During a mere number of years, many of us have the felt the effects which followed on from the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been bombarded with constant negative news from the spread of new variants, to reports of impending climate doom and political upheaval. In many ways, the negativity has been almost inescapable. Happy stories have certainly been in short supply, but now that we’re finally starting to see the blue skies shining through, there is no reason to repeat this trend in 2022.
The start of a new year is an opportunity to shift our thinking to that of optimism. Amid the chaos of the pandemic, good news stories have been buried in favour of stories that stoke fear and anxiety. A new term even came to prominence during the pandemic – ‘doomscrolling’ – or the act of continually consuming negative news on social media. Reports have also revealed a steady decline in news interest during this period with many saying they find the constant barrage of negative news repetitive, confusing, and frustrating. Evidence that people prefer to hear good news in the face of such overwhelming information fatigue is mounting.
As communications professionals, we have the power to shift the narrative – both in the stories that we produce and in our own lives. In an industry where we are required to be creative and constantly on the point, harnessing the power of optimism is a requirement to meet our goals as the new year dawns.
Optimism builds resilience
A new year brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start. Naturally, the new year also brings on challenges and the need to adapt to changes in the form of new campaigns, new clients, or new colleagues. During this time, it’s important to remain positive and take advantage of the opportunities that come our way – in both our personal and professional lives. In the face of adversity, a positive mindset can work wonders.
We have to be resilient to work in this industry. If something isn’t going quite right, communications professionals need to keep reinventing the wheel and try new things. If a story isn’t landing, or if the days just seem too short to fit in all our tasks, we need to keep adapting and innovating even in stressful situations.
We have to expect that good things are coming our way. Optimism gives you the power to keep forging ahead even in the sea of constant ‘no’ – the ability to recover from failure, learn from it and move forward stronger than before.
Optimism leads to creativity
As we search for opportunity in the adversity, we should look to create new ways to get our voices heard in an industry that is evolving as quickly as the news cycle. It’s been proven that when we think positively, it leads to improved motivation, productivity, and wellbeing.
Communications professionals need to constantly learn about different perspectives, view the world from multiple lenses and speak to our audiences in ways that will engage and inspire them. A positive outlook on the world can be the motivational tool needed to truly invent something new and different that will make a lasting impact.
Optimism inspires those around us
Positivity is infectious. Studies show that optimists are more confident, and often have a more positive mood, higher morale, and better physical health. Setting a positive tone in your workplace environment is critical during chaotic times, because if negativity takes over it can be difficult to roll back.
To start off the new year right, promoting positivity in the workplace is one of the most important things we can do. Take the time to recognise the achievements of others and give praise where it’s due. Establishing optimism at the outset will encourage people to express their ideas confidently and motivate them to get the job done even when time is running short. The new year is also the right time to re-evaluate what it is that we want and how to get there. The confidence boost from a positive work environment may empower people to speak up for what they believe in and ask for what they want.
Making a positive impact on the world starts with the small things – believing the glass is half full and sharing that perspective with others even in tough times. If a culture of optimism is established in our organisations, it will permeate into the work that we do as communications professionals. Even in challenging moments, tapping into the power of optimism will ensure the people around you, and those who consume the content that you produce, are also enabled to see that blue sky.
Surprisingly, modern thinking about brainstorms has changed considerably in the last decade. According to the Harvard Business Review in 2015, “There is very little evidence for the idea that brainstorming produces more or better ideas than the same number of individuals would produce working independently. In fact, a great deal of evidence indicates that brainstorming actually harms creative performance, resulting in a collective performance loss that is the very opposite of synergy.”
This is exactly why we should use a dual-stream approach to brainstorming. As Alexander Graham Bell said, ‘Preparation is the key to everything’, so here’s our timeless approach to getting new ideas, whether together in person or remote, and making sure that you don’t harm the ‘creative performance’ of your team when the pressure is on.
