Ad agency Hakuhoudo’s Masaharu Kato on creative thinking

Process of making.
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IN A BOOK called Kougu*, which in Japanese means “thinking tools,” author Masaharu Kato of ad agency Hakuhoudo offers a few tips to come up with fresh ideas. I’ve used them when coming up with ideas for our clients, and thought I’d share some of my favorites…

Tips on how to start concepting ideas

1. Know what you are looking for
Start with a clear idea of what you’re trying to come up with. A catch phrase? A new name, a logo? Once you identify your goal, repeat it aloud to yourself a few times, and engrave it on your mindscape.

2. Focus on the surface: color, shape, size, word.
You can gather ideas anytime–driving to work, taking a stroll, during your lunch breaks. When you start these ‘idea gathering sessions’, sometimes it helps to decide ahead of time that you’ll focus on something arbitrary, say the color “red.” Think about the problem you are trying to solve, and at the same time, focus on the color red. You’ll notice red things around you that you’d might otherwise ignore, just by being focused on that color. Tuning into these details can lead to unusual, fresh connections that help you solve the problem.

3. Write thoughts down wherever, whatever they may be.
The act of writing activates your brain and focuses your thoughts. Use anything – post-it’s, the back of napkins, or a sketch book, to write. The point isn’t to come up with perfect notes, so don’t worry about keeping everything together or too tidy. Don’t worry about whether your thoughts are “good” ideas, either. Just keep writing–sometimes that’s enough for something brilliant to pop up in your head.

Here’s an example.

SAY YOU’RE TRYING to come up with a tag line for your new product – a new condo complex on the waterfront. You are thinking about the condo – how big it is, what kind of amenities it has, your target demography, etc. Then, you go out gathering hints outside. Focus on something specific, like, for example, the color blue today…

The sky is blue (for once, in Seattle! Hey, maybe weather should play a role in this), so is this car (an SUV – what kind of cars do the prospect tenants own?), and a mailbox (maybe they can offer a concierge service for the tenants, drop-off points for mail, dry cleaning, packages, rented videos/dvds?).

Jot stuff into a notebook as you go, connecting dots and coming up with more random links. Get your head to work this way so you can get to really interesting ideas more quickly.

*Published in Japan by Hankyu Communications, 2003.

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