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Generate Ideas In Moderation

Generating new ideas can be intoxicating, but it can also throw you off course and fritter away your team's focus on projects already underway.

Our latest intern at Behance arrived with a tremendous amount of energy and anticipation for the wild brainstorming that one would expect in such an environment. After all, we are a team that develops products and services for the creative community. We aspire to think out of the box. What could be more creative?

Our eager intern was clearly disappointed when she realized that we spend less than 1% of our time generating ideas. As our founder explained to her mid-way through her time in the office, “if anything, we have a surplus of ideas. Excess ideas are our greatest cost. What we need is fewer ideas.” In addition, our intern observed that the team essentially lives in “execution mode.” Not much fun.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for a creative group is to consume its creative juice sparingly. Creative people, regardless of their commitment to a cause, are more likely to exchange ideas than take steps to push any one idea forward. Why? Idea generation is an addiction. It is an engaging, brain-spinning indulgence that must be practiced in moderation.

Of course, you should take pride in the creative capabilities of your team. When you do engage in creative flow, enjoy it. Just be sure to compartmentalize it. Recognize that such occasions have the tendency to be intoxicating. New ideas have the potential to transform your life in wonderful ways, but they are also the most notorious source of distraction. Frustrated entrepreneurs and struggling creatives often trace back their problems to a moment when they decided to pursue too many things at once.

The steps for making ideas happen are interrupted by impaired judgment. And, as we all know, our judgment is impaired when we get intoxicated. When rampant, new ideas will get you off track. So, drink in moderation. Hire “designated drivers” that are more cynical and have the power to keep you focused. And strive to make ideas happen, rather than just generate more ideas.–

This tip was written by Scott Belsky, Behance Team. Explore more tips, and check out Behance’s guest postings for small businesses trying to make ideas happen, hosted at American Express’ OpenForum.
Comments (14)
  • TannerC

    Brilliant advice. It’s a good idea to remind creative firms to not only “talk the talk” but also “walk the walk.”

  • ideafont

    Brilliant…yet depressing advice. Idea generation is indeed intoxicating, but not everyone has the skills to generate great ideas that solve specific problems. Free form brainstorming can be distracting….very true…but quality concepting around specific problems is bliss for me 🙂

  • nicklausdeyring

    design isn’t blind idea generation; it’s problem solving. great article.

  • PlasmicSteve

    Totally agreed, but I also suggest some means of capturing all those excess ideas, so they’re not lost to the ether. A big book or bucket can help creatives feel productive, and hey – maybe the idea, or a spark from it, will help solve a future problem.

  • orangetiki

    Ha I should follow this advice. I am an idea addict. I’ve burned out myself so much I am in dire need to choose one for my 08 personal portfolio. IA meetings?

  • lauranewman

    Wow! Nicely said – I am definately an idea addict, and can be quite distracted. That’s also why I believe brainstorming and working with teams can help you stay focused and get down to the good ideas worth pursuing that are focused and solve problems. The other really exhilirating thing that happens is many ideas never die. They hang around and when the time is right, they present their relevance.

  • themovement

    Bittersweet is it not? At The Movement, we have this same problem and it’s painful for our partners, employees and interns.<br />
    <br />
    The most recent discussion on this ended with how much some like to start projects, vs. how much some like to finish projects.<br />
    <br />
    The moral of the story? Connect do-ers with thinkers and talkers.<br />
    <br />
    The Rub? A meeting could produce 50 great ideas, but try getting 50 great executions in anything less than a year. Not even huge agencies could do this!<br />
    <br />
    Could one thinker come up with more ideas than a hundred people could finish? Is that even fair!? Will do-ers always under-think and thinkers always under-do?

  • Starfish

    Gordon Bell once commented that “the cheapest, fastest, and most reliable components of a computer system are those that aren’t there.”<br />
    <br />
    This is not just true of computer systems but of artifacts and natural systems generally. The principle of parsimonious design doesn’t tell us that brainstorming is a waste of time, but simply that it would be most economical to let the ideas flow without becoming greatly attached to them. Once in awhile, among them, something with usable potential will emerge, and this is good.<br />
    <br />
    We can learn how to choose wisely, and with some restraint, remembering that less is more.

  • rajkhera

    Well said. At the very least, a continuous stream of new ideas is distracting. When it runs rampant, you lose money because you can’t get anything out the door. The hard part for management is balancing execution with fresh ideas. At MailerMailer, we use a wiki to capture ideas. Any staff member can contribute at any time. Once a quarter, we review our plan and discuss the reality for new ideas. But we still generate way more ideas than we can execute on.

  • vsellis

    I have mixed feeling about this post. I agree that ideas often become an excuse for distraction and lack of execution. They are addictive to be sure. However, I would whole heartedly disagree with anyone who suggests that “What we need is fewer ideas.” What we need are better ways for channeling ideas, focusing them, filtering them and ultimate executing on the good ones. What that CEO probably meant (I hope) was that better quality ideas are needed and undoubtedly better execution on those ideas. For better or worse, the “idea” process often starts with an abundance of ideas, good and bad, which have to be whittled down to those that make the most sense for the business. To suppress the free flow of ideas only leads to stagnation when the idea funnel empties.

  • yanshmatnik

    i love this article, thank you so much for posting it. truly inspirational.

  • surety bonds

    Generating ideas with this things can help us improve more our capabilities in dealing with our business world. Thanks for great insights.

  • Jess

    As much as I do know! in Web site business it’s important to set-up A single websites for just one service or product and that is quite a fact in starting a lead generation internet business.

  • jjfitzpatty

    For writers this idea is a complete FAIL. If you are having writer’s block, an idea, any idea, is better than nothing. Less ideas? that’s unfathomable. The instant you get an idea, act on it. Then come back and try to tell me you’re having a problem.

  • Ashwin Bhalekar

    I think it’s like multitasking, doing too much at once, actually takes more time than doing things with full focus separately. Too many ideas is just scattering the mind, the opposite of zen like focus.

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