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The Most Creative Ideas Begin With Boring

Creative Ideas Creative Ideas

By now, I bet you are ready for a bit of boring advice. This year has certainly been a rollercoaster of change, and even if you don’t consider yourself an out-of-the-box thinker, chances are you have been forced into some creative strategy meetings to quickly develop new innovation that will keep pace with the ever-changing environment in which we are all struggling to co-exist.

Even before the pandemic, coming up with creative ideas and innovations was never easy, especially if you are under pressure to come up with the next award-winning idea. If you don’t consider yourself a “creative,” these types of strategy meetings can be even more stressful as you may feel like you have nothing to contribute to the process. Don’t fret. I have a simple strategy for you that will make you come out of all these meetings looking like the genius who sparked a productive conversation that will get all the creative people in the room moving in the right direction. It’s a strategy that’s so simple it’s painfully boring, but absolutely essential to making sure all the out-of-the-box ideas are still in line with your mission, goals and purpose.

Begin With Boring

Last year, I was consulting with a company on a big event they were planning for SupplySide West. I had four hours to help a team of people I had never met before plan something memorable and amazing … no pressure, right? As soon as I walked into their conference room they began hitting me with all their fun ideas for the event. After having a silent, mini panic attack thinking to myself that I may not be able to keep this group on track, I said to them, “These are great ideas, but can we start with the boring stuff?” That threw them off course a little because, clearly, they had not prepared any boring ideas for me. I then walked them through a series of boring, but strategic questions:

• What is the purpose of the event?

• Who is the audience for the event?

• What outcomes or objectives do we want as a result of the event?

Super boring, but completely strategic. From these answers, we were able to brainstorm and conceive the most over-the-top, creative event for OmniActive Health Technologies’ 15th Anniversary, but we needed to be boring first.

A Permission Slip to Go Back in the Box

I realize there’s a lot of pressure for everyone to be super creative, thinking outside of the box and developing something new all the time. But this is also a formula for being inconsistent, and when you are inconsistent with your message and brand, you are not being strategic and achieving results. Remember when your schoolteacher would send a permission slip home with you to have your parents allow you to attend an off-campus class trip? Well as your “communications teacher” I am writing you a permission slip to go back inside the box and ask these boring questions of your team before the creative folks get too crazy with their out-of-the-box ideas.

Boring breeds consistency in your work. When I work with clients on event ideation, I want certain things about those various events to be consistent with each other. Specifically, I want them to be more than a fun party. I want the event to be a success and deliver measurable results that justify a return on investment. Every event I create and plan is new and unique, but they all start with the same three boring questions:

• What is the purpose of the event?

• Who is the audience for the event?

• What outcomes or objectives do we want as a result of the event?

Being boring also works in everyday work scenarios. If you are a boss, manager or employee, being boring means you are consistent, strategic and your results are predictable. Every time I start a publicity campaign with a new client my first questions include:

• What is the organization’s mission?

• Who is the target audience?

• What outcomes or objectives do we want as a result of the media coverage?

You have permission to ask these basic boring questions at any time in your career, even if you have been working or leading a company for a long time. In fact, the people who usually have the hardest time answering these questions are the people who have been working at the company the longest.

Avoid the Sequel

Boring beware! There is a danger to being boring in your final product that I want to share. That is, although I always start with boring, I also always avoid a sequel. If you’ve ever been to one of Pitch Publicity’s events or one of my client’s events, you’ll notice it’s never the same event in consecutive years, but the focus on the mission and the message is always consistent. If you ever see a repeat of an event we have produced, know that I was not involved in the sequel, but someone else just thought duplicating our creative ideas might work for them again.

If something is a success, it’s natural to want to try to repeat it in the hopes that you will have the same level of success again. Often, we see this played out in Hollywood, but sequels don’t always work out. For example, did the “Star Wars” franchise of sequels play out so much that it finally tanked in the end? Why are we drawn to repeat things? It’s because it mitigates a level of risk and gives us a false sense of security.

Although I advocate always starting with boring questions in a creative process, I also advocate taking new risks and avoiding the sequel. Certainly, sequels can create the same magic, but eventually the momentum dies out along with the enthusiasm from your audience. Whether I’m planning an event for my company or someone else’s, I never execute the same theme, elements, or entertainment twice, even if it was successful before. It’s risky because I’m attempting something new every time, but if executed passionately, the payoff is rewarding.

My Two-star Amazon Review Confirms I’m Excellent at Boring

Many of you may know that I have a microcast called, “The Pitch with Amy Summers,” on Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker platform. This under-three-minute daily flash briefing provides communication tips that can be applied in either your professional or personal life. It’s one of the most highly ranked flash briefings on Amazon because I’ve received more than 100 reviews, most of which have been five-star reviews, but I recently I received my first two-star review because the reviewer said my information was boring. Little did this reviewer know, he was actually giving me a compliment.

I’m a strategic, results-oriented person whose methodology for success on the outset probably seems passé to most, but it’s proven and it works. Being boring doesn’t limit me from being fun and creative, but being boring ensures consistent success that I can count on, which is why I always say your best strategy for a creative outcome is to begin with boring.

Make the Boring Wheel Better

You’ve probably heard that saying, “you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” This metaphor is basically saying if something works, you don’t need to fix it. However, it’s also true that we can consistently make the metaphorical basic wheel better. Starting inside the box with the boring questions will help you build on the success of your current brand, keep you focused on your core audience, and further your organization’s goals and mission. Then, going outside the box will keep you creative and help you avoid the dreaded sequel. Everyone has an opportunity to contribute during a creative session or ideation on innovation. We need the basic, boring questions to keep those crazy creative ideas on track. If you feel this year of constant change has pulled you off track, it’s not too late to grab my permission slip, venture back into the box, and begin the innovation process with three basic boring questions: What’s our mission? Who is our audience? What do we want to happen next? NIE

Amy Summers launched Pitch Publicity in 2003 in the face of a rapidly changing climate for communication and media relations. She has 20 years of experience working with major clients in the natural products industry to increase visibility and exposure to targeted audiences through national publicity exposure across all mass media outlets, high-level fundraising campaigns and developing key strategic communication strategies. She serves on the board of directors of the University of Florida Alumni Association and the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Public Relations Advisory Council. Pitch Publicity is based in New York, NY. Receive free daily pitch tips from “The Pitch with Amy Summers” flash briefing on Amazon’s Alexa, Google Play, iTunes, Spotify and Podbean: www.PitchPublicityNYC.com/ThePitch. For more information, visit www.pitchpublicitynyc.com.