Arment Dietrich

Where Big Ideas Come From

By: Arment Dietrich | May 16, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Lisa Gerber.

I wrote the first draft of this post by hand.

I’m trying something new: I’m going to occasionally step away from the devices, limit distractions, and reflect.

This is much easier said than done and I”ll explain why in a minute.

But first, the reason for this little epiphany: Candy Chang spoke last week at Counselors Academy in New Orleans. Some of you know this is my absolute must attend conference. Candy was the keynote the last day and honestly, I had pretty low expectations for the session.

Well, I was quietly blown away. I say quietly, because she had a very calming, meditative effect on the audience. While we’re so used to being blown out of the water by energy, this time, we were led through a thought-provoking, contemplative session.

Candy is an artist and an urban planner. What a cool combination; I seriously want to start over and do that. In a previous chapter of my life, I was in urban development and I wish I had one tiny fraction of her creativity. Her projects have brought life and vitality to blighted properties all over the world.

For example, she took Fairbanks, Alaska’s tallest building which had been abandoned decades ago and had a graphic installed that said, “Looking for Love, Again.”

Instead of ‘Space Available,’ ‘For Sale,’ or ‘For Rent.’

Talk about an emotional connection! It’s such a simple distinction, but far more powerful.

And at the street level, chalkboard walls ask the community what they want there:

“My hopes for the Polaris Building…”

It’s simple market research but done in a way that is far more inviting than a focus group or Survey Monkey.

Other favorite projects involved doing things like, putting sticky notes on vacant storefronts that said, “I wish this was….” And chalkboard walls on abandoned buildings that said, “Before I die, I will…..”

As she described these projects, she made me realize something:

Social media is not purely digital. 

I know, I know, you already thought of this. But I’m a perpetual late bloomer so it’s only hitting me now. We always compare social media to networking events and cocktail parties, but I’ve never considered how traditional media can still be social.

Here’s what happened: She created these installations not having any idea how people would react, and in return, she received these fabulous stories. People are starved to share their stories, and need to be given an outlet in which to do so.

Backtrack again to when I was involved in urban development; we were busy trying to put up creative construction walls that talked all about the project and the company. It goes against the very grain of everything we do in content marketing, right? Instead, Candy Chang asks passersby for their input, their dreams, and their desires.

Candy presented many ideas from which we can shamelessly steal and apply to our own projects and campaigns, but the bigger point is this:

How can we look at things differently?

Where do big ideas come from? They come from slowing down and being present. This means we don’t necessarily pull out our phone while waiting for the bus or the doctor, and check in on Facebook or Twitter.

It means after all the stuff we write and blog about on how to make those five minutes of downtime productive, instead, we could actually consider stopping and reflecting.

I don’t even think I’d know how to do that; would you? Given five minutes to rest my forehead against the window pane, I’d start to think about what to have for dinner that night, or what’s on my to-do list.

As we drive through the Columbia River Gorge on a Sunday afternoon and I type this from the passenger seat (the second draft!), I look out at the landscape, and wonder how to even begin to reflect.I’m not sure there is a process, but taking time each day to do so, can only somehow bring the answer to the surface, and that’s what I will work on. I’ll be sure and report my findings!

Given a blank slate, no problem to solve, what would you think about? How would you tackle reflecting? Oh, and isn’t Candy Chang ridiculously creative?

  • Love this post, Lisa. I just wrote a presentation by hand before starting on the actual slides – 12 handwritten pages in a notebook turned into 18 slides and the process of handwriting helped shape the presentation in a way that it wouldn’t have been if I started digital first.
    “Where do big ideas come from? They come from slowing down and being present.”
    Slowing down is the hardest thing to do these days, but it’s during that 3-minute walk to the restroom where I get most of my “ah ha!” moments and it’s because I’m not doing anything except walking.
    Great post, lisagerber !

    •  @lamiki LOVE THAT.  I’m going to start doing that more often. It just seems easier to type so you can edit, but my handwriting could use some practice. 🙂
      I get great ideas from running in the woods. 🙂 with my dog bounding about. 
      I hope you enjoyed OUR birthday weekend!!! 🙂

  • One of the best things I have done is turn off the ringer and notifications on my phone. It helped me stop checking it constantly and has restored some peace of mind.
    Makes it much easier to try to be present for that big idea.

    •  @TheJackB I can totally do that for projects I love. I find when I’m working on something that doesn’t grip me, I keep taking breaks to check everything. Must. Make. Myself. Do things I don’t like to do. 

