Idea generation at many companies is sporadic and haphazard. It often starts with a random one-off brainstorming meeting. Then a handful of ideas run the organizational gauntlet. A very small number of those ideas ever see the light of day.
I recently followed a long-time dream of going to The New Yorker with a batch of cartoons and had lunch with a group of New Yorker cartoonists. It was a real treat, but it also made me think about the process of coming up with ideas. New Yorker cartoonists live by a few philosophies that are relevant to any type of idea generation:
1) Quantity Breeds Quality
The more ideas you come up with, the better you get at it. Jack Ziegler once said that he finally started getting the hang of drawing cartoons after the three thousandth one. Similarly, the more ideas an organization creates, the better the organization gets at coming up with ideas. Rather than schedule sporadic brainstorming meetings only when needed, develop the organizational habit of coming up with new ideas all the time.
2) Always Be Shipping
Matthew Diffee describes New Yorker cartoonists as “idea factories”. The New Yorker receives over 1,000 submissions every week for 16 spots. Each regular cartoonist generally submits 10-15 cartoons to the New Yorker a week, every week. They are lucky if they get even one chosen. Most cartoonists submit 10-15 cartoons a week for a full year before getting one in the magazine. The most important trait is perseverance. In contrast, organizations rarely “ship” their ideas. There’s opportunity to get more of our ideas into the “oxygen of the real world”.
3) It’s The Think, Not The Ink
Editor Bob Mankoff often says he evaluates cartoons based on the think, not the ink. What more important than a detailed drawing is the gist of the joke. Similarly, a basic prototype is often more valuable than a polished PowerPoint presentation. But organizations often get caught up in PowerPoint-itis. It reminds me of two Facebook organizational mottos: “Code wins arguments” and “Done is better than perfect”.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)