Here's a truth that people don't talk about much: when it comes to content, nothing is really new. Everything is, in some way, a combination of other things. When we innovate with content, we’re just drawing on our experiences and some reservoir of ideas and putting them together in new ways.
(Related: watch Everything is a Remix sometime.)
To enable and optimize this, your organization needs a collection system for ideas. You need a place to put every idea and task that comes across the desks, the feeds, and the minds of your team.
Too many organizations go without this. Great ideas happen and are then lost.
Consider these scenarios:
- John the Digital Strategist has a campaign idea while he’s driving into work. He thinks about it while he walks through the lobby of his office then makes his coffee. He means to get back to it, but it slips out of his head sometime during the middle of the morning.
- Claire the Copywriter has part of a great idea for content. She creates part of it in Word and saves it to her desktop, but there’s part of it she can’t quite figure out, and she stalls. She abandons the idea without realizing that Karla has the other half of the solution.
- Malin the Web Manager is constantly bombarded by content requests. She doesn’t know how to triage them, so she just shoves them into an Outlook folder, meaning to do something eventually. She never does, and it turns out there are some great ideas in there.
I’m convinced this happens all the time. We forget promising ideas, fail to connect them to other ideas, get overwhelmed by them, fail to process them, and let them wither on the vine. Our content slowly becomes uninspired and repetitive. We keep falling back to the same tired ideas.
Great content creators understand the value of collecting ideas.
Even Eminem believes this. Here’s a 60 Minutes interview where he discusses the mass of paper notebooks in which he writes ideas as they come to him (at about 8:00 in the video). He subsequently immortalized this process in a lyric to “The Monster," which kind of gives me goosebumps every time I hear it:
’Cause all I wanted to do is be the Bruce Lee of loose leaf…
How about Jerry Seinfeld? Watch “Jerry Before Seinfeld.” It’s a stand-up special, intercut with scenes from his life. Towards the end, he’s shown sitting among pages and pages of notes he captured over the years. In fact, he titled his most recent book “Is This Anything?” as a reference to the scenario of him reading back some of his notes and wondering if it’s worth pursuing as a bit.
I’m thinking now of Louise DeSalvo’s “The Art of Slow Writing.” It’s a book about how great ideas sometimes take time to come together. You often need to set them aside and come back to them.
She gets a little lyrical about it, but DeSalvo makes a good point here:
The most productive writers and creative people I know realize that dreaming and daydreaming are important parts of how writers work. We might not know, now, what to do with the images our dreams or daydreams provide, but one day, if we continue to try to unravel their meaning, […], we will.
James Webb Young was a classic “ad man” of the 1940s. Some of his notes were published with the ironically uninteresting title of “A Technique for Producing Ideas.”
Consider this (emphasis mine):
First, little tentative or partial ideas will come to you. Put these down on paper. Never mind how crazy or incomplete they seem: get them down. […] Here again, little 3x5 cards are useful.
I like to think that in the years since Young, we’ve moved beyond 3x5 cards. But, regardless of medium, the basic premise holds – to set something aside to get perspective, collaboration, and energy, you need a place to put ideas.
I’d offer that Optimizely’s content marketing platform (CMP) gives you that place.
It’s a CMP, but you might also consider it a… “content idea repository”? It’s a place where you can put nascent, half-formed, half-finished, and even half-baked ideas. You can organize them, work on them, share them, invite feedback on them, and make a decision at a later time whether this fits into anything.
- Before John gets to work, he creates a campaign brief in Welcome and starts jotting down his ideas. He assigns a task to himself with a due date, so he’ll get a reminder to help him stay on track as he works to build out his campaign ideas.
- Claire uploads her Word document to a task in Welcome. She then tags her team for feedback and gets help from Karla, who is able to connect Claire's work to the content she's already working on.
- Malin starts tagging people via workflows in Welcome and has visibility into all the work on her team's plate so she can help them prioritize and focus on the most impactful tasks.
In addition to moving the content process forward, there’s a deeply human benefit to all this.
As we get this stuff out of our heads and into some platform where it can develop, we’re able to act on some of our best impulses. There’s a great unacknowledged frustration in not being able to do our best work. Organizations fight the same battles over and over again, even though shards of the solution have floated in and out of everyone’s minds at one time or another.
To be sure, there are best practices for doing this well. Your collection system or “idea parking lot,” should be a judgement free zone, where everyone on your team feels emotionally safe enough to contribute anything they think might help.
And there needs to be some structure to process the queue – once a month, let’s go through the parking lot and decide what we should act on, what we should decisively abandon, and what we should defer because, well, who knows what we’ll come up with in the future and how it might connect?
But it all comes back to the most basic concept: you need to capture your ideas.
A central location for content ideas and impulses helps you develop the role content should play in your organization. Productivity gains aside, it drives creativity and places an emphasis on contribution. It tells your staff that you believe the content needs of your organization and your customers are going to come from within, and you have the toolset to enable and cultivate that.
I’ll finish with a quote from Tiago Forte’s book, Building a Second Brain. In a section entitled “Giving Your First Brain a New Job,” Forte writes:
We’re asking your biological brain to hand over the job of remember to an external system, and by doing so, freeing it to absorb and integrate new knowledge in more creative ways.
It’s not just about productivity. It’s about giving people the tools to best unleash their creativity.
Both your customers and your content team deserve that.
For more information on what a CMP can do for you, please visit our Welcome page.