CONNECT THE UNEXPECTED: AN IDEA GENERATION TACTIC THAT DRIVES CONTENT ENGAGEMENT
The rising demand for good ideas
A whopping 99% of content marketers agree that a constant, steady stream of ideas is crucial to content marketing, unfortunately, “nearly 1 in every 2 marketers lack enough ideas to fuel their content marketing,” Kapost recently revealed in the first ever research on “content marketing ideation.” Uh oh. So how many ideas do you actually need? Turns out the magic number for the average marketer is 67 — as in 67 good ideas per quarter.
Luckily, the allure of the Eureka! moment and the tyranny of being blocked have provoked insights and speculation about the modus operandi of creativity from artists, admen, writers, scientists, inventors and psychologists, through the ages. And though there’s not (yet) a pill proffering immediate illumination, à la Limitless, our collective wisdom’s delivered a few strategies that can sharpen our abilities.
First order of business: invention as process of combinatorial creativity and the exhilarating possibility that there are no new ideas. When Steve Jobs told Wired magazine that “creativity is just connecting things,” he was serious.
Combinatorial creativity refers to the impossibility of creating entirely new ideas, claiming rather that all ideas are only remixes of old concepts. Writer Maria Popova calls “combinatorial creativity” the activity of
“combining existing bits of insight, knowledge, ideas, and memories into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos.”
But it’s not just literary types who have called our attention to the art of putting things together. In their study, “The AHA! Experience: Creativity Through Emergent Binding in Neural Networks,” researchers Paul Thagard and Terrence Steward call it “conceptual combination” and before explaining how neural networks work, they take the time to illustrate that the first stethoscope was first a “hearing tube,” the Blackberry, a combination of electronic mail and wireless communication, and that Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the sound-wave, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and even social innovations like public education and universal healthcare, are real-life evidence of conceptual combination.
Synthesizing existing information delivers new results
If it’s initially depressing for you to consider that there are no new ideas, think again. It means that inspiration is everywhere. As renowned Wall Street Journal writer William E. Blundