Marketers: Don’t Mind Your Manners

What’s worse than a bad idea? A bad idea that everyone knows is bad but isn’t willing to say is bad. That’s why we introduced creative agitation into our ideation process: it gives the ideation process some ego-crushing, great-idea-generating turbulence. And while it can be intimidating, once you relax into the discomfort it can be extremely rewarding — and dare we say it — fun. Here are some things we’ve learned about the benefits of creative agitation and how to implement it.

First, what is creative agitation? By systematically poking holes and questioning assumptions throughout the entire ideation process, agitation helps weed out ideas that don’t have real power while strengthening the ones that do.

How to agitate responsibly. By design, agitation isn’t easy: It’s built to bruise your ego. That’s why it takes a special environment to agitate responsibly: one where people feel safe, trust their colleagues, and are able to take criticism without taking it personally. At Room 214, one of our core values is being “Talented yet humble.” An outgrowth of this value is a culture of respect. People’s talents are valued, so criticism of an idea does not imply criticism of the person. Removing any feeling of threat is key: people need to feel safe and secure in order to feel that the process is constructive, not destructive. But it also takes a concerted effort on the part of all involved. As Libby Turner, one our senior agitators said, “It’s so easy to take the criticism personally. Not doing that is a learned skill.”

To get people used to the process of creative agitation, we held mock debates. The first of these pitted crunchy Cheetos against puffy ones: Two teams squared off to make their passionate arguments for their favorite orange-colored snack. In addition to providing some great office entertainment, this debate helped us all get used to the idea of agitation in the workplace. In brainstorms, we have a long list of questions we can ask to stir the pot. Sometimes we assign an agitator. Other times we all just agitate at will.

Here are some of the agitation questions we like to ask:

  • Why would the client like this?
  • What vulnerabilities does this idea open us up to?
  • What would a parody of this idea look like?
  • What parts of this would the client say we missed the mark on?

The benefits of agitation. The agitation process is not entirely comfortable, and not everyone finds it enjoyable. (Jen here: I think it’s fun!) But there are also many benefits beyond mild sadism. Kai Casey, a Room 214 producer, loves the process because “It breeds better ideas that the whole team is on board with, and it short-circuits laziness.”

Taking the time and energy to really look at things from all angles helps bring out unique and creative solutions to problems. This creates ideas that are on-strategy and on-brand, which of course is what clients want, and what makes great work. Also, there is a feeling of being “in the trenches” with your colleagues — going through adversity and coming out on top — which helps creates deeper and more meaningful working relationships. More good ideas lead to fewer bad ideas, and ultimately to a few great ideas.

We hope you give it a try, and say goodbye to your comfort zone.

Want some more info? Here are some resources we’re particularly fond of:

Linda Hill’s Ted Talk:
and her book: Collective Genius

Todd Henry, The Accidental Creative:

Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

Originally published at

Jen Casson is what you’d call a “Pi Person” — broad experience (top of the π) with depth in specific areas (the legs of the π). Her career began as an IT consultant, working on enterprise software projects as an analyst. She quickly moved into Business Consulting, specializing in Corporate Performance Scorecards, Program Management, Knowledge Management, and Systems Thinking. In her late 20s, she decided there wasn’t enough creativity in her job, so she made the bold move and changed careers. Fast forward 8 years and you’ll find she’s a video producer and award-winning editor, having worked on projects for the likes of the Discovery Channel, Sundance Channel, Science Channel, Ford, Dish, and others. In 2011, Jen joined Room 214 to create video content for digital campaigns. Here, she produces and edits video projects and provides leadership to the creative team and agency.

James Clark has always been involved in helping organizations create public personas and expert leadership. He cut his professional teeth working his way up in public relations agencies, eventually becoming a partner at high tech agency that received an Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Company award. Over 10 years ago, he decided to focus on digital and how it disrupts business. Having read The Cluetrain Manifesto, he became fascinated with how Markets are Conversations and Search Engines are Media. So along with his business partner Jason Cormier, James co-founded Room 214, where we pull together business intelligence, social and search media program management and application development to help companies and organizations drive high search engine visibility and successful social media word of mouth campaigns for B2B and B2C marketing communications initiatives.

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