Thought Leadership

Use These Collaborative Exercises to Tone Your Idea Muscles

Do you feel like you’re running in circles trying to develop new ideas for your organization or clients? Is your boss pressuring you and your team to make a breakthrough? Do you want to develop something really cool that pushes the edge?

Ironically, the key to generating better, bigger and more eye-catching ideas is to generate more ideas in general. The more ideas you produce, the greater the chance that some of them will succeed. Even bad ideas count, since they can lead to big, brilliant ideas.

Working in a firm where we create advertising, sales promotions, experiential events and digital campaigns, I see this ideation process play out firsthand on the walls of our agency. For digital campaigns that include banner ads, video pre-roll and digital billboards, our creative team often fills three or more walls with ideas. This outpouring is then boiled down to a few refined ideas that we present to the client. We’re never satisfied with the first idea we create. To us, the first idea is one to beat with a second idea, and then a third idea, and so on.

Soak up influences, ask questions

To create an environment where ideas seem to pop out of the air, cultivate a curious mind and infuse your brain and your workplace with input. Feed your mind with new experiences.  Read books. Watch movies. Listen to radio programs and podcasts. Talk to people.

As all of this input pours in, generate a stream of ideas by creating a work space where you and your colleagues can freely share insights, observations and questions. Multiple perspectives lead to collaboration, which is where ideas mushroom.

When it comes to generating new ideas, one of the most effective actions we can take is to interview customers, clients, vendors, investors, and whoever has a stake in the brand. And yet, this is also one of the most overlooked opportunities to not only generate more ideas, but to generate more relevant ideas that attract future customers.

Interviewing customers to develop new ideas shouldn’t be limited only to those times when you need to move product. Do it constantly, even when your company’s sales are strong. By doubling down on generating ideas even in the best of times, you’re ensuring that your success will carry you through the tough times, too.

As you talk to customers and others, ask more pointed questions, even if they make people uncomfortable. Ultimately, such questions will inspire and uncover new details in the brand experience. For example, how is the product or service transforming people? Who is it transforming? What good is the brand doing for the world? If this brand were suddenly pulled from the market, would anyone miss it? Is the competition afraid of our brand, and if so, why?

Stay in shape

Olympic athletes don’t lounge on the couch until their season to perform arrives. They train for their sport every day. Similarly, if we only generate ideas when a new project comes along, we’ll be entering the arena like an out-of-shape athlete. Develop the habit of flexing your idea muscles every day, to keep yourself in prime shape for when those ideas are really needed.

Keep a notepad by your bed and try setting your alarm clock 30 minutes earlier than usual. When you wake up, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of water and write down at least 10 ideas that come into your head. They might be work ideas, career ideas, insights, observations, questions to address later in the day, dreams, people you’d like to meet with or books you’d like to read. Journaling will keep your idea muscles toned so you’re more prepared to be creative.

Think about ways to experiment with other situations where you and your team might feel more productive in generating new ideas. For example, one of our clients likes to meet with his staff in our offices, because he feels that our environment is better for stimulating ideas than the cube-ville where he works.

Curate ideas

Once you’ve developed a lot of ideas, what do you do with them? Ideas are generated to fulfill needs, rectify problems, constantly improve what’s already working, deliver better brand experiences, and widen gaps between our own brands and those of our nearest competitors. To get there, you’ll most likely have to sell your idea inside your own organization first (or to a client), before engaging with the end user or consumer.

To winnow down all the ideas that you and your team have generated and deliver only the best ones to your client, follow this process:

  • Look for patterns or themes among your ideas, and then group them under three or four different categories, such as “Safe/No Brainers,” “Edgy” and “Game Changers.”
  • Group ideas based on the client’s ability to fund them. Which ideas could easily be funded with existing resources, and which ones would require a larger budget to implement?
  • Sort ideas based on how complex they would be to implement. Will a particular idea involve numerous resources, favors, logistics, etc.?
  • Look for ideas that connect with one another. A handful of small ideas could combine into one big idea.

Ultimately, you’re looking for the ideas trifecta: brilliant, simple to implement and fundable.

For more tips on generating ideas, check out Stephen Dupont’s article, 99 Ideas on Generating More, Better and Bigger Ideas at Join him on July 17 at 3 p.m. ET for “Turn on Your Idea Machine,” a free webinar for PRSA members.

Stephen Dupont, APR, is vice president of public relations and branded content for Pocket Hercules (, a creative brand powerhouse based in Minneapolis. Contact him at or visit his blog at

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Stephen Dupont, APR

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