I'd like to go back to something that came up at the Ed2010 Toronto's Sarah Fulford talk. She mentioned the importance of being able to come up with good ideas, that having a knack for this would make you a valuable employee. And one audience member asked whether this was a talent a person could develop – how do you become good at thinking up good ideas?
In response, Sarah talked about being critical and developing a sense of what makes for a great magazine piece. To do this, she recommended reading and really dissecting stories, figuring out what contributed to making them successful: The writing – how was it written? The packaging – what made it work? Why do you suppose the editors and art directors made the decisions they did? Familiarizing yourself with every aspect that makes up excellent work will provide you with the knowledge to do excellent work yourself.
Likewise, familiarizing yourself with the world will arm you with the fodder for great ideas. In an interview with Advertising Age published back in October, superstar art director George Lois (famous for his Esquire magazine covers) talks about, among other things, his book George Lois on his Creation of the Big Idea, in which he reveals the influences behind some of his best work. In the video, he explains that you have to expand your knowledge, expand your passion and expand your experiences in order to open you mind to making connections and giving it the base on which to build great ideas.
"[A great idea] is not a lightning bolt out of the blue. ... What it is, is an understanding of 5,000 years of art, an understanding of 5,000 years of human civilization, understanding of film, understanding of great movies, understanding of comics, understanding ballet – having that kind of well roundedness. ... It didn't come out of the blue; it came out of my experience."And I think he's absolutely right. Consume everything. Everything. Read not only your competitors' magazines, but magazines on every topic. Read lots of books. Go to museums. Watch lots of films. Learn piano or skateboarding. Go scuba diving. Just consume – consume ideas, consume experiences. The more you know, the more you'll be able to draw from all those different aspects to pull together things that others may not have thought of, mainly because they don't have the same knowledge or experience that you do.