How to Brainstorm Like a Lyrical Genius: Use This Simple Graphic

What do prolific content creators do? And how do they make quality vs. quantity a completely pointless debate? That was the subject of my Content Marketing World talk this year. And of the five things we discussed (all of which you'll find summarized here), the one that's most commonly associated with the term "prolific" is the ability to generate lots of meaningful ideas. 

But many content marketers struggle with this. Regardless of a company's size or sector, a huge barrier to success is consistent publishing, and a symptom of that sickness is often a lack of ideas. 

My take?

If you havin' blog problems, I feel bad for you, son...

Yup! As usual, my namesake Jay Z knows best.

Here's the thing: Generating a ton of ideas is all about turning just one idea into many more. That's it!

Think of how not stressful that sounds. Can you find just ONE idea that works? Probably. Can you find 100? Probably not -- not in theory, not leaning back in a conference room chair somewhere. But if you take that one idea and use it to your advantage -- really lean INTO it -- you're able to suddenly brainstorm like a pro! And to do this, regardless of your natural creative inclinations, you simply need two things:

1. The right mentality.

2. The right framework to follow.

In short, we have to peel back the curtains of mythology around creative brainstorming. (If you want my more exhaustive teardown of that issue, here's one my favorite posts I've ever written.) But this is not some God-given gift. This is not some unattainable talent. This ability to be prolific is a about how you operate. It's an execution problem.

So how should you execute? First, you need this:

1. The Right Mentality to Be Prolific

At first glance, people capable of generating endless amounts of good ideas are moving from one concept to an entirely different concept, and so forth. But that's untrue. Typically, these individuals are just really great at following connected mental pathways. In other words, they take tangents based on a single starting point. Basic. Simple. A learned skill.

Too often in content marketing, when we find something that works, we say, "Hurray! That worked!" But then we sprint full speed in the opposite direction and go create something entirely different.


Look, I get why this happens. We need to stop serving so many internal masters. We need clearer goals (or perhaps fewer) to enable us to really lean in on what works. We need strong leaders to act as shit umbrellas from the political deuces that companies likes to drop on creatives.

But maybe -- just maybe -- we can make serious progress all on our own, if only we had the right mentality.

Here's what I'd suggest:

When an idea works, don't do more LIKE it. Do more WITH it!

Put something in more places, tweaking for the specific channel (that part is key). 

Turn it into a SlideShare. A podcast. A book.

Do what the media does so well and write a reflection piece looking back. What does it all mean? Write a subsequent piece to list out some tools to help address your idea. Interview experts around the idea. In short, LEAN INTO IT!

When something actually works, you've been given a tremendous gift. Your audience, against all odds in today's overstimulating environment, has spent actual time and attention with your content and, best of all, ACTUALLY LIKED YOUR IDEA!

So you mean to tell me that, in a world where everyone is bombarded with millions of options for everything ... in a world where marketing messages get ignored, skipped, hidden, blocked, downvoted, and outright rejected ... you mean to tell me you've created something they actually love?!?!

Recognize that. Embrace it. OWN IT!

When an idea works, don't do more LIKE it. Do more WITH it! 

Now, this can be tricky. It's not always easy to come up with even slight tangents on a proven idea. Too often, that blank sheet of paper or blinking cursor on the screen causes us to break out in cold sweats. It wins. It defeats us.

To that I say: 

^Exactly how we can all feel. I swear. We just need one more thing...

2. The Right Framework to Follow

To make things easier, I've created a simple visual aid to help anyone and everyone act like those prolific teammates we all admire.

So, taken from my CMWorld talk, here is that visual aid for you to download, share, and use:

Here's how it might work. Let's say your topic is "podcasting for business." On an ad hoc basis, you can select "Intro-Text-List" and now you have a list article: "N Things Businesses Need to Get Started Podcasting."

To generate more ideas, simply change one or more of those inputs. Moving "text" to "deck" yields a SlideShare with the same title and minimal mental effort. Moving "list" to "Q&A" switches that SlideShare (or article, graphic, podcast, video, or interactive app -- wherever you started) from a list-based piece to an interview, which can be packaged in any of those previously mentioned formats.

This goes on and on until you feel the ideas running dry. Then, simply switch the topic at the top, and repeat.

Boom. Done. Simple. Suddenly, you're able to brainstorm better. You're a prolific pro. A master of the mind. A titan of creative talent.

Feeling cocky? Some advice:



What is the One Different Thing? A promise to always strive to serve audiences first and improve the craft of creating content. I think the world of content marketing would yield more quality pieces, better serve our audiences, generate more business results, and advance our industry more quickly if we all tried just ONE small but different thing in every piece we created. Just one. Read more about the One Different Thing challenge.

Posted on September 23, 2015 .