By Ben Keenan, award winning copywriter and creative.
The best common example of what an idea is, and why our brains like them so much, can be found in jokes. A joke is an idea.
This is the second funniest joke in the world according to the UK website Chortle:
A woman walks onto a bus holding her baby. The bus driver says, “That’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen”. The woman doesn’t know what to say, she bursts into tears and takes a seat next to an old man.
“What’s the matter love?” The old man asks.
“That bus driver just said my baby is the ugliest he’s ever seen” She whimpers.
The old man goes red with fury.
“That’s terrible, you should go back up to him now and tell him off! here I’ll hold your monkey for you”.
The setup opens up a loop that tells our brain that we are dealing with a horrible bus driver. The punchline connects ugly baby with monkey. This new relationship and the taboo of baby looking like a monkey hits us so hard and fast that the resulting endorphin rush affects us physically, we laugh.
Ideas are exactly the same: the best ones are three quarter complete circles. They require us to input what we know to complete what’s being communicated.
In ads, this is what allows us to know that Volvos are safe, for example. In movies, this is what let’s us know that a simple look, or gesture from a character is hinting at their past so we connect that moment to how they will react in scenes in the future. So to make more ideas, you need more things to connect.
Connecting the dots
As Steve Jobs, arguably one of the most creative people ever, put it: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
Creative people often just have more dots to connect. We’ve heard the cliché that creative people are sponges. But I think a more accurate description is creative people are vampires. They suck the blood of culture, of books, movies, music, conversations, popular culture.
And more importantly, they suck the blood of others. Meaning, if they meet someone with a certain talent, or way of doing things, they’ll slowly start adopting that to their own practice.
And sometimes it’s not just skills they absorb. Picasso and Tarantino: creative vampires. Picasso was said to be a vampire in many senses, he’d spend his days entertaining and interrogating friends and contemporaries, leaving them spent. He’d take the energy he’d sapped off them and use it to fuel him to paint through the night.
Quentin Tarantino spent his early days in a video store watching and talking movies in a frenzied obsessive fashion. Again taking all of the conversations about Hong Kong Action revenge pics and 70’s Blacksploitation and piecing them back together in ways that paid homage and lifted genre filmmaking to a whole new level.
So to have ideas, you need dots.
Good news is that dots are everywhere and endless, which means once you’ve worked out how to connect them, you ability to do so will be endless. And so will be your ability to come up with useful and original ideas.
This post originally appeared on Ben Keenan’s website, Warm Cola.