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by Harry Gardiner on 16th July 2013
Writer’s block can be a royal pain.
Beginning your work with full gusto only to find yourself stuck after the first sentence is infuriating, but what’s worse is staring at a blank page for what seems like an eternity, willing ideas to appear from somewhere.
Even if you have a designated topic, it can often be seemingly impossible to think of anything worthwhile to say about it.
Sadly, much to everyone’s disappointment, your work isn’t going to write itself.
For people who create content every day, it can be difficult constantly coming up with new ideas. Luckily, if you’ve hit that creative wall, there are several techniques you can implement to get those creative juices flowing again.
Below are eight of my favourite creative problem solving techniques. These don’t just apply to content creation either, they can be used in all aspects of life.
Let’s begin with a timeless classic. Mind mapping (aka brainstorming or spider diagrams) is the little black dress of idea generation; it never goes out of fashion. It almost feels wrong to walk into an agency and not see some form of mind map on a whiteboard somewhere.
The key to mind mapping is to take note of every idea that comes up. Don’t neglect anything, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. Save the critical selection process for later. Generate as many ideas as possible; the more you jot down, the bigger chance of finding that golden ticket idea.
Young children are amazingly creative. Their curiosity, imagination and thirst for knowledge seem boundless. They ask questions about everything, because practically everything is new to them. If you’ve ever played the ‘Why?’ game with a kid, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about*. It’s infuriating, yet surprisingly enlightening.
As we get older, we tend to stop asking so many questions. We accept a lot more, because it’s all been explained to us before. Perhaps it’s because of this, that adults are stereotypically perceived as having very little imagination.
Maybe if we asked more questions, our content might be a little bit more imaginative. This is where the checklist technique can help. This is essentially a list of questions which you should ask yourself before beginning your work.
Alex Osborn, who is often coined as the father of brainstorming, established around 75 creative questions to help encourage ideas in his fantastic book, Applied Imagination. It’s well worth a read if you can get hold of it, but to give you a head start, there are six universal questions that can be asked:
Ask yourself these question (in some form) every time you create content, and chances are you’ll come up with some pretty interesting answers.
(Disclaimer: This is a technique that could prove potentially confusing to all the SEOs out there, as a few may be a bit weary at the prospect of wearing a black hat)
Developed by Edward de Bono in the early 80s, this popular technique is now used by businesses all over the world. They involve putting on a selection of metaphorical hats when it comes to making a decision. Each hat represents a different direction of thinking.
This method can be used in a group or on your own, and you may find yourself ‘wearing’ more than one hat at once (Of course if you’re really bored you could always physically make the hats for instant entertainment!). You can use the hats to take the ego out of the equation. They let you think and decide on topics in a rational yet creative style.
Another term coined by Dr. de Bono, this involves looking at your situation in a different way. The simplest answer is not always right. We solve most problems in a linear fashion, i.e. if something happens it must have been… because of….
We take a step by step approach to finding our answers. De Bono encouraged others to look at their situation differently, to step sideways for a second if you will. This allows people to re-examine their predicament from a much more creative point of view.
Say for example you have a client who sells tractors. If you were thinking in a linear fashion, you may feel the need to create content about how great tractors are because you need to sell tractors. Thinking about things laterally though opens up a world of possibilities. Try looking at the bigger picture.
Tractors are a key component to farming, farming produces food and resources. Farms also house animals. A popular children’s rhyme about farm animals is Old McDonald, you may wonder how that rhyme came to be. Why not create content around the origin of that rhyme?
That’s just a (very) basic example, but you can clearly see how lateral thinking can be used to help inspire you.
I love this technique. Simply pick two random words and try and tie your content to it in the most imaginative way possible. Simple as that.
The real fun part is how you choose to come up with the words. You could use an online generator; you could flick through a dictionary; or you could write words on a bunch of plastic balls, throw them into the air, and then choose the words on the first two balls you catch. Have fun.
If you’re truly stuck for ideas, perform an image search on your topic of choice, pick a random photo. Work backwards from the picture, developing a story around how the photo was taken.
For example, if you see a picture of a dog looking up at the night sky, ask yourself what it could be thinking. Is it a stargazing dog? Does that dog secretly long to be an astronaut? Perhaps a story about a space dog would be awesome! In fact a space dog would make a great mascot for any business so we could look at the best business mascots. So on so forth.
This may be considerably harder with stock photos, but characterise the people within the image and the more imaginative of you out there will prevail to develop some fantastic ideas through this technique.
This can often be hard to do, but try putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Sometimes you can get too attached to your own work, I know I always do it. You may be too close to notice that there are faults visible from afar.
Share your ideas with others, and get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work. Encourage constructive criticism, you don’t have to take it all on board, but it may offer up some seriously beneficial observations.
People underestimate the value of being bored. If you work around screens all day, if can often prove both relaxing and rewarding to just get up and walk about for a bit. Let your mind wander instead of focussing on a task so hard it hurts.
Take a walk around your local woods, indulge yourself in your own personal contemplation montage as you skim rocks across a pond. Let the miracle of nature, and that brief moment of what is hopefully peace and quiet, inspire and energise you.
Similarly, many believe that the practice of meditation, clearing their mind of all thoughts and allowing themselves to be at peace, is a fantastic method to help spur creativity. Although I’ve never personally tried it, I can see how people might find it rewarding.
Our very own Mike Essex has already recorded a Koozai TV video covering some really resourceful tips on how to be more creative with your work, including time management exercises such as Blocking and the Pomodoro technique. Check out the video below for more information:
Remember that when it comes conjuring ideas, you’re limited only by your imagination. Don’t hold back either, even the worst of ideas may have some use. The more ideas you generate, the bigger your chances of finding the right solution.
If your idea pool is somehow still running dry after trying all of these techniques, then there are also plenty of online tools to help inspire you.
Übersuggest shows you the most popular keywords related to your search query, providing fantastic inspiration for topics to cover.
Portent’s Content Idea Generator will generate random titles around your content in order to inspire you. It can generate some pretty out-there ideas as well:
Content Strategy Generator from SEO Gadget is a really invaluable tool to have in your arsenal, as it gives you tons of information related to your relevant keywords.
With these tools, and the above techniques, you should be unstoppable when it comes to coming up with ideas.
If you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum, and you’re struggling to end your article, you could always bow out Sopranos style and just finish the content mid…
Do you use a particular technique to generate content ideas? Are there any of the ideas above that you particularly favour, or any that you hadn’t heard of before? Let me know your thoughts in comments below.
*The Why Game: Begin by asking why something is the way it is, then proceeding to further ask “Why?” after every answer your colleague gives.
“Because it is!” is not an acceptable answer, no matter how loud it is screamed at you.