Big Data Can’t Create. 5 Step Creative Formula For Big Ideas in Social Media.

Everyone seems to be talking about big data. And for good reason. Knowing which content is driving more conversion is important, but analytics can’t write and there’s still no app for a big idea.

A simple Google search on the term “Big Data” reveals 2 billion results while a Google search for “Creativity” only brings back 60 million results. Nearly 50% more attention is being devoted to data, but I say half of social success depends on creativity built on top of and verified by good data. Not a direct measure but research has proven that 65% of TV ROI is attributable to the creative and 35% to the media data. 

Big ideas drive social action.

Knowing humor is a common characteristic of viral videos doesn’t create the video.  A list of high performing key words doesn’t simply form into a good piece of content. Both need a creator.

Yet, you don’t need to be Picasso or da Vinci to be creative. Knowing the creative formula can help you be more creative. I was surprised that there is a formula or process to creativity until I read A Technique for Producing Ideas. by James Young Webb with a forward by Bill Bernbach. Then I discovered that as an advertising creative I followed this technique naturally.

Production of ideas follows a definite and necessary process. The formula is so simple  that few believe it. As Young Webb said, “While simple to state, it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it.”

What is the creative formula? 

Step 1: Gather Raw Materials – Both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials of your general knowledge. Gather research on your company, competitors, target audience, but also general knowledge about life and current trends.

Step 2: Mental Digestion – The working over of these materials in your mind. Try all these pieces of information together this way and that. Bring two facts together and see how they fit – look for a relationship.

Step 3: Incubation – Here you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis. Make no effort of a direct nature. Drop the whole subject, and put the problem out of your mind. Go see a movie, play basketball, work on another project.

Step 4: Eureka Effect – The actual birth of the Idea – the “Eureka! I have it” stage. This tends to come when you least expect it. In the shower, in the middle of the night, on a run. Always be prepared to write it down. Big ideas are fleeting and can leave just as quickly as they came.

Step 5: Final Finessing – The final shaping and development of this idea to practical usefulness. Take your idea out into the world of reality. Here you may need to adjust it and make it fit the company, product, target, social channel, etc.

In my experience, the process would get short changed by deadlines, and expectations of those who believed writing is simply sitting down and typing. I never sat down to type until I first had an idea. When you have an idea the ad, plan, paper, story, book, almost writes itself.  If you skip the incubation stage, you miss out on really brilliant big ideas.

Everyone has creativity, but sadly most of us left it behind with childhood …

Is There A Creative Process?

Any creative endeavor has a process whether you are writing a song or painting a work of art. Certain things have to occur in a certain order to make the “magic” happen. But what exactly is this process?

In 1926 Graham Wallas in The Art of Thought, suggested that ideas develop through four primary stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

Nearly 20 years later, advertising copywriter James Young wrote A Technique for Producing Ideas that talks about a process very similar to Wallas’s: Gather raw material, digest the material, incubation, birth of the idea, and final development. It is remarkable how similar Young’s process is compared to Wallas’s sociology work.

Then in the 1980s Roger von Oech wrote the book A kick in the Seat of the Pants in which he introduced his creative process of: explorer (research), artist (brainstorm), judge (analyze), and warrior (hone). The problem I have with Oech’s process is there is no incubation phase where you forget about the problem and let the subconscious kick in. Oech makes it sound like you can consciously think your way into an idea. That may be true, but I believe true inspiration can only come from that incubation/subconscious period that leads to the “eureka!” movement. Oech does not mention the eureka movement so I would argue his process only leads to mediocre ideas, that will never truly be unique or different.

Why is this? Maybe it is based on who these people are and how they formed their philosophies. Oech earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University in the “History of Ideas.” and now earns a living making speeches on creativity and selling products to spark ideas. Wallas, was a psychologist, sociologist and political scientist who wanted to form a better government based on reality of thought not intellectual assumptions. James Young was a person who was very good at his craft and wrote a book about how he did it by observing his own thought process.

Which method you choose to follow is up to you, but I’m in the Wallas/Young camp.