How did you think of that?

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“How do you creative guys get your ideas?” I hear that question a lot and my answer is usually that it’s a process. Sometimes you get the “ah ha!” moment in the shower then pretend to spend all day working on it, but unfortunately those are few and far between. Most of the time we actually DO have to work at coming up with a creative idea and I’ll share some of the techniques that work for me.

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I find being present at initial client meetings helps, that’s obvious, but paying attention to the details can help spark an idea that the client might not realize they mentioned, but is right on target. Taking notes helps, but I find making quick sketches of ideas that jump out immediately is important because when you go to the next meeting or the phone rings those potential good ideas just disappear.

Leave some time for day dreaming. There are usually a few key messages that the client is trying to convey and you need some quiet time to think hard about a creative way to make them come to life. Make sure to write down all your ideas, especially the bad ones. Once you write down the bad (or tired and cliched) ideas you get them out of the way and you can move on to the good ones. They’re there; you just have to dig them out.

Don Draper, the Creative Director character on the TV show Mad Men, once suggested to a colleague to think hard about a problem then just forget about it, then the ideas will come. I totally agree, once you plant the seed and you let your brain go on to something else you tend to have ideas pop up. Just be sure to write them down! It will take a few cycles of hard thinking and forgetting, but you’ll be amazed at what comes up.

Keep a pad and a pen handy by the bed. After a long day of work your brain has been processing all kinds of information with no time to rest and make sense of it all. The only time that it gets a rest is when you sleep. I find that the time just before you fall asleep can be a very fertile time for creative ideas. If you take that time to let your mind wander to your project (in a non-stressful way) great ideas will make their way to the surface. In that time between sleep and consciousness I usually come up with my best ideas. I tell myself that I’ll remember the idea in the morning, but if I don’t force myself to write it down then it’s gone and I spend the rest of the day scrambling to figure out what it was!

Finally, whether you have a pressing project or not, a good habit to get into is to be aware of things around you. Take a close look at buildings, ads, magazines, movies etc. and store them away. There are a ton of great ideas out there if you keep an eye out for them.

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