Sit down with a pen and a blank sheet of paper and write down 10 ideas that could propel humanity to a new level.
- Growing new limbs and organs from our own tissue
- Recycling waste into a source of energy
- An organism that purifies water to a drinking level
- A teleporting transporter (my dream invention, no more flying)
The first one or two are easy.
By idea five, you’re thinking hard and your head is sweating.
By eight, your brain is ready to implode.
Thinking of ideas isn’t easy.
Your brain hurts and it will do anything it can to avoid working that hard.
Being creative can be physically painful and, as John Cleese said, the real secret to creativity is the ability to sit with the discomfort until the right solution comes along.
That is far, far harder than you can imagine.
Only those who know the agony of sitting with a blank sheet waiting for five outstanding concept ideas on it can tell you.
The brain is a muscle. The more you flex it, the better it becomes at idea generation.
Therefore, the more you do concept work, the more you become used to having ideas.
As James Altucher recommends, writing down 10 ideas every day will keep your brain sharp and agile and then when the pressure is on for you to deliver the campaign, your brain is on your side.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying and writing about creativity and idea generation, brainstorming, ideation or whatever the current buzzword might be, and the hard truth is this:
There are no shortcuts to having brilliant ideas.
The kind of ideas that make you have a sharp intake of breath and realize that all the hours of banging your head on the desk in desperation with a looming deadline were worth it and your job (and reputation) is saved after all.
What I have learned from many, many years in creative industries and simply doing the hard graft is that to get good ideas out, you have to put good ingredients in. Just like if you’re planning a day of hill climbs on your road bike, you won’t survive 2,000 feet on just a slice of white toast.
The ability to create good ideas consistently involves much preparation and research on a constant basis:
- Watching what others are producing.
- Reading a diverse range of topics.
- Exposing yourself to culture.
- Searching through random parts of the web.
- Getting offline and looking at things.
The process of generating ideas for content is not an isolated event that can be neatly packaged.
Just like training in the gym to be faster and stronger on the bike, you have to put in the hours to get quality output on demand.
I do focus on reading offline books as widely as I can, especially psychology, behavior and creativity but also random subjects such as sleep, learning languages, biology, business, classical history and biographies.
When we work online so much, getting offline has huge benefits in exercising the brain and keeping it agile.
Aside from all the cultural input, keeping up with trends and what others are producing is essential – this is where I find the most inspiration for creative campaigns.
Anyone who is involved in generating creative content will know what all the other recent campaigns are and will also know what has been successful and what hasn’t. If they don’t, then they really should do.
So, we come to the meat in the sandwich, and we get to the point.
If you want to generate ideas, then the first stage is to sit down and spend some time searching for inspiration in order to feed your brain with some ingredients, that it can start to bake its own ideas with.
The following is a list of the best sources of inspiration I use on a regular basis for content marketing idea generation.
Reddit has been in and out of favor with marketers over the years, due to its unpredictable and unforgivable nature toward manipulative Redditors.
Back on the up, Reddit is now considered one of the best sources of the random, weird, wonderful and everything you can imagine.
For content ideas, the best subreddits are:
For current, topical, news-led graphs and infographics, the newspapers listed below offer stunning examples of the best journalistic content.
If you have aspirations of landing placements or coverage from a top-tier media site, then searching each of these sources will give you an idea of the topics, and the level, which you should be aiming for.
For pure “data viz porn,” the following sites all offer an excellent curation of the best examples online and as a set of sources, will cover most of the data visualization worth seeing.
David McCandless is considered one of the leading data visualization producers. His Information is Beautiful site has a wealth of inspiration in his work.
The awards event that he also runs (IIB Awards), is a fantastic source to see some of the best up-and-coming creative minds in data viz.
11. IIB Awards
12. Chart Porn
13. Flowing Data
15. Visualising Data
16. Bored Panda
As I like to look at a diverse mix of inspiration for random ideas, my guilty pleasure is Bored Panda. Although, be warned, you can easily get sucked into the rabbit hole of mindless scrolling.
17. This Is Colossal
This is Collosal is the slightly more cultural offering of Bored Panda.
If you ever need a coffee break and some inspiration, then you will find something that gets your attention. Or, at least something that you can post on your social feed.
When looking at content campaigns in the industry, many times I have seen direct influence from something featured on one of these two sites.
P.S.: If you’re specifically looking for data sets as a starting point for your inspiration, then I have a full list of the best free data sources here).
More Content Marketing Resources:
- Content Ideation: 6 Tips to Generate New & Creative Ideas
- Content Brainstorming: 8 Techniques to Come Up with Better Ideas
- 4 Ways to Generate Fresh Ideas for Blog Posts
All screenshots taken by author, September 2018
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!