This is the finale, but really it’s the beginning.
Start with an idea. A really good one, and one that can weave through everything you’re going to be doing. When I say “idea” — I mean a concept. Here’s a good definition of concept: “an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars; a construct.”
Most people are intimidated by this step, and skip it completely. Doing this cheats you of the opportunity to imbue your project with a spirit and life all its own.
Creative team brainstorming is hotly debated as either valuable or worthless. I’m here to say it’s not only valuable, it’s invaluable.
The act of creation is aided by outside influence. We aren’t living in isolation with no stimulus or prompts. The inspiring Amanda Palmer wrote in her blog post “together, we float”:
we were also talking — after the food was gone — about how good art doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
it doesn’t happen because you sit down in front of a piece of blank paper, or pick up a guitar, or a paintbrush
it happens because you eat and drink and smoke with strangers, because you go to refugee camps, because you say yes to the puppet show in the crumbling building, because you brush your teeth with a washcloth because you still haven’t found a place to buy a toothbrush, because you read the newspaper and cry, because you attend to your child’s cries and change their exploded diapers in the middle of the night, because you see constellations you’ve never been able to see before, because you read books left in cafes, because you forget to make the phone call, because you gaze down and see cars, because you jump in without noticing how deep it is, because you look up and see mosquito netting, because you kneel at cancer bedsides, because you just decided to stay in bed like proust, because you decided to never sleep in the same bed twice or with the same person twice, because you wonder WHAT IS BED, because bed is an idea, not a reality, because you get an idea in a bar and you rush off to the crowded bathroom and you try to ignore the techno while you sing the idea into your phone’s cracked screen, because you do all of this…and THEN you sit down in front of a piece of blank paper, or pick up a guitar, or a paintbrush.
no life, no art.
At work, we have each other to provide some of those prompts, some of those different experiences. We should take advantage of that amazing opportunity when we seek to find something elusive like a great concept.
A brainstorm is a gathering of people who are familiar with the challenge, and can take a “yes, and” attitude to the conversation — allowing it to meander, flow, hiccup, thunder, plummet and soar. The best brainstorms will have the right balance of free-form craziness and awareness of needing to eventually solve the problems at hand.
Brainstorming in order to identify concepts requires a team willing to toss out novel ideas, look beyond the current frameworks and let metaphors and symbols lead down unknown pathways. It requires confidence and energy — you can’t get upset when your first great idea doesn’t enthrall the team or generate enthusiasm, and you have to have the stamina to stick with it and encourage those participating to do the same. It’s not easy work.
You can’t focus on the conclusion or the outcome, you can only focus on the next turn in the path.
You have to trust that the act of working together creatively will at the very least move you to somewhere you weren’t previously. In that new spot, you’ll have a different vantage point, and inevitably, new ideas.
So before you start with anything, start with ideas. Let those ideas form concepts, let concepts show you new ideas, and repeat. You’ll know when you have the stuff that says — proceed, when you feel it in your gut. The concept will have enough substance, stretch and power all its own that it will let you create something truly amazing. Now you can get to work.
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