Snapshot : What do brainstorming, Stephen King and T-shirts have in common? In talking about brainstorming, we cover the need for ‘quantity’ of ideas to reach ‘quality’ ideas. We learn from Stephen King the value of first drafts and second drafts in the writing process. And we bring it back to T-shirts and how we’ve applied these principles to our T-shirt design process.
Here’s a challenge for you. Can you guess what brainstorming, Stephen King and T-shirts have in common? It sounds like the world’s dullest joke, and there is no punchline. But there is an answer and it’s this. In order to achieve their goal – an innovation idea, a bestseller, a fashion statement – all three follow the same process. Start with a focus on quantity and no judgement. Then, when you have something created that you know this is complete, but not perfect, pause. Go back and review everything you’ve done for a second time (or more) to find a better answer answer to your original goal.
This editing process crops up in so many fields, but it’s usually only talked about as a specialism within another field. Ideation. Or writing. Or graphic design. But here’s the thing, as a skill, once you start to recognise it as such in one field, those same editing skills start to be transferable into other fields. The ability to look at something raw and rough in format, and refine it into something of value.
Let’s go through some examples of editing from the worlds of brainstorming, Stephen King and T-shirts.
We’re still adding content about innovation and New Product Development to our site and recently added a whole section on creative thinking. But in this post, we wanted to zero in on one particular part of creative thinking and that’s brainstorming.
You may not know, but the term ‘brainstorming’ dates back to 1939 when an advertising executive called Alex F. Osborn came up with a way to bring groups together to generate new ideas. 1939. Before the Second World War. Blimey. And weirdly, the basic principles of what Osborn put forward – reach for quantity of ideas and reserve judgement – still seem to be true for most brainstorming sessions today and what fits into that ‘first draft’ creation process.
As part of the innovation process, brainstorming can be one of the more fun elements when you work in a business. You get to write on coloured post its for a start. You get to make displays of the post-its on the wall and move them around. There’s no criticism or judgement allowed. You get to say ANYTHING you want. And no-one can laugh. Like focus groups for some reason there are always huge amounts of snacks. And as a group, when you do these sessions, it does always feel like you have done something. Created ideas. That feels more constructive than the foresting meeting or budget meeting that normally takes up most of your time.
However, here’s the thing. The more important part of the process is not the brainstorming. It’s what comes next. It’s not unusual to generate 50, 100 or more ideas in a brainstorming session. But what does come next? The poor facilitator has to take all those ideas and build / group them into some sort of story that makes sense. Knowing that somewhat like The Hunger Games, the vast majority of ideas have no chance of making it anywhere near getting launched.
And if you read, the excellent Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, there’s lots of evidence that brainstorming in groups generates no more or no better ideas than if you’d sent everyone away on their own to come up with ideas.
The thing is that something is always better than nothing. Even if that something is something terrible, that something terrible can be worked on and refined to get to a better idea. You need all those raw ideas to be able to edit them down to get to that one idea that’s going to be a winner.
When writing a book, he shuts the door and bangs out 1,000 words a day minimum. He just writes. On the first draft, he doesn’t worry too much about getting everything perfect. Because he knows when he gets to the end, he’ll be going back to read it again later for a second draft. And this second draft will be infinitely better. For a couple of reasons.
Firstly, he recommends walking away from the first draft for at least 6 weeks before going back to it. Lock it in a drawer. Now, while most of us couldn’t afford to leave a work project for 6 weeks, it can often be worthwhile going to do something else for a couple of days and then coming back to that difficult project with fresh eyes. Suddenly, that part that made no sense or was hard, you start to see how it could be improved. Or even taken out.
He also has a great rule for writing that the second draft – first draft = 90%. We love this. What that means if it isn’t clear, is that he writes ‘long’ on the first draft. Everyone does. If you can go back on the second draft and cut out 10% of the words, your writing will be that much sharper and clearer. And you won’t lose any of the meaning. All those passive sentences and adverbs, go for the kill and root them out, They add no value.
As we noted in our learnings on our T-shirt designs earlier in the week, our first sets of T-shirt designs were too complicated. Like the brainstorming idea reject list and the 10% of Stephen King’s first draft, if you revisit some old ideas and limit yourself to only choosing a few elements to make something ‘new’ with, you can actually come up with something that’s sharper and clearer. We’ve added three new designs to our store this week – This mum loves, Keep calm and have a beer and Gincredible which have way less design elements that the original idea which inspired them.
Simplified T-shirt design
Complicated T-shirt design
We’ll be building some test campaigns out for them in the next week or two and let you know how these simpler designs fair. But even aesthetically, we are certain they look stronger. Clearer. Sharper. Let us know if you think so too.
Don’t underestimate the value of the editing process
In each of those examples, there are commonalities to the process. In simple terms, if you are not in marketing, creative or e-commerce, you’d describe it as ‘throwing shit against the wall to see what sticks’. And actually, that is very often, how good ideas come about. There’s rarely a Eureka moment when everything comes together. It’s often the ‘editing’ process that finds the golden idea. The feature that should be on that product launch. The paragraph that makes readers talk about the article. The t-shirt that goes on to be million-dollar seller.
So other than originating from America and being insanely popular, that’s what brainstorming, Stephen King and T-shirts have in common.