(This post is one in a series outlining my notes from a recent presentation on creativity ("10 ½ Ways To Unlock Your Creative Streak") to the Worldcom Public Relations Group, the world's largest partnership of P.R. firms with more than 100 firms around the globe. The original post with all 11 points is here.)
Where does an idea come from? We debate this question in my creativity workshops. To me, one answer among several is that an idea comes from an insight.
According to The Macquarie Dictionary, an insight is the “essential understanding of a given topic.” An insight is gained through obsessive absorption of knowledge about a particular topic until a person can figuratively step away from the information and say very simply what the data means.
(There’s a famous quotation: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough," usually attributed to Albert Einstein, but more likely to Richard Feynman.)
In other words, an insight does not come from shallow research. Barely scratching the surface of its understanding, shallow research is too flimsy to be directive, and not enough of the right data to be informative.
Primary research – acquisition of data first-hand – is preferred. Secondary research – an analysis and summary of other's outside research – is an excellent substitute. Because they can be difficult to get when your back is up against the wall, here are three areas to focus your time in hopes of uncovering a proper insight.
Define exactly the communications problem.
In The Concept of a Problem, Gene Agre says “a problem is the gap between the current state of affairs and the desired state of affairs.” The problem (pictured below) is what stands in the way of moving from today to the future. By analyzing the problem, you uncover insights which lead to ideas which might solve the problem.
It’s important to know exactly what the problem is. The engineer and inventor Buckminster Fuller once said: “A problem adequately stated is a problem well on its way to being solved.” If you know exactly what the problem is, you will know how to fix it.
Nearly 16 years ago, we were approached by a women’s cosmetic brand to launch a new line of hair coloring in China. The primary audience was women, aged 35+, who believed hair coloring was an outward sign of prosperity. We knew beauty salons would be an important engagement point. While talking to women one afternoon, one customer said she didn’t know if her husband would like the new color. The other women immediately joined in. We realized we’d uncovered a key problem: a woman’s husband was a significant influence on her hair color choice. If we didn't address the issue of the husband's perspective, there would be a good chance we wouldn't sell more hair colouring.
Sometimes the problem is the word “problem.” People immediately think : bad news, something horrible, dangerous, catastrophic. One client told me not to focus on the problem because it’s too negative. You can look at it another way too. Every problem is an opportunity. It's a chance to get rid of the old and replace it with something better. By addressing and minimizing the problem, you also achieve your objective.
Here’s other posts on problems:
Focus more on psychographics, and less on demographics.
It’s easy to find and understand demographics: hard, concrete facts that would stand up in a court of law. But these type of chilly statistics – a person’s age, their salary, education or zip/postal code – do not necessary lend themselves to brainstorming.
Psychographics are preferable. They measure what/why a person believes what they do, what their attitudes and opinions are, which values they’re based, and finally, how they behave.
The behavior aspects are most important because they show how engagement might be translated into belief and action. The best ideas always spring from natural behavior, and psychographics indicate what those behaviors are or might be.
People often don’t know where to find psychographic information. You can typically find it in two places: internally, in either the marketing or research and development departments, or externally from the advertising agency. Often, it’s a simple matter of a phone call to share information which also demonstrates (to the client) that you play well with others.
For more on this topic:
Use less Internet, and more real life.
Master spy novelist John le Carré once said, "A desk is a very dangerous place from which to watch the world." Very few things help brainstorming as much as real life experience. To put yourself in the shoes of the target audience significantly increases your understanding of the audience. Drop your objective point-of-view and become subjective to the experiences of using the product and service.
For more on this topic:
And last, what insight is unique to your agency?
As someone who used to review most new business presentations prior to their delivery to the client, I know there’s many attributes to a winning proposal. One of the top attributes is the quality of the insight. And, is it yours uniquely?
Whatever insight you choose must be something you yourself have learned about the environment, the product or service, or the target audience. It should be something the client could only get from you. The differentiating quality of the insight demonstrates the depth of your strategy. And, by how you’ve translated that insight into an idea, it illuminates your creativity.
Ask yourself this question before you pitch the business: What insight did we uncover that the client could only get from us?
What other ways have you learned to uncover an insight?
Next slip-up: Thinking the target audience is simply statistics.