The best brainstorms begin long before everyone gets on the phone or in the same room, pandemic permitting. First and foremost, it’s important to understand what your goal is – what are you looking to generate an idea for? Similarly, before you restrict your mind with other people’s ideas (in this case, within your research), it’s important to think about the kinds of thing you’d like to do based on prior experience. For example, by thinking about:
– Personal Preferences: What would I like to do more of in this area?
– Past Experiences: When we did this kind of thing before, was there anything that we wanted to explore further?
– Timeliness: Given the times of year or other circumstances, is there anything that springs to mind?
Once you’ve done that, then you should start your solo research in earnest, looking at things like:
– Sector Rivals: What things have competitors or companies in other sectors done that we could take a step further or take inspiration from?
– Broad Industry Context: Have you seen anything in professional press, analyst reports or from influencers that looked interesting and could be inspiring?
Much like a brainstorm, it’s important to jot everything down that springs into your head. Don’t worry if it initially sounds terrible or weird – it might be inspiring to someone else! If you have the time, it’s also good to let these ideas simmer; leave them for a day or so and then come back to your thinking, jotting down anything else that you think of in the interim.
This pre-work is also key because there are several pitfalls to avoid in group sessions.
When you’re in any kind of group session, politics and power come into play. There are three main effects that we’ve seen:
Conformity: People don’t like to stand out. So, if most of the group focuses on one particular area during the session, the minority is less likely to speak out. Preparation minimises this because the process of preparing and ‘simmering’ helps to convince you that your own ideas are valid.
Power Imbalances: If there are very senior or very junior people in the session, the very senior people are likely to speak more and the very junior speak less. A good facilitator can help to overcome this, encouraging everyone to speak, regardless of their level.
Self-consciousness: It’s perfectly natural to feel slightly stupid on a remote brainstorm, particularly when there might be a delay on the line. Again, preparation and the desire to discuss all the ideas you’ve put down can help with this. Similarly, there’s no harm in following up with the brainstorm leader if you can’t squeeze an idea into the conversation – sometimes there are just too many good ideas!
In a perfect world, you’d also have three support staff in your brainstorm: a chairperson, a facilitator and a scribe. Here’s why:
– Chairperson: This person keeps things moving along. They also make sure that good ideas get the attention they deserve and stop discussions that aren’t adding anything.
– Facilitator: Encourages people to talk, offers praise and helps to develop ideas.
– Scribe: Writes down all the ideas!
We’ve seen a few different models of brainstorming used over our time in communications, three of which we’ve listed below. Admittedly, the first two are our favourites. Despite the limiting factors we’ve discussed above, the importance of getting other people’s perspectives on your ideas is incredibly valuable.
The Classic: Everyone comes together and throws ideas around. Make sure to bring sweet treats or caffeine!
Facilitated: Uses a set of prompts – for example, images – and each participant offers an idea inspired by those images relating to the brief.
Separately but Together: The Covid brainstorm! A time slot is set, and everyone brainstorms separately then shares their ideas digitally. This model isn’t vulnerable to power dynamics, but it doesn’t allow participants to riff off each other’s ideas as well as the other two.
Above all, remember that brainstorming is a team sport. Most good ideas aren’t just from one person, they’re from someone else (or lots of people) and involve everyone contributing to an idea and evolving it. So, do listen, evolve ideas, or just reinforce them if you think they’re great! At the same time, do develop other people’s ideas, but also push new ones; keep the quantity going and there may be common themes that emerge between ideas.
It’s also important to remember that the perfect idea may not come up straight away. In fact, there’s usually a lot of dud ideas to get through first. For this reason, don’t hold back, however daft your idea seems; unusual ideas may prompt different ways of thinking and new directions. Even if they don’t work, they might inspire something else. In the same breath, hold back your criticism in a brainstorm, because you might inhibit other ideas from coming out from other team members.
Finally, if you can, be somewhere else – don’t brainstorm where you work. It can be useful to have a laptop or phone with you to search for things online as you talk, but taking yourself into a new setting and avoiding distractions is always helpful.
