“An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.”
James Webb Young
The thing about thinking is that no one thinks too much about thinking.
When do you ever take the time to think about why you think and how it works?
Being a creative type I have always found it difficult to explain my thought process as it’s something that happens subconsciously. I just ‘have’ ideas, most of the time I don’t really feel like I control it. It’s only when I can’t have ideas that I pay it any attention.
After researching the subject I have distilled the essence of creativity to: the ability to make connections and see relationships between seemingly random elements.
Consider how you can combine elements to create something new
The very first mobile phone to contain a camera was produced by Sharp in 2000 for the brand J-Phone. Twenty years ago who could ever have imagined a phone and a camera combined? And who can imagine not having a camera in your pocket 24/7 in this day?
Create a visual overview on the wall
If I am creating a site architecture then I sketch on pieces of paper, one per site page. Each page has information such as list of content to be contained, call to action, which page the user journey should go to next. Also, I try to pre-empt every question that the user might have at that point in the site, to determine what the page needs to contain and where it should go. I then stick all the pieces on a large wall so that I can stand back and have a visual overview of the entire site and see what needs to be moved, linked, added or taken away. I love Balsamiq for wireframing, but I still prefer the connection between the physical paper and my thinking process (perhaps from being an old school artist and designer).
To create a content strategy ideas wall
An ideas wall is a technique used across many industries, not just creative, the best example being detectives who have long used a visual wall of reference to assist solving crimes.
Tools needed: paper, coloured pens, highlighter pens, printouts of all reference material, coloured string and push-pins, post-it notes, blu tack or tape and a large wall space, pin board or sheets of foam board.
Organise your reference material into themes or groups and pin/stick to the wall.
Devise a colour code system for your different groups with the pen colour you have, and use the coloured pens to mark and highlight relevant pages and sections of information.
For example, if you’re working on content strategy for your site, then group into:
- Keywords – brainstorm a list of keywords surrounding your brand, niche, theme or anything seasonal. You can include keyword research, but not limited to.
- Influencers – list influencers who could help to broadcast your content and sub-group in different social media channels, newsletters and authority sites (e.g. Guardian, Huffington Post, Fast Company).
- Idea sources – places to mine ideas from such as offline periodicals, online Q&A sites like Quora, social media channels and Google trends.
- Host – potential sites to target for exposure, shares and links such as authority hub sites, bloggers, online magazines/publishers, email newsletters and social media sites.
- Emotion – collect visual reference, ideas, techniques, trends and anything you like, just because.
By grouping related themes, we start to see patterns. If you have a piece that doesn’t fit into a group, this ‘outlier’ could in itself give ideas.
As you begin to make the connections you will see content ideas begin to form. I also recommend using Pinterest to create a scrapbook of anything that visually appeals based on your theme. You can print images off and add these to the wall under a group of ‘things I like’.
Stand back from the wall and look for potential relationships or connections between the information. Using pushpins and coloured string makes a visual link between the two. The key here is flexibility: move pieces of paper around, create new string links, make new groups (by repositioning).
Simply standing and looking at your information contained in the ideas wall will allow your mind to make connections between seemingly random elements.
Take time to stand and look at the wall and keep taking a break and returning. Allow your brain time to process and distil. Your ideas will start to form and generate.