Q It Up: Generating Ideas

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95by Sterling Tarrant

I want you all to know that fireworks work. They work real good. I know that because one year Aunt Charlotte's bloomers were made a little toasty by a Roman Candle. Now every year we celebrate by toasting Aunt Char (that was her nickname after that) and by making jokes about her roasting marshmallows.

Was that a true story? Maybe. I do have an Aunt Charlotte. We always went over to her house every Fourth of July to shoot off fireworks. But the part about the bloomers...sorry, I faked it. The thing is though, I took an incident from childhood and embellished it. Now I have the making of a spot about Fourth of July safety, or about an urgent care center, or the latest product from Fruit of the Loom.

I've decided once a year to return to my favorite topic: generating ideas. Every year about this time we'll pursue a "creativity update" where I'll ask for new ideas on where to get ideas. The last column I wrote on this topic was March, 1995. Feel free to go back and make a copy of it or order it from RAP. Then, when your mind is firing duds, you'll have a place to re-light the fuse.

Jeff Left of Jeff Left Productions in Fargo, North Dakota says one of the major things he uses for creativity is his kids. "I'm shocked at how an English mistake can turn into a marketing dream," says Left. "For instance, one time my son, Adam, said 'Hey dad, let's go get some ice cream...look, there's a "scoopon" in the paper.' He saw a spoon in the ad, and he thought scoop, and something truly worthy for an ad came out of his mouth. Now my ear is much more tuned to mistakes. I often find them useful and, needless to say, my son got some ice cream."

Heather Martinez at KKLI in Colorado Springs knows the value in children's ideas: "I surround myself with children's toys. I have to stay in touch with the child in me." There's a lot of creativity experts who agree that childlike playing is key. Roger Von Oech in his book A Whack on the Side of the Head says, "Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father." He quotes a computer architect who says, "Play is what I do for a living. The work comes in organizing the results of the play."

Idea generating principle #1: PLAY! Don't get trapped into thinking that if you're playing you're not getting any work done. Playing can shake your thoughts up good enough to get a great spot done the same way a Roman Candle can shake up other body parts. (Sorry, I'm having trouble getting the picture of Aunt Charlotte out of my mind.) You've heard it over and over again. Radio is fun! Dan O'Day says that Bobby Ocean told him you know who the Production Director is. He's the one who always looks pissed off. It's because of the pressure and the lack of respect. I have found that when I'm really under the gun, I have to take a few minutes or a half hour to play. My assistant, Stephan Fenton, tells people that his main job is to make me laugh. He does it well. When I'm staring down the list of spots that I have to come up with each day and I'm getting that pissed off look on my face, he'll come in and do Tyrannosaurus Rex impersonations. Or we'll bank shot paper wads through my office door and try to hit each other. Or we'll stand on the receptionist's desk and sing. Doing something fun like that recharges me. It keeps me from missing deadlines. Heather Martinez agrees: "Especially if I'm having a bad day" she says, "I'll sing, watch cartoons, get a pedicure."

Wait a minute, did I get my notes right? Get a pedicure? Yep. That's what she said. Which brings me to Idea generating principle #2: FIND SOMETHING THAT PERSONALLY RELIEVES STRESS. Doug Hall in his book Jump Start your Brain says, "Stress smothers the mental process. It may help you summon enormous energy and physical power, but it shrivels brain power. Not only does it reduce your ability to think clearly, scientists say it actually kills brain cells."

Lately, I've found myself to be the most creative and most productive outside the office. I think it's because my subconscious has the equation of office = stress burned into it. Lately, my brain likes to freeze up at my desk. But once I take it outside or to an empty conference table, I find it thawing like a cold butt in a hot pair of bloomers. (Dang it, there I go again.)

For you, it may be looking over old record covers stored away in the back of the station, remembering easier times, getting away alone at lunch with the paper or with a book you want to read for no apparent reason. Maybe it's running cold water over your wrists (it cools you down) or going out for a frozen yogurt or a double shot mocha latte. That last one is like defibrillator paddles to my brain, to jolt it back into productivity.

Playing and relieving stress are how you prepare yourself to generate ideas. What follows are some tools to use in idea generation. First of all, the aforementioned books: A Whack on the Side of the Head and Jump Start Your Brain. I have many more in my library. Call me for more info. You've probably heard of an Idea Bank. It's nothing new to RAP readers. However, Jeff Left says, "Instead of your idea bank being just radio spots, don't miss a real opportunity by taking a paper ad that impresses you and converting it into audio." Heather Martinez adds, "Pull from magazines and print to see visuals and get new takes on verbiage. I also use the RAB Web site (http://www.rab.com) to find things that are unlike what we are doing."

I find word games are giving me the most help lately. Random Scrabble tiles get words going that spark concepts. Outburst is a great game to keep around the office. Outburst cards ask things like "Famous Blondes," "Things you find in a nursery," or "Baseball players with Latin surnames." One thing that I've found that's been a big hit around here is "Magnetic Poetry." Four Hundred and Fifty tiny magnets with words, word endings, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs. You put 'em together to make poetry (or weird sayings for your co-workers to decipher). Warning! This product can produce some strange visual images in your mind. I found it in a bookstore. You may have to get in touch with Magnetic Poetry at PO Box 14862, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414.

If you have any other ideas, feel free to share them with me. Next month I'm asking you how do you deal with the stress. How do you relax? Fax me. Call me. E-mail me. You're the RAP Network. Let me hear from you. Of course, if you're too busy to respond, I know a place where laughter takes away the stress. But Aunt Charlotte probably doesn't want her address given out.

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