So, there we go; our top tips for running a brainstorm during (or after) the pandemic. Clearly, you don’t have to take all of our advice to run a good session, but it is important to be aware of the limiting factors, and that there are alternatives to the ‘classic’ model of getting ideas. Above all, the old adage is true: fail to prepare, prepare to fail!
*As almost everyone knows, the word ‘brainstorm’ has historically been seen as offensive. However, according to Epilepsy.org, Epilepsy Action and the National Society for Epilepsy, it’s no longer seen this way. We’ll take their word for it.
The word ‘OK’ has been around for about 180 years. The phrase is said to have originally been a satirical abbreviation for Oll Korrect (all correct) used by proofreaders in a Boston newspaper during the 1840s, before going viral across the world. One of the reasons ‘OK’ took the world by storm is because almost every language has the letters O, K and A meaning that ‘OK’ is a unique blend of familiar elements. Almost from nowhere, ‘OK’ became one of the best known and understood words across the planet, becoming a part of our everyday conversations.
A similar story can be told for the word ‘coronavirus’, except this word – or at least our current use of it – has only been around for 180 days. Coronavirus has impacted our lives at breathtaking speeds, so much so that even 4-year-old children know what the word means. Just like the etymology of the word ‘OK’, the consonant K is a familiar element – most 4-year-olds know the phonetic K sounds for koronavirus (sic) as well as kangaroo in their A-Z books, and for us adults, K is also the predicted bounce back shape of the economy – we’ve had the vertical drop, a small bounce back and then either an upwards trajectory for some, or the horrors of the opposite downwards trajectory for others.
Few companies have done really well during this period. Aside from Amazon, Microsoft and Google, dog breeders and vets, hot tub salesmen and neighbourhood economies have all had some benefit from us all being at home and no doubt we’ll see them heading for the upwards trajectory. Other businesses and industries may have just about survived unscathed and on the road to recovery but millions of businesses and people have been plunged into darkness, losing their livelihoods and jobs, and for many there will be more distress to follow as the UK’s furlough scheme comes to an end in October.
As much as we want to think it, the crisis certainly isn’t over and it’s not OK to think we are anywhere near safe or normal.
Ease creates, urgency destroys
Nancy Kline talks about the internal state of mind in her book “Time to Think”, suggesting that the best conditions for thinking are when you’re at ease and free from rush or urgency – and it really struck a chord because it seems we might be doing the opposite.
With the impact of lockdown, there is a sense of urgency to get businesses back on track financially for the sake of the economy and to pay for the bills. But whilst we’re busy rushing to get sales and keep the cash flowing quickly, we could potentially be destroying our need to think creatively about the situation we find ourselves in. To be ‘too busy to really think’ is dangerous and pivoting is not easy. It takes considerable thinking time and a lot of effort to make it a success.
Akin to that urgency is the impact of isolation. Virtual working may have given us the work-life balance we’ve desired for so long, but it has also made us physically insular and less adventurous. You only need to look at London’s tube during weekday rush hour to know that many people are still remaining in their homes for the foreseeable. And due to everyone’s physical containment, our incoming sources of mindful information are also restricted. We are reliant on news outlets, the internet and social media for insights and less on passing conversations with our colleagues, commuters and the people we get our coffee from in the morning.
As we head into Autumn and the wintry days, we must not hibernate our minds, we must give ourselves time to think and expand our horizons. As comms professionals, we must be sensitive with our comms outreach and outbound campaigns, bearing in mind the rise in unemployment figures and the people on the furlough scheme.
Here are my tips on good ‘reputation enhancing’ for internal and external comms campaigns to assist your recovery and make sure you and your businesses are on the ascending trajectory and not descending.
So back in 1840, when the Boston newspaper office were having a giggle about OK really standing for Oll Korrect, the team probably didn’t think it would eventually become part of the worldwide lexicon and everyone would use it on a daily basis. Sometimes creativity can come from the strangest of places and you never know, your next idea could be the next OK.
Hope we’re all OK on that?
Feeling challenged? Doh. Feeling overwhelmed? Hell, yeah.
