Where do great ideas come from?

Three answers to the one question every creative asks, and is often asked, during their career, writes Create's Sana Panjwani

Supplied: Create Group

“Uhhh,” is quite often the first response you’ll get to that question. That’s because despite how simple this question is, the answer to it is infinitely less so.

The truth is there is no one answer, there is no formula, and there is no magic pill (at least, not until the NZT-48 Limitless pills become reality). What there is, however, are multiple paths that can help you get closer to the feeling.

The feeling (n.)

A burst of elation and wonder that immediately follows the having of a great idea.

I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had the feeling. My face had the same look Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro in Air did when the idea of Nike creating a shoe line around Michael Jordan dawned on him. Or John Leonard’s in Pepsi, Where’s My Jet?, when he realised that he didn’t need to spend $4.3 million on Pepsi cans, he could just buy all the Pepsi Points at less than 20% of the initial cost to get his Harrier Jet.

The feeling isn’t easy to get, which is perhaps what makes reaching it all the more exciting. It’s passion and inspiration colliding, which begs the question… how do you get there?

#1 Consume, collect, collaborate

Ideas aren’t just born out of nowhere. They’re, at their simplest, the result of a mishmash of our impressions. And those come from our consumption of, well, everything.

The cartoons you watched as a kid. The indie band you listen to. That odd art show or quirky play a friend dragged to you. Any one of them can hold the key—videography technique, editing look, copywriting inspiration—to unlock your next (or first!) great idea.

All of your life’s experiences are potential fodder, and it’s up to you to soak it in, to ‘consume’, because one day, any one of those moments can spark the feeling.

‘Collect’ is about adding mindful preparation to the mix.

I’m not saying document every waking moment of your life but if you ever come across something you find clever or inspiring, something that even teases at your creativity, save it. This is your swipe file, your idea bank, the place you’ll turn to when you need to bust out a creative Cha-Cha.

This will serve you for the rest of your career, but here’s the thing. A swipe file isn’t enough on its own. You also need people… which brings us to ‘collaborate’.

Big ideas, great ideas, rarely come to life in a vacuum. Sonny Vaccaro stumbled upon the Air Jordan idea while watching one of Michael Jordan’s game tapes alongside an Ashe Comp 2 ad; but landing Jordan was a pipe dream that only became possible because he worked alongside people like George Raveling, Rob Strasser, Peter Moore and others.

Work with your people. After all, what’s great about an idea that can’t be executed?

#2 Think, think, and oh, think

Ten years ago, a single-camera sitcom about a father-daughter duo who run their own ad agency dropped on CBS. It was called The Crazy Ones. It didn’t last beyond its first season but it was memorable. Their ‘Breakfast Burrito Club’ episode is one of my favourites.

Let’s set the scene. The team is wrapping up for the day when they find out the client has moved their pitch meeting up by a week. Now they’re in the 11th hour and it’s “time to roll up our sleeves and really dig in.”

Then fly in all the ideas. The good, the bad, the mediocre, the irrelevant. Anything and everything under the sun gets thrown in because while there is definitely such a thing as a bad idea, it doesn’t mean you should be afraid to have them.





The beginning of a brainstorm (The Crazy Ones, S1E4)

Think of it like clearing out the cobwebs. You have to go through the dust to get to what’s underneath because trying to navigate around it is just going to be tiring and time-consuming.

Throw it all down. No limits. Try a bunch of approaches such as Six Thinking Hats or the “what problem can I solve here?” perspective. Write it down. Stick it up. Shred it. Embellish it. Basically, play with it every which way for as long as you can until the feeling dawns on you.














The feeling (The Crazy Ones, S1E4)

#3 Just get lucky 

Did you know Nintendo’s Game Boy might not have been released with Tetris if it weren’t for a man named Henk Rogers?

The video game designer and entrepreneur was in the middle of securing rights to Tetris when he got a sneak peek at the Game Boy ahead of its announcement and had the great idea to pitch its inclusion in the launch.

How lucky, right?

Here’s the thing about luck. It’s often seen as out of our control but Seneca, a Roman philosopher, had quite an interesting perspective on it.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Rogers wouldn’t have been privy to that knowledge if he hadn’t fully prepared for the opportunity. It’s about knowing everything you can know so you’re in a position to take action when an opportunity presents itself.

In the case of working for an agency with many clients, our job is to proactively learn everything we can about them. Their history, their products, their services, their values. That will all serve as flint, creating sparks (AKA the feeling) when it strikes against the right opportunity and making you feel lucky.

So dive into every report, web page, speech and brochure you can. Any of it can come in handy. As my boss likes to quote: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Time to get to knowing.

Images: Supplied (Create Group)