune in their heads, the listeners received a rhythmic signal without any of the additional information the tappers drew upon in their own minds to create it.
Similarly, if an idea feels obvious to you, it’s likely because you already have the “tune” in your head: You know how this one goes. You know how you arrived at this decision. You are drawing upon the creative journey, thought processes, and insights that made your idea obvious to you.
Others might not.
If you present your idea without the context that led you to it, you are asking your audience to make a massive mental leap based on little more than trust.If you present creative ideas without the context that led you to them, you’re asking the audience to take a massive mental leap without a warmup, says @Kimota via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
That doesn’t mean you need to explain the backstory in excruciating detail. Don’t confuse communicating an idea with taking the audience back to school. Instead, confine your pitch to the need-to-know steppingstones:
- Problem: Your interpretation of the brief, situation, or opportunity that guided your approach
- Insight: The eureka moment that inspired your creative idea
- Research: Essential proof points, data, and/or experiments you used to refine and reinforce that idea
- Execution: Next steps needed to turn the idea into reality
Ideation requires participation and iteration
Your idea will be stress-tested every time you communicate it. Ultimately, it may not matter how clearly you express it or how compelling and original it may be; others will have input. And this will continue all the way through execution – as it rightfully should.
“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than in the one where they sprang up,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1945. Creativity isn’t a dictatorship. Your idea is likely going to change. Accept it.
It’s only natural for creators to prefer their original ideas to the ones that evolve through discussion. Watching some of your favorite parts get stripped away can be frustrating. But the goal is to arrive at the strongest idea supported by the group, not just you – particularly if other stakeholders are the ones with the final say.
This is also where a strong logline can be useful as a tool to assess whether each new suggestion or change supports or detracts from the core idea. Otherwise, the final result may end up epitomizing that old maxim of a camel being a horse designed by a committee.
Sometimes, the discussion may legitimately take an idea further and further away from the original logline or concept, leading to something even better. If so, you need to be prepared to let the original go: Idea 1.0 is now dead. Long live idea 2.0. Time to write a new logline.
Practice how you will preach
Years ago, I had a boss for whom every idea I pitched had to look like a natural extension of the SEO strategy. It didn’t matter what the content was – topics didn’t concern him – he only wanted to know what the keywords would be. I’m sure if the canteen posted a new lunch menu, he’d have demanded backlinks.
There will always be questions, objections, and demands – some of which will frustratingly appear to overlook the key point or obsess over tangential issues. But there is nothing more likely to kill a creative idea where it stands than the question you can’t answer or the objection you can’t counter.
Preparation means playing devil’s advocate. Put aside your own opinions and look for every possible way someone else might tear your idea to shreds. Consider how the stakeholders and contributors have embraced or rejected previous ideas. What aspects or requirements might they prioritize differently to you?To be a master of the creative domain, you must play devil’s advocate. Look for every possible way to tear your idea to shreds, says @Kimota via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Not only can this exercise make your ideas stronger, but it also teaches you how to defuse similar objections or curveballs should they arise with your next idea (and experience tells us they almost always will).
Record your journey for posterity
Your idea (or at least a version of it) has run the gauntlet and emerged victorious as a viable and executable entity. But don’t celebrate yet. It’s easy for an initial idea to erode over time or for creative lessons to gradually fall away – particularly if this is an ongoing content project. How will you ensure the central idea is preserved a year from now? Two?
Don’t leave future contributors or stakeholders to try to understand the idea without the same cache of experience you’ve just amassed. You’ll want to conduct a postmortem.
Where possible, consider documenting the process you used to take your idea from concept to delivery as a playbook. This can provide a clear template for future content while protecting the core idea from becoming distorted or lost.
It can also serve as a reminder of the various requirements and priorities navigated, the pitfalls and restrictions to avoid, and the lessons you learned along the way.
In this way, the playbook becomes the map, with the logline as the compass that guides those who might get lost or are new to the journey back to the core idea.
Survival of the creatively fit
A common myth about creativity is that is shouldn’t be confined and that rules and restrictions are bad. In fact, the opposite is true. Rules and restrictions drive us to find innovative solutions to the problems they create. But for that to occur, you need to accept these rules and restrictions exist.
Don’t wait for reality and the dispassionate assessment of others to shatter your idea after you’re already emotionally invested in it. Instead, use that necessity to convince and collaborate as the grindstone against which you can make your ideas razor sharp.
Want to share your thoughts on this article or suggest additional ideas? Email us at [email protected].