If ever there was a time for some creative thinking, it’s now. We are all cooped up with our loved ones (who we pray we will still love when this is over). And the daily strain is a mental grind.
What we need now is to learn how to think creatively alone, or with the help of your loved ones (yup, really), or your virtual pals and colleagues. Granted, it’s not quite the same as a brainstorm in the boardroom with frisbees and jelly beans but there are many ways to creatively get around your current challenges – whether work, or life in general.
Creative thinking is about taking a fresh look, thinking of new, different, better ways to solve issues, as much as creating stand out campaigns. In Firefly’s professional world of marketers and communicators, we are always under constant pressure to come up with creative and interesting content every day; sometimes we are given exciting campaigns that spur and drive our creativity, and sometimes the challenge may be huge but the brief is less stimulating, and we get stuck.
And today, we have the added challenge of getting our creative juices flowing as we all work in isolation of each other – so now more than ever we need creative ideas to tackle the unforeseen challenges that ‘coronavirus disruption’ brings.
Luckily for you, I’ve found some great tools to help boost your creativity, amuse you and ease your day and hopefully get you back on the path to success and motivation.
Brainstorming can be a brilliant way to boost creativity. Getting ideas from your colleagues and bouncing thoughts from one person to another can really help to build ideas. However, sometimes, it’s not possible to bring all your colleagues together physically or virtually. This is where Brainsparker comes in.
Brainsparker is a free app that helps you stretch your creative muscles without relying on a colleague. The app contains 200 cards with thought-provoking words or phrases, you simply shake your smartphone and it produces a new card. These random trigger words will help you to relate to the problem at hand and hopefully, get thinking a little more creatively.
Back to basics
It’s great that we have a selection of tools which can help us think more creatively, but sometimes we need to go back to the basics and use the tricks we heard about years ago. One brilliant technique for encouraging creative thinking and boosting productivity is mind mapping. And no, I’m not suggesting that you do some Sherlock Holmes style, internal mind palace brainstorming. It’s far simpler than that.
The key to a successful mind map is to write down every idea you have, no idea is too silly or too farfetched. In fact, the more ideas you jot down, the better.
Mind maps can be used for any thinking or learning task, whether that’s coming up with a campaign or thinking of a topic for a blog, just make sure that you have fun with creating your mind map. Choose bright colours to link your thoughts and ideas together, draw images instead of words or use some funky software to make it look exciting. For some free mind mapping software check out Coggle.
Have some fun
When you get stuck in a creative rut, it’s easy to give up. But, if you give up too quickly, you’ll never learn how to overcome your creative block. Instead, try and have some fun while thinking up some creative ideas. A great place to start is to listen to someone inspirational and motivating. TED Talks are a brilliant way to get ideas and start thinking more creatively. The slogan for these conferences is ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’ and they attract some of the most innovative and creative minds on the planet. The free TED app includes hundreds of videos that can provide you with some refreshed creative inspiration and encourage you to think, dare I say it, outside of the box.
All of the videos can be downloaded to your phone and the ‘Inspire Me’ function allows you to select what kind of inspirational video you’re looking for.
It’s all child’s play
Young children are tremendously creative. They are constantly asking questions and using their imagination, primarily because they are often experiencing situations for the first time. Yes, it can be quite annoying when you have a child constantly asking you ‘why’ or ‘how’, but they have the right idea.
As we get older, we stop asking the ‘how’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions because we have experience, and those questions have been explained to us. But could this be affecting our imagination? Perhaps if we asked a few more questions, our content might be a little more creative.
This is where Alex Osborn’s checklist technique comes into play. This very simple exercise is essentially a list of questions that you should ask yourself before starting your work.
There are six main questions you should ask yourself before beginning any piece of creative work:
If you can answer these questions before beginning a task, you’ll likely come up with some interesting and creative answers, saving you from getting halfway through a life challenge or campaign brief and then running out of ideas.
So, there you have it — hopefully I’ve given you some simple techniques to think about if you’re ever stuck in a creative rut.
As we all adapt to a new way of working we mustn’t let our creativity suffer – if anything, we need as much creativity that we can muster to keep us in good spirits.
