People often wonder where ideas come from.
I like to think that all ideas are just sitting there, waiting to be discovered rather than created out of thin air as one might suppose.
Creative people just spend more time looking for them.
We’re like those people who suddenly got obsessed with Pokemon-Go and were out walking round parks at 2am.
The thrill of finding one is addictive and you get better at it, the more you do it.
And by creative people I mean inventors, research scientists and entrepreneurs too.
Ideas tend to be the meshing of two seemingly disconnected concepts to make a third new one.
Shop mannequins and suicide. Ear inspecting devices and human trafficking, country citizenship and trash.
(And in the case of Pokemon, gaming and treasure hunting.)
When you see a really great idea, one that you’ve either done or wished you’d done, it’s partly a feeling of elation but also recognition that makes it so thrilling. Like, damn, of course, it had to be that idea.
Like that moment on Long lost family, when a daughter finally finds her mother who gave her up as an infant. It’s kind of instant and overwhelming.
In advertising our particular species of idea usually rely on a universal insight, which are similar in that we recognise something familiar in it. When a comedian remarks on something about your life in a way that you’d never considered before but had seen every day and a thousand times, its partly funny because you recognise it, but also because you hadn’t recognised it.
They didn’t invent it, they just found it by looking through a different lens to yours.
Which brings me to flying, boats and hydrogen.
When I was a child my parents great friends, David (RIP) and Carolyn Ezekiel, owned a yacht which they kept in Chichester.
They’d sail around the Solent, the stretch of water between Portsmouth and The Isle of White, most weekends and would take longer holidays in it down to the Mediterranean in the summer and when they eventually retired they would live in it six months of the year in warmer climbs.
My recollection of it was always on a cold, wet weekend in March.
My father loved being invited to spend weekends on it, my mother hated anything that floated apart from possibly the ice in her Bacardi and Coke, so Dad would often take me or my brother or sister.
I do like boats and the sea, but unfortunately they won’t tolerate me. I would usually be a queasy shade of green before we got out of the harbour.
But I remember one weekend when I was about twelve, sat in that small cabin moored up to all the other yachts somewhere in the Cowes marina, listening to the mast ropes clang in the wind, when David asked me if I knew how they discovered flight?
No, I replied.
Basically it’s sailing.
The same principle that drives a boat forward, (Sails and keels, like airplane wings, exploit Bernoulli’s principle), is exactly the same principle that lifts a Jumbo jet in to the air, albeit with more thrust.
Don’t quiz me on details.
This was an idea that had been sitting there for thousands of years, obvious really, but nobody- not Columbus, the Vikings or the great British Naval fleet or De Vinci had figured it out.
Because they weren’t looking the right way at the problem. That is to say, the wrong way.
The scientists got to air-ships filled with Hydrogen, because hydrogen is lighter than air, then helium took over, before they got to the principle of a sail turned on its side.
They realised hot air was lighter than cool air and that could maybe get us round the world in 80 days. That was pretty clever.
But not so much flying like a bird as a weather balloon.
It took the invention of the combustion engine combined with Bernoulli’s principle to get man off the ground like a bird.
This revelation completely blew my mind.
How could we not have seen what was right in front of our eyes for centuries?
That’s how we need to think of creative solutions. People often say ‘look at it sideways’, in the case of flying that was literal.
The problem is we too often settle for hot air balloons, or huge inflammable zeppelins for our concepts. They’re not a bad solution to being in the air, but they don’t have that sublime simplicity of flying like a bird.
And clients can be wary of bird flight, they prefer the scientific certainty of a balloon filled with helium.
So the question is, is that idea sat on your desk going to get your brand to soar or tootle your way round the world in a top hat?