Looking for Your Next Big Idea?
(Here’s the Secret)

by Craig McBreen · 33 comments · Creativity


I have a challenge for you.

Think about a past project that brings a beaming smile to your face. A feat you’re very proud of.

And mowing the neighbor’s 2.75 acre lot doesn’t count, sorry.

This is about creative endeavors that resulted in something momentous.

An accomplishment that rocked your world.

Think hard.

Did that brain racking flush out a divine and proud moment?

Now let me ask you this:
Did your plan follow a nice linear path from start to finish?

Well, if it did you’re perfect, so you can stop reading, as the rest of this post is for mere mortals.

When I craft a post, the headline is often the last thing I construct. Why? Because my idea isn’t fully realized until the end. (Makes sense, right?)

It’s a non-linear adventure.

A slightly chaotic, not so A to B approach.

One that zigs when everyone else is zagging, or something like that.

This post is about bringing a killer idea to fruition, and I’m not sure a robotic path is your ticket.

Why? Well this is about big things, and grandiose ideas realized stem from a twisted and often painful creative process.

Yes, painful. It’s not always comfortable but so what? You’re not going to do anything worthwhile sitting on the cushy chaise longue of life.

So today, pull yourself out of that rigid hell hole.

Shake up your ingrained process.

Think about your school days:
Do what teacher says, pay attention and don’t move from your damn seat.

Rote learning ruled.

Exploration was not encouraged.

And the school day was about following that outline to a tee.

I’m still making up for all those lost years in the primary prison, learning to imitate.

Are you still learning to imitate? Following that rigid path?

Well just STOP!

Why? Because NOW is the time to crush what binds you.

A purely linear approach to creative problem solving is the least creative way to do something significant. Steve Jobs stated that “creativity is just connecting things,” and I agree.

And connecting things is never a purely sequential process. It’s a bit wonky, somewhat painful, yet fun – but it can lead to pure magic.

Think about the best ground acquisition game in the world.

One of my favorite plays in American football is the lateral pass. I like to call it a “backwards ass pass.”

Why do I love it so? Because it sometimes results in controlled chaos that is a wonder to behold. Turns out, football and improvisation are a match made in heaven.

Check this (and come back):

Wasn’t that awesome?

A frenetic, crazy and impromptu path to the end zone.

So, what am I saying?

Sometime a crazy ass pass (or path) is your best option.

So today, why not try something.

Luke Williams writes the outstanding blog, Disrupt, and often speaks on disruptive thinking. The process is about doing the opposite of what is expected. Flipping an idea on its head.

He provides many examples, but I love a particular case-study regarding the most mundane consumer item on the planet.

Socks.

Yes, socks.

In fact, the owner of Little Miss Matched thought the category was so boring, it was ripe for some craziness – Mismatched socks, sold in threes. After all, people often lose one sock and have to chuck the other, right?

So what’s the result of this disruptive idea? The company is simply killing it in the young female market.

And guess what? There really wasn’t a problem, because nothing needed fixing. Against the grain creative thinking lead to some cherry on top results.

We are trained to follow a straight line and fix PROBLEMS. This company simply discovered a segment that was ripe for a creative shakeup.

According to Williams we should:
1. Look at the accepted, yet tired beliefs that dictate the way things are done, then;
2. Search for the clichés that keep us operating under the influence of such boiler plate assumptions.

You’re then armed to upset the status quo by whipping up a disruptive scheme or two.

Whacky socks are one thing, but he also sites Red Bull. Think about the product. It tastes like battery acid and is double the price of Coke, but it’s now one of the most successful brands in the world.

Ass backwards, right?

Now, let’s get back to your everyday world.

Your business. Your blog. Your latest project.

Are you stuck?

Well, why not write down the accepted ways of doing things, then toss inna few disruptive shots? Today.

Think about it like this.
The way you feel while doing the work – It saturates the finished product.

And a rigid, inflexible plan can result in a stinky, dead fish that smells of desperation, because it sucked your life blood right out of you.

A slightly chaotic structure often means the opposite: It’s fun, you feel alive and those gleaming ideas shoot out a-rat-a-tat-tat.