Meanwhile, stay well and stay safe!
Finding that those group brainstorms are starting to lose their fizzle? Your presentations and decks all seem to be starting to look the same, always reverting back to the same themes, those same stock photos?
When trying to think up and flesh out new ideas, it’s always best to get as many different perspectives and viewpoints as you can, so why not also get AI involved?
We may slightly dismiss AI’s own knack for creativity, but there’s now one AI tool that is helping us to get our creative juices flowing again.
Not exactly an idea generator per se, Yossarian is basically a search engine with a difference, aiming to help expand our ways of thinking through search and AI. It links unusual concepts together to help broaden our thoughts and ideas beyond our usual scope, offering new perspectives and inspiring different ways for looking at and approaching a project.
So, how does it work exactly? Once you’ve signed up for your free account and perhaps given the free tutorials a quick watch, all you need to do is type in a search word to kick off your digital brainstorm. Immediately, Yossarian comes up with multiple, potentially related ideas. Just keep on clicking to generate more ideas that may be of interest, moving from the more literally related concepts to the more lateral and quirky ones, until you have that brainwave.
You can also create custom links between various different ideas, making a note of how they’re connected and changing the images used to illustrate these new ideas, pulling pictures from a range of sources (Getty images, Tumblr etc.).
Once you’ve found those initial ideas that you love, you can then delve deeper, beginning to build them out, clicking on those concepts to find more unusual and interesting connections, perhaps even dropping in other random ideas from elsewhere as well.
This can all also be shared with your colleagues at any time, with Yossarian offering sharing and collaboration tools, granting colleagues the opportunity to brainstorm together and you can even share your ideas boards with the public too.
So, if you’re looking for some help sparking your imagination, it could be time to get your thinking caps on!
In 2007 ‘Silent Discos’ were the next big thing. Really? It seemed ludicrous, silent parties, dancing with headsets on, everyone with different music, throwing different shapes? But roll on 10 years, it’s commonplace. Last week I organised a Silent Disco at home – 75 headsets, 3 tracks, £200. The neighbours were delighted.
So, what are the crazy trends predicted to become lifestyle norms by 2027?
Over 90% of all restaurants will use some form of 3D food printer in their meal preparations. Really? 3D printed cupcake anyone?
Forget googling for your holiday, we will all have an ‘e-agent’ inside a watch or piece of jewellery that will book our flights and accommodation. (Yes please. I want this now).
So, here are four more seemingly-ludicrous trends that will be quite normal activity by 2027, and how these trends can these be woven into your 2018 campaign
Siri, it’s over. I’ve married Alexa
As AI and machine learning develop and evolve, they become more embedded in society. For example, Apple recently began hiring engineers with psychology backgrounds to help Siri have meaningful conversations and by 2020, Gartner has predicted that the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse. It is clear that our smartphone assistants are becoming more like virtual companions and soon, millions of consumers will start having meaningful conversations, or even relationships with these virtual assistants, changing the way we interact with one another.
So, as comms professionals what does this mean for us? Well, instead of planning our campaigns around people, we may have to start thinking about targeting them at bots. People will begin to trust their virtual companion’s opinions, so we will need to start considering algorithms as another audience.
Currently, Google constantly crawls websites in order to update their search results and the more a ‘Google Spider’ crawls your page, the higher you’ll rank in the search results. As marketers, we use SEO tactics to ensure our client’s rank highly in the search results but soon, software programmes like the Google Spiders will be outdated and we’ll be planning our campaigns around more intelligent programmes, like virtual assistants.
It is likely that brands will also develop virtual companions, shaping them to reflect the brand’s culture and values. Marketers must consider how these companions will fit into their campaigns and how they can benefit consumers to stay ahead of the game.
Your bum will never look big if your bot is your stylist
And in retail, this has also had an impact; the Amazon Dash buttons have given us a taste of one-touch automated shopping, but this is only the beginning. The retail industry could soon be fully automated with all of the searching, purchasing, deals and delivery conducted by AI-programmed personal assistants. We are seeing this process already with the app, Finery. This app adds fashion purchases to an online ‘wardrobe’ and organises them by colour, style and designer. The users then get notified about price changes, sales or brand news.
