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How do you come up with new ideas?

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From Vision to Venture

Creativity. It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. Heck, I even include it in my company name: Hopkinson Creative Media. I must think I’m a creative guy or something.

Brainstorming. Just the very word brings me to a soulless conference room, with a facilitator holding up a fragrant, colorful marker to a blank flip chart, urging under-caffeinated employees that “there are no wrong answers!”

But what does creativity and brainstorming mean in the current workplace? I’m super excited to be on a panel at the new SXSW V2V (Vision to Venture) in Las Vegas on August 14 with Helen Todd, Adam Marelli, and Jey Van-Sharp. If you’re going to be at the conference, but all means stop by and say hi.


Coming up with new ideas

Some people ask me, how the heck have you been able to come up with a new idea to write about every single week for 5 years? Well, for some weeks, ideas just come to me, and others it is much, much harder. I don’t recall the source, but there’s a comedian or a writer or someone that replied “It’s easy… at least once a week something ticks me off.”

Here are my tips for coming up with continuous new ideas on different subjects:
1) Keep a Google Doc or other online list so that you can continually add article ideas to it at any time. You can also include links.
2) Go for a run. If I’ve done it once, I’ve done it 100 times… what works for me is going for a run to clear my head. While it helps to have a general topic to build from, I’ve also gone out with a blank slate and come back with a fully formed post.
3) Build off of other topics that intrigue you. For example, last week I was inspired by a video Gary Vaynerchuk did about digital legacy, so I put my own spin on it, expanded the topic, and turned it into a blog post and podcast of my own
4) Interview other people. When you’re low on ideas or energy, feed off of others. Find someone that is doing something cool, ask good questions, and tap into their energy for a change.


Fostering creativity on the same idea

While coming up with a new topic each week is tough, what’s even harder is writing about the same topic again and again. I do this with my ongoing contributions to Salary.com. Twice per month I need to come up with a new angle on the same exact topic.

Here’s how I do it:
1) Get that Google Doc going. As with my blog, I keep a continual list of ideas to build from. Some weeks I look back at an idea and it springs to life, but honestly, most times when I go back to a topic I’ve jotted down, I hate it and need to start from scratch.
2) Avoid clichés. The easy fallback is to do a clichéd list post, such as “Top 10 Salary Negotiation Myths.” I have to admit I go to these on occasion, especially since that audience loves easy to digest slideshows. But even when I do, I try to pepper the story with pop culture references and items the average person might have missed.
3) Go to real life. By far the best source of material are real life case studies. While I can go on for weeks about what SHOULD happen during a negotiation, every situation is different and there’s no way to predict what will happen. This makes for great stories. Fortunately, I offer 1:1 salary negotiation consulting, and get a steady stream of clients. I’m able to use their stories – always with their permission and always changing names and details to keep things anonymous – and build advice off of that.

Go to the crowd

When working on an important idea, sometimes it is necessary, or imperative, to get another opinion. Take the example of a tagline for my new website. I have a bunch of ideas, but I want to make sure they are good.

Here are some of the sources I’m looking at:
Personal ideas: Ones that I had personally brainstormed during the writing of my book
Social media outreach: Offer 4-5 options and then asking friends on Twitter and Facebook which one they like best
Trusted inner circle: I have a mastermind group of savvy entrepreneurs and internet marketers that I respect and trust, and can run ideas by them
Fiverr.com: For $5 you can have a copywriter come up several ideas. I actually hired two of them, which gives me a completely outsider opinion of my site
Hire a pro: I have a friend that is a professional copywriter, and I’m considering hiring her to work through some options
FeedbackArmy.com: This is a new site that I’m loving, where for $20 you get 10 immediate, unbiased pieces of feedback


Don’t combine create mode with edit mode

This was a tip I received from Tess Vigeland while at the World Domination Summit: Don’t try and write and edit at the same time, because…

It’s like hitting the gas and the brake simultaneously.


Step 1: Put yourself in creative mode, writing and brainstorming and getting into the flow. Find the best time of day for this, whether it is first thing in the morning, late afternoon once you’ve warmed up, or late at night over a glass of wine.

Step 2: Pick a completely different time to be in edit mode. Again, right after morning coffee, or when you feel most alert, when you can edit ruthlessly and spot typos with abandon. As one famous saying goes, write drunk, edit sober.

When I’m doing a major speech, I’m famous for creating epic presentations, adding in various story lines, trying new jokes, bringing in new photos, and just experimenting with the best way to deliver the content.

I’ll then practice the speech out loud with a timer, only to find out I have a 53 minute presentation to deliver in a 30 minute limit. However, when I switch to edit mode, this forces me to go back and see what flows, what works, continually improve, and cut cut cut. I know I have to be relentless, hone those jokes, hit those beats.

Ride the wave

My final tip is from Helen, who is in the same boat as me in terms of working from home, juggling multiple projects, and trying to optimize business hours. On more than one occasion, we’ve been chatting on the phone about business between 8-10pm at night. She’ll say ask what I’m up to, and I’ll have just eaten dinner, be sitting at the computer, and have a project to-do list staring me in the face. More often than not, I’ll reply with the following:

“I’m trying to decide what to do. Should I work from 10pm-1am and just crank out this project, get it out of the way, and then sleep in tomorrow? Or should I relax, shut down the computer, have a glass of wine, watch an episode of International House Hunters, go to bed early, and then get up super early, hit the gym, and crank out a few hours of work in the morning?”


Her response: RIDE THE WAVE

What that simply means is going with whatever flow seems most natural. What I’ll usually do is sit down and write a few paragraphs of build a few web pages and see how I feel. If I get in a groove, and email is quiet, and I’m on a roll, I ride the wave… staying in the zone and working as long as I can until I crash.

If I find my brain skipping gears, my concentration lagging, or the flow of ideas at a crawl, I know it’s time to shut down the computer and crash.

That’s how I approach things, and I’m excited to share more ideas as we discuss them on the panel. How do you approach it? Hit me up on Twitter.

Check out my free online salary negotiation course, “How to Negotiate Salary: The Negotiation Mindset.”

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