  • Writing by hand is my way of getting in the right frame of mind. There’s never a guarantee that the BIG IDEA will come dropping out of the sky and onto that page, but I like the quiet.  
    Just this morning, I took a half hour to sit on my porch, coffee in hand, and just write. Pen to paper. No screen, no *ding*, no dangling carrot of distraction.  It. Was. Awesome. 

    •  @jasonkonopinski OK< that is so weird. I was just on your blog commenting before I came over here to check on things. 
      I saw your FB update today about that and I almost commented!! But I was on FB… so I was distracted….

    •  @jasonkonopinski I just got back from my “Ernest Hemingway writing retreat”, where I wrote virtually non-stop for a week, longhand, with my favourite pen, on lined paper. Writing by hand, in beautiful journals, is a daily activity for me.

  • MrsMicahSmith

    I love the idea that social media isn’t limited to our online outlets. How awesome would it be if we could “return to the streets” with ideas and art. It would allow communities to grow together. I love that. 
    Ji Lee talks about something similar to this idea when he career trajectory with 30,000 stickers and a guerrilla art approach. If you haven’t watched this video, I recommend it. It’s similarly awesome to what Candy Chang is doing. 🙂

    •  @MrsMicahSmith Love that! I have heard about these stickers, but never knew this story. So simple. 

    •  @MrsMicahSmith That video is worth its weight in gold…or bubbles:) Thanks for sharing.

  • I think big ideas come from tweaking small, simple ideas and understanding the emotional pull of simple things. What could be more simple than the phrase looking for love, but it has such appeal.

    •  @richescorner Right??? and that’s it – we try to get all gimmicky and complex, and usually it’s the most simple distinction. If there were a way to physically take two steps back from the idea, and then circle around it and look it from another way…

  • RonBorg

    I think we need to quantify what a “big idea” is.  Is changing a For Rent sign to “Looking for Love, Again” a big idea?  I don’t think so.  Sure, it’s creative but it’s just a matter of taking a common phrase and  updating it.  I think more credit goes to the landlord for having an open mind and trying it.  And let’s not forget that n the end… it has to work better than “Space Available” or “For Rent” or else what good is it?
    Can you think of any ads you’ve seen but with no recollection of the actual product being promoted?  The ad world is littered with them. 
    As far as non digital social media…  didn’t we used to call that guerrilla marketing? 

    •  @RonBorg Whether you meant to or not, this comment made me chuckle. No, changing a for rent sign to  looking for love is definitely not a big idea. 
      Approaching things from a different perspective is. I was just impressed overall by her different way of thinking. I’m not a fan at all of gimmicks and the creative ads that make you wonder what the heck they are trying to sell. 
      I am a fan of simple ideas that bring people together and tell interesting stories. 

      • RonBorg

         @Lisa Gerber Agreed.  I guess my being labeled as an “out of the box” kind of guy at an early age has something to do with my cynicism.  I look at things from a different perspective all the time…. I think to do so consistently takes a sprinkle of confidence, a dash of imagination and possibly most importantly, a sense of humor.  Thanks for the reply!

        •  @RonBorg Well, that is a great recipe for looking at things differently. I’d like to think I have all three. So a fourth might be focus – to sort of reign it all in. 

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  • That is such a brilliant, simple way to make a real human connection. I’m smiling while reading this. 😉

    •  @garaughty That makes me smile that it made you smile!!!

  • ‘Social Media is not purely digital’ – great point and one which i actually think people dont think about enough… just because its not online doesnt mean you cant build relationships that will further benefit your online presence.

  • munropaservices

    That sounded like a great talk from Candy Chang – I wish I’d been there!
    Even though my job is to help people be productive, It’s so important to live in the present as well. Great things come when you get a chance to reflect and mull an idea over. In fact I would say that one of the greatest luxuries in life is having the time to think an idea through from beginning to end. 
    Developing a personal connection with our environment is vital to our happiness and development in my opinion. We have some really hideous car parks near our house, and it would take nothing to just paint a blue sky and white fluffy clouds on them but it would improve the daily lives of so many people. Small things make such a difference to us.

    •  @munropaservices Cool idea!!!! 
      And you’re so right – sometimes in the middle of the work day, I look at all the screens and windows and tabs open on my computer and realize I was transported from one task to another to another…. and completed nothing. 

