Once in a great while, brilliance bursts forth in an instant. An aha! A big idea! A flash of inspiration!
These rare moments are a gift. When you get one, thank the universe. Profusely.
And then start adjusting your expectations—and your creative process—for next time. Because “the first time’s a charm” is not how the saying goes.
Getting to the good stuff takes time
When it comes to creativity and communication, most of us need a little warming up. The best ideas, the juiciest information, the most valuable insights … they don’t come when we’re cold. The good stuff takes time. Maybe more time than you think.
Just when you stop writing …
Early in most of our business storytelling workshops, Jill and I invite participants to warm up with a creative writing exercise. We toss out a prompt, set a timer for an untold number of minutes, and tell everyone: “Think details and images, and just write!”
Recently, I forgot to add the second part of this instruction, which is: “Write until time’s up, even if you think you’re done.” As a result, one gentleman dropped his pen after jotting just a few words. He leaned back in his chair. Finished. Smug.
“Keep going until the timer rings,” I told him. He raised an eyebrow. “Seriously,” I said. A few minutes later, when he read his work to the rest of us, guess where his best lines were? At the end! His colleagues raved about the phrase he wrote just as the time ran out.
Just when you stop recording …
Earlier this month I produced a video where two leaders set the stage for a large project. Facing the improbability of gathering 20+ people for a kick-off meeting, we decided to create a briefing video to convey the leaders’ vision, ideas, and encouragement to the project team.
We settled in, warming up with casual conversation. When the two leaders felt relaxed and certain they knew the key points they wanted to cover, I hit the red “record” button and we got down to business. About 20 minutes later, we were finished.
The moment I stopped that recorder, both leaders relaxed, leaned forward, and kept talking. Thank goodness they didn’t see me tap the button to start recording again. That bonus footage gave us some wonderfully animated comments to use in the video.
Just when you say goodbye …
Last week I had an early meeting with a client. Instead of going to her office, we chose a nearby coffee shop and started our Friday morning with breakfast together. Our appointment was for an hour, but we both had flexibility to go longer if need be.
Over oatmeal, we covered easy topics: kids’ activities, vacation plans, the pouring rain. By the time my tea was cool enough to sip, we were on to business matters: project lists, deadlines, personnel changes. Her coffee reached room temp, and we began wrapping up. But then, just as I reached for my bag, our conversation hit that point where business gets personal. She admitted a weakness. I said, “me too.” And suddenly we were exchanging ideas on how to make real, meaningful change.
A full half-hour later, we finally said goodbye for real. As we darted into the rain to go our separate ways, she left with several ideas for changing her team’s communication culture, and I had the seed of an idea for this article.
Don’t just wait for it; work for it
This is the basis of the Power of 39, a creative principle Jill and I share with anyone who will indulge our craziness. I invented this technique several years ago “based on 0% scientific research, 50% intuition, and 50% real-life experience.” (When I first wrote about this technique, I called it the Theory of 39. But it’s proven so successful, through hundreds of brainstorming sessions, we’ve upgraded it to a Power. It’s that’s good.)
The concept? When brainstorming, don’t stop until you have at least 39 ideas. Why? Because if you brainstorm briefly, you’ll get an idea. If you stay in the conversation a little longer—maybe even longer than is comfortable—you’ll get a LOT of ideas. At least one of them is bound to be the good stuff.
When does your good stuff come?
In Story Mode, we talk a lot about process. Although we recommend all kinds of tools, techniques, and strategies, we never prescribe a hard-and-fast method for generating a message, a campaign, or a story. Instead, we encourage you to find your process. You choose the actions, the order, the pace.
Just be sure you stay in that process long enough. Chances are, if you stay in it just past that point of comfort, you’ll find the good stuff.