Not only will algorithms become our virtual companions, but they will be involved in every aspect of our lives – planning our wardrobe, deciding which food we should buy and even controlling the media. In 2015, the Associated Press announced that a number of its original news articles were written by AI.
Algorithms can take behavioural data from thousands of consumers and determine what they are buying, at what time, when and how. They can dictate which audiences to target campaigns at and when to place an ad. Soon, marketers will have to design their campaigns around algorithms as well as humans.
Seeking, as hiding is not possible
2017 is the year where we saw a shift when it comes to transparency. Uber came under fire after an employee blog went viral, detailing a culture of sexism. The #Metoo campaign came swiftly after the Weinstein allegations.
Transparency is quickly becoming imperative for all organisations. Last month we wrote a blog discussing the benefits of being transparent and using transparency to make your brand’s voice and message clear. Companies can no longer hide behind a walled garden, consumers expect information from brands and as we look towards 2018, transparency will become even more important for brands, with those that are unable to comply facing huge repercussions.
Brands must understand their core values for PRs to work on promoting their message. Taking action and being honest and open with customers will ensure your brand will elicit a positive response amongst consumers.
The cheapest gap yah, without leaving your home
With the rise of virtual and augmented reality, the boundaries between the physical and real world are becoming blurred. In 2027, our houses could include virtual projections, or we could be holidaying from the comfort of our own living room. The possibilities are endless, and brands will need to adapt accordingly – marketers just need to consider where people consume their content and how. Our living rooms weren’t designed for mixed reality, our sofas are static, and furniture is placed so we’re sat comfortably. Mixed reality may need us to move or look around and we need to be mindful of this. Marketers also need to consider how consumers will view mixed reality, will it be on a smartphone or via a headset? Or, will we be living surrounded by projections?
Whilst the technology is still at its early stages, brands and comms professionals need to work together and start thinking about how they can use mixed reality to their advantage.
I’m a trendjacker extraordinaire
There is a term for brands using trends to create buzz – trendjacking. My view is that it’s important to stay informed on trends, but hijack them wisely. Jumping on the back of any trend isn’t strategic, it is opportunistic. Instead, it’s better to carefully watch trends that are relevant to your business development, and get the PR timing right. Trends can grow quickly, change shape and meaning or simply fizzle out – the key is to use it to your advantage before your competitors, but not when it is so farfetched you seem like a “crazee” or a luddite.
Eureka! Finally, you have thought up the perfect new creative campaign for your client. As PRs, we are naturally creative but that does not always mean that the first idea we come up with is necessarily the best.
It takes time to conjure up an amazing idea, and of course those brilliant moments of inspiration can happen at the most random and inconvenient times – often when you aren’t able to share them with your colleagues. This is where germ.io comes in, hoping to make sure that no great ideas are missed and to help transform thoughts into an actionable project.
Sure, you had a really productive brainstorm, but that doesn’t mean that the idea generation will or should stop there. If a brainwave strikes later on, germ.io lets you record it. Even your most abstract ideas can be captured and logged in whatever form works best for you – words, links or images.
Once you have noted those first few ideas, germ.io aims to then help organically develop your project, creating logical next steps to build up your campaign from inspiration to execution. Throughout this process, you can also share all your thoughts with colleagues and create internal discussions to further fuel and spark your creativity – meaning that anyone can contribute and you don’t have to wait to get everyone together in one room. Comprehensive tracking also makes sure that you are always on top of each project to ensure that nothing gets lost when running parallel campaigns and all ideas make it to completion.
If your creativity is running a little dry and you are struggling to see the bigger picture, germ.io also has the option to use ready-made templates which include best practices, resources and basic thoughts, so that you can just concentrate on adding in the little details.
If you want to make sure you never miss that Eureka moment again, why not give germ.io a go.
Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk