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Mash-up a brainstorming lesson, Stephen King and T-shirts

Man wearing a black Gincredible design T-shirt on a walkway in a forest

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Why read this? : Combining things that don’t normally go together helps you come up with new creative ideas. We give that a go this week. Learn what happens when we mash up a brainstorming lesson, Stephen King and T-shirts. Not as weird as it sounds. Read this to see how these link creative thinking, writing and graphic design together. 

Let’s start with a random question to get you thinking more creatively this week.

Can you guess what brainstorming, Stephen King and T-shirts have in common?

That’s probably not a question anyone’s ever asked before (or likely to again). But because we like the idea of being polymaths, all 3 topics have been rattling around our heads this week. 

And believe it or not, we did find one thing they all have in common. 

Man wearing a black Gincredible design T-shirt on a walkway in a forest

And it’s this. Whatever their creative goal – an innovation idea, a bestseller, a fashion statement –  all 3 use the same underlying creative refinement process.

They all recognise that creativity is a process you go through. That process starts when you generate ideas, Then, you refine those raw material ideas into fewer but better quality ideas. Eventually, you have finished creative ideas. 

This creative refinement process links those 3 initial ideas :-

Brainstorming lesson

We’ve just updated our guide to marketing innovation and also recently added a whole new guide to creative thinking.

In both of those guides we talk about the importance of creative problem solving. 

One of the most common approaches used by both creative companies and uncreative companies is brainstorming. Most people don’t know the idea of ‘brainstorming’ actually dates back to 1939. Yep, brainstorming is older than World War 2. 

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

An advertising executive called Alex F. Osborn came up with it a way to bring groups of advertising people together to come up with new ideas.

For most people, that fact it’s been around so long is a brainstorming lesson in itself. Because weirdly, the basic principles of what Osborn put forward – throw out as many ideas as you can as a group and don’t question any of them – are still true for most brainstorming sessions today.

They’re what fits into that ‘first draft’ creation process. Those principles of brainstorming have survived to the modern day. The problem is there’s no evidence the brainstorming approach is actually any good at doing what it’s supposed to do. 

Brainstorming in the marketing innovation process

As part of your creative thinking or innovation process, brainstorming is one of the more fun elements of what you do at work.

You get to write on coloured post its for a start. You get to stick 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 at your crazy ideas. It’s not allowed. 

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.

Feels good, right?

Workshop post its generic contents

That feels more constructive than the forecasting meeting or budget meeting that normally takes up most of your time.

However, here’s the really key brainstorming lesson to bear in mind.

The more important part of the process is not the brainstorming itself. It’s what comes next.

Not the ideas but what you do with them

It’s not unusual to generate 50, 100 or more ideas in a brainstorming session. But what comes next?

As per our article on ways to generate ideas, you need someone to facilitate the session. The poor facilitator  has collate those ideas into some sort of story that makes sense. Knowing that somewhat like The Hunger Games, most ideas have no chance of making it anywhere near getting launched. 

That’s a key brainstorming lesson right there. It’s good to start with a big pile of ideas, but how you nurture and refine them afterwards is even more important. (See for our example our article on creative approval and how companies like Pixar and Amazon manage ideas). 

Not all ideas will make it, and often many of the ideas that come from brainstorming shouldn’t make it. Read the excellent Bad Science by Ben Goldacre and you’ll see there’s lots of evidence that brainstorming generates no more or no better ideas than letting everyone come up with ideas on their own.

It doesn’t really matter how you come up with these raw ideas, just that you do come up with them. Because it’s the process of refining and editing those ideas that moves you towards the ideas that really matter. 

Stephen King

Which brings us on to Stephen King.

A bit of a leap we know, but stick with us.

In his memoir On Writing, which we refer to in our writing skills guides, he talks about the method he goes through to get his books out the door.

It’s clearly worked for him given he’s one of the most well known and successful writers in the world. 

When starting to write a new book, he locks himself away and bangs out 1,000 words a day minimum

Person wring at a table - close up of their arm with a coffee mug in front of them

He writes without worrying too much at this early stage about how good it is. The words in his first draft are his creative raw materials. He knows he’ll then come back and polish it later in further drafts before readers actually get to see it. 

(see more on drafts in our article on 5 habits to enhance your writing expertise). 

In his book, he recommends leaving a gap of at least 6 weeks between the first and second drafts. He locks his first draft in a drawer. 

This is a bit harder to do with business writing. But the principle of going to do something else in-between drafts is a good one. If you do something else after the first draft, you read the second draft with much fresher eyes.

Suddenly, that part that made no sense or was hard, you see how to fix it. Or even how to leave it out. 

Second draft = First draft - 10%

He also has a great rule for writing that first drafts are always too long. People naturally write long. 

If you can strip out words from the first draft so your word count on the second draft is 90% of the first draft, your writing will be much easier to read. 

We love this.We do this on everything we write. 

All those unnecessary passive sentences and adverbs. Go for the kill. Root them out. They add no value.

The simpler, the better. 


Which brings us on to our T-shirt designs. As we noted in our article on learnings on our T-shirt designs, 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.

So we revisited our old T-shirt ideas and forced ourself to make them simpler. Our refinement of these designs made them 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

Woman wearing a black V neck T-shirt with a simple This mums loves design on it

Complicated T-shirt design

Woman wearing a black round neck T-shirt with a complex This mums loves design on it

We’ll be building some advertising campaigns out for them shortly. We’ll let you know how these simpler designs go.

But even aesthetically, we know they’re an improvement.

Clearer. Sharper. 

Let us know if you think so too.

Conclusion - Don’t undervalue creative refinement

Though our examples come from three different creative areas – creative thinking, writing and graphic design – you can see that creative refinement makes the initial ideas better. 

You start with the raw materials of an idea, but you polish and refine it into something better. Often the most creative ideas come when you combine different thoughts to create lots of initial ideas. Accept these don’t have to be good right away. Allow time for ideas to develop, and experiment with putting different ideas together to see what works.

That’s whether you are working on a marketing innovation, writing or selling T-shirts. The same point applies. 

Check out our guide to creative thinking for more brainstorming lessons and thoughts on how to manage creativity. Or contact us, if we you need help refining your creative development process. 

Photo credit

Bulb on Post it : Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Person writing near mug : Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

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