  • You had me at “wrote…by hand”. Cursive writing, in beautiful journals with my favourite pen…ahhh, the joy:) I take time each day to simply “be”. It’s in those quiet moments, when we’re not trying to push a string uphill with our nose to solve a problem, that solutions come…creativity blossoms, and life unfolds almost effortlessly.
    I haven’t yet checked out Candy Chang, but that’s on my priority list for today. I loved the Ji Lee video that @MrsMicahSmith shared: my kinda’ stuff.
    Next time you rest your head on the window pane, @Lisa Gerber , see what’s happening outside and simply smile. Change your focus and really see something in that room that you’ve looked at a million times before, but perhaps never really seen. Feel the texture of something and let it remind you of something. Just be. Then do. Great post. Love it. Cheers! Kaarina

    •  @KDillabough  @MrsMicahSmith Love this. Thank you. Great ideas. Smiling is a big one too, whether you’re in a good mood or not. Especially is NOT!!

  • jennimacdonald

     @Lisa Gerber this post blew me away. You’re right, could I take 5 minutes just to reflect, absolutely not, I don’t even know what I would think about, I’d immediately grab my phone. The sad part is I have an Art degree, I’m suppose to be creative and 5 years ago creativity was my selling point. So sad. Thanks for the reminder.

    •  @jennimacdonald Right???? I try to think about nothing during chavasana in yoga and all I’m doing is thinking… “OK, I’m going to go to the store, pick up…. then after dinner, I’ll do…..” Ridiculous. 
      really? and Art degree? I had no idea. but don’t put so much pressure on yourself to “be creative.” My family does that to me all the time; “You’re the creative one in the family so….”

      • jennimacdonald

         @Lisa Gerber Thanks that made me feel better. I’m taking the easy road out and saying  it’s not our fault, it’s technology’s fault! : )

        •  @jennimacdonald well, you ARE creative. You don’t even realize it. We are our own worst critics.

  • What a great post Lisa! I feel refreshed already! Personally, I find running to be the perfect time for me to reflect. I can’t be distracted by anything else, just my own thoughts. I used to do a daily creativity exercise from a book I read, part of that exercise required you to write whatever came to mind for 20 minutes each morning. You couldn’t pick up your pen from the paper. It didn’t matter what you wrote and it didn’t have to make sense. But it helped clear your mind for the day and open up your mind so your creative juices could squeeze in. I honestly think it really helped and I always say I keep meaning to bring it back into my routine! 

    •  @rachaelseda DO you listen to music when you run? I LOVE that exercise! I’m going to give that a try!!

      •  @Lisa Gerber I do…is that cheating? I don’t find it to be distracting…haha

  • I LOVE this post. That is all. You are awesome, Lisa. Thank you for this, I needed it!

    •  @Shonali Nice way to start my morning, Shonali. Thanks. : )

  • Lots of good points here. I’ve recently started to capture ideas and silliness on paper.Yep, using one of those old-timey bic pens to write down things I notice. I don’t know what the outcome will be but I think it’s important (at least for me) to not forget how to take the time to scrawl out on a piece of paper idea I have percolating around upstairs.
    Your description of the reflective moment by the window pane pretty much sums up my efforts at meditation. One “omm” and I’m wondering what’s for dinner.
    Thanks for the great post!

    •  @Collectual EXACTLY!!!!! (about the one omm and you’re wondering what’s for dinner. You just made me laugh out loud. 

  • RonBorg

    There’s a neat little service that can help you to take a few minutes everyday to reflect and write.  It’s not pen and paper but it’s a daily prompt via email that simply asks the question…. So How Did Your Day Go? You just respond to the email and it saves all your responses in a timeline.  It’s an electronic journal basically but I use it to record my ideas.  It’s called OhLife.  I’ve been using it for about a year now.  Just one of those simple focused ideas that some people can take advantage of. And it’s free.

    •  @RonBorg totally checking this one out. Thanks!

      • RonBorg

         @Lisa Gerber Let me know what you think.  The simplicity is what got me.  

  • MSchechter

    I love this! I do want to ask a question. Do you think it’s really the technology that takes people away from being mindful or what they choose to do with that technology.  Rather than update Facebook, someone could use it to read a book or even open up a note and start writing. 
    More often than not, when I go idle, I play in a blank note, it usually leads me somewhere interesting.

    • RonBorg

       @MSchechter see my post below

    •  @MSchechter actually, such a great question…. I think about that often. I pull out my phone the second I have the opportunity and my choice is to look at facebook or my blog reader. I usually opt for FB first, thinking as I do it that I’d be better served to read something instead…. so no, it’s not the technology. 

      • MSchechter

         @Lisa Gerber This will probably sound silly, but I found this Brett Kelly post to be a good way to correct those behaviors:
        It’s stupid, but moving Facebook to the second page and focusing my eye on either Instapaper (for reading), Instacast (for educational podcasts) or Simplenote (my iOS writing app of choice) made a massive difference in the way I spend time on my phone.