So why not shake things up today and morph into a machine gun of creativity?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Suddenly Jamie November 15, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Great video. I didn’t even know that was legal. ;)

I love your thoughts here, Craig.
I used to beat myself up when I was unable to keep my butt in the seat and my fingers diligently on the keyboard. What I’ve discovered over time, however, is that often what seem like random distractions and meanderings are actually how my mind gets creative stuff happening. I used to think I was just justifying goofing off, but too many times I’ve witnessed coincidences that prove there’s something else at work here. I will stumble across an idea in a blog post I discovered after following a click-stream from Twitter to six other sites. I’ll overhear someone in the coffee shop and what they say will be the piece of the puzzle I’ve been missing.

Though my Type-A, project manager, control freak self still imposes some level os structure and process, I’m much happier now that I’ve given the other side of my brain a bit more leeway to explore and experiment with those lateral passes.
:)
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Craig McBreen November 16, 2012 at 1:22 am

Hey Jamie,

Ha ha. Yes, believe it or not, that is legal. Very cool, huh?

Yes, when we are relaxed. Well, that’s often when we have that flash of insight. The state that really fosters creative insight is more about a completely relaxed moment.

When you quite the mind and engage the right hemisphere that’s when the magic happens.

It’s funny you mentioned the coffee shop, because I’ve had similar experiences, or maybe something that stems from some random conversation.

I’m glad you’re much happier, but you do need that “Type-A, project manager, control freak self” to keep everything on track. It’s like both sides of the brain working in harmony :)

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Mark November 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I love your message, Craig… you definitely have a unique voice : )

It’s all about the experience, not the grind.

If you can balance both, you can build some wildly successful companies and have some fun too!

Creativity and fun go really well together.
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Craig McBreen November 16, 2012 at 1:25 am

Hi Mark,

Thanks! This one was fun to write, because I feel strongly about approaching any creative endeavor this way.

“It’s all about the experience, not the grind.” << Love that message!

And you’re right. Get both sides of the old noggin working in harmony and see what happens … creativity, fun and just enough discipline to keep things on track in the long run. But those creative moments? Throw some stuff against the wall and see what sticks.

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Rob Skidmore November 15, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Craig,

It is good to see someone else like me. I have never been able to sit down and write a linear post. I write bullet points. Then work on each one randomly until its all done. Then I write a title.

Also I have been wearing mismatched women’s socks for years. I started doing it my freshman year running track in college. Women’s socks are just so dang comfy in track spikes! Wish I would have had the foresight to start selling them like that.

Anyway, as a creative writer I am always trying to disrupt the writing process by either changing how I approach the writing or giving myself crazy rules to follow. Sometimes it falls flat but when it works it pays off in spades.

The biggest trick is finding the balance and knowing which rules to break and which rules need to be followed. Disruption can result in creation or destruction.

But you can never find the balance unless you toss around a few monkey wrenches.

Great Post.

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Craig McBreen November 16, 2012 at 3:14 am

Hi Rob,

You too, huh? ;) I always think it’s funny when I read someone advising how to write a post … it always starts with writing the headline first. It’s never worked for me and that’s part of the reason I wrote this post.

So, you’re the guy? I’ve never tried on women’s socks, but my wife does have those comfortable looking, super thick socks. Maybe I’ll see it I can stretch ‘em over my fat feet ;)

Good points about finding balance and knowing which rules to break. This disruptive thinking process is way cool, but if not done effectively, can just be a huge waste of time. … “Disruption can result in creation or destruction.” You are so right.

I’ll toss around a few monkey wrenches tomorrow morning … Love that.

Thanks, Sir!

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Mars Dorian November 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Yeah, i agree, you have to do something out of the order to break through – it almost seems common advice, but almost no one does it (including me).

Being disruptive and different is your best shot at standing out, but more often than not, it’s your lizard brain that keeps you from doing that kind of stuff.

Grrreat reminder, my friend, it’s time I rethink some of my strategies.
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Craig McBreen November 16, 2012 at 3:22 am

Hi Mars,

That’s because most people are so locked into Process and Solving Problems. Lately, I’ve been trying to change things up on a regular basis, just to make it interesting. But, you’re right about common advice that most don’t practice.

Your lizard brain does get in the way so often and a lot of the time it simply comes down to fear. Fear is a monster and is so controlling, so we need to smack it down every once in a while.

Thanks, Mars. I’d say you doing one hell of a job standing out and being insanely creative … but we can all rethink our own creative process, so we don’t get so locked in.

Thanks for stopping in.

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Mary Stephenson November 15, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Hi Craig

Yeah hated following the rules in school, it stifles creativity. Rules, instructions all that stuff is just someone’s idea of what should be followed. The sheep follow as they are supposed to. The creative kind do the opposite and usually stand alone.

Let me clarify rules in school, I was a good kid, but all the scholastic stuff was a bit annoying. Who says there is only one way of doing something. There are many ways to accomplish the same thing and the way you choose might be a better way and easier. Found that to be the case many times, but some folks are so rigid in their thinking that they won’t change.

Gave me a few great ideas.

Mary
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Craig McBreen November 16, 2012 at 3:28 am

Hi Mary,

So you don’t like following rules either? I love it! “rules, instructions all that stuff is just someone’s idea of what should be followed” You’re right. Of course we need rules for a functioning society, but when it comes to the creative process, it’s so stifling.

You make a good point here. Most every class assignment in school (in my day at least) was so rigid, and so incredibly boring because they said there was one way to do A or B. There ARE many ways to accomplish similar goals or to finish an assignment … YES! Make it creative and interesting.

Glad I gave you some ideas. That was definitely my goal! :)

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Sue Neal November 15, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Hi Craig – big challenge for me reading this, seeing as how I’ve just written a post all about the benefits of planning a post out carefully in advance! But I can see where you’re coming from here.

Like Jamie I have a big fat controller sitting in my head, constantly reminding me not to break the rules – I don’t always listen, but it’s hard to change the habits of a lifetime. You’ve really made me think, though – I know I need to loosen up – and stop worrying I might ‘make a mess’.

Having said that, I think there’s a place for ‘order’ in creativity – I guess the greatest artists know just how to get the balance right,

Thanks so much for giving us such delicious food for thought – I’ll be chewing on this for a while.

Sue
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Craig McBreen November 16, 2012 at 3:36 am

Hey Sue,

Well, for some people it works. We are all so different and they (whoever “they” are) have yet to truly understand how the left and right lobes of the old noodle work to lay out something truly creative (not fully at least). There are so many opinions on what works, but for something like creative writing or a new product or innovative software, or whatever, it’s a cool practice.

I think many of us have that big, ugly controller and it’s the lizard brain (as Mars mentioned) Truly is a creativity killer sometimes. Man, we do need some structure in our work, in our day, but we also need to break away, shake things up, do them backward, whatever, to be a bit more innovative.

Go ahead and make a mess … it’s cool and fun ;)

You’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed my ramblings today. Thank you for stopping in with some great comments!

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Ralph November 16, 2012 at 12:27 am

Hey Craig.
First of all thanks for the response today. Great suggestions.

I also write my posts in a similar manner. Bullets, then form and then title. Just seems to make sense that way.

I am a PM. I think in logical streams all day long but I have always been the type to look outside the stream for alternatives. It started when I was young and rebellious. I took nothing for granted and I still don’t. I think that’s why this resonates with me so much. My post today is along the same vein. Disruptive thinking or rethinking of a process to address a new way of working out design problems.

Cheer sir. Great addition to the mix with this entry. Loved it.
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Craig McBreen November 16, 2012 at 3:46 am

Hi Ralph,

You’re welcome. Took me long enough, huh? ;) Let me know what else I can do.

Cool, between you and Rob I don’t feel like such a weirdo.

I guess as a PM you have to go in and out of the logical streams and more out there alternatives, huh? Well, at least to keep things interesting.

When it comes to a design problem, this kind of thinking is a necessity. To me, one of the most interesting areas to be in is product design. It’s become so important, for functionality, pure aesthetics, marketing power, etc. In fact, I should have used Dyson. Another brilliant guy who disrupted an industry.

Thanks and cheers to you!

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Jackie November 16, 2012 at 6:54 am

Ahh bliss a subject close to my heart.

Love the socks idea, brilliant!
Breaking patterns is tough at first, but comes with practice. Its so much more rewarding to be disruptive, because it comes from pure creativity, and I really do believe that is what everyone’s soul yearns for.

Here’s to the misfits ;)
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Craig McBreen November 17, 2012 at 1:18 am

Hi Jackie,

That is a brilliant idea!

Breaking patterns is tough, but simply shaking up your daily routine can help. Otherwise it gets pretty boring in my humble opinion.

“I really do believe that is what everyone’s soul yearns for.”
Me too!

Cheers to the misfits! ;) Thanks!

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Bell November 16, 2012 at 11:23 am

I’ve never tasted battery acid, but the first time I had a Red Bull — and the only one — was New Year’s Eve, 2011. Boy, did it sober me up.

My latest favorite case of disruptive thinking is Bandcamp. Check out any band’s page and you’ll find something crucial missing: volume controls. If you’re not careful, you could go deaf the very second you hit the play button.

At first when I thought about it, the lack of volume control didn’t make sense. After all, competing services like SoundCloud allow users to listen to music at the volume they’re most comfortable with, right?

Then it hit me. Bandcamp is clearly oriented towards making a sale. SoundCloud, not so much. By eliminating your capability to control the decibel output, they’re subtly encouraging you to BUY the music you like so you “regain” control!

Another awesome example of disruptive creativity in learning platforms: Floating University. Their goal is to democratize access to the world’s leading professors and thinkers. http://www.floatinguniversity.com/

Yet another one: Every Single Word in Icelandic. http://www.everysinglewordinicelandic.com/ This website was developed by a marketing agency for the Icelandic Tourist Board. It’s brilliant, witty, informative. Iceland herself explains what Icelandic words mean.

There’s a hub site, The Department of Icelandic Things ( http://www.departmentoficelandicthings.com/ ) where you can find a list of all the humorous blogs they developed as part of their marketing effort. This may well be the best coordinated online effort for the promotion of tourism, ever.
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Craig McBreen November 17, 2012 at 1:32 am

I’ve never had it either, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.
It is good medicine if you need to sober up though. That is for sure.

Not familiar with Bandcamp, but I can imagine the agony if you accidentally clicked on the latest Christina Aguilera wanna be. Scary.

I’ll have to check out both services, but will probably get lost and lose an hour or two. Maybe I better not ;) but I’d be annoyed too, I get torqued when Pandora releases yet another update.

Floating University, huh? Wow, I love Dr. Michio Kaku, so have saved this and will be checking it out over the weekend. That’s a pretty amazing and commendable goal. Doesn’t MIT offer their courses online for free?

How did you stumble on the Icelandic sites? That first one is brilliant. Very creative. Always been curious about Iceland too. I’ve heard it’s a great place to visit (if you go at the right time ;))

Great examples, so thanks!

You’re always offering up some great stuff in the comments. Have a great weekend!

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Bell November 17, 2012 at 2:16 am

A friend who’s into Scandinavian things in general turned me onto the Icelandic word blog. Found the rest from there.

I’ve yet to visit Iceland; have been to Sweden, lived in Norway and spent but a few hours in Denmark waiting for a plane.
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Craig McBreen November 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Even though I’ve never been there, from what I’ve read and seen on TV, I like all thinks Icelandic, really. Something about the culture, the barren land and the hot springs. Would never eat that fermented shark meat though ;) Would probably be in the hot springs drinking Icelandic Vodka.

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Tim Bonner November 16, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Hi Craig

I’ve never been one to follow the herd particularly.

When I told people I was giving up work to look after the kids, quite a few people raised their eyebrows. But it’s not so “out there” surely?!

I can’t say I know much about American Football but that play looked a lot like rugby to me which is great!

With headlines, I usually stick an idea up there just so there’s something there. I then go and research stuff, draft the post and then return to the headline.

I’m still learning the blogging stuff but I’m trying to write in a different way to most people. I’m sure my stuff’s not for everyone but so long as people keep coming back, I’ll keep trying new things and be more creative.
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Craig McBreen November 17, 2012 at 1:37 am

Hi Tim,

Not so “out there,” that’s for sure. Good for you though. People always want you to adapt to their beliefs, and there is no deviating.

Ha, you’re right. It does look a bit like rugby, which I know nothing about, really ;)

Yes, returning to the headline over and over and over, is a practice of mine as well.

Looks to me like you’re doing a lot of things right and are drawing quite the crowd over at your place. Good going and thanks so much for stopping in.

Enjoy the weekend!

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Josh November 27, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Hi Craig,

I have watched that video a half dozen times and each time I meant to come leave a comment but I got distracted and never came back.

I like the idea and the reason here. We don’t have to do what has always been done. We can change and mix things up and see success, heck sometimes that is the only way to make it happen.
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Craig McBreen November 27, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Hi Josh,

I love, love that video. There are a few crazy vids involving the lateral pass, but that was about the most amazing one I could find.

Thanks. The more I change and mix it up, the more successful I am, with any project. This practice works, for sure.

Thanks for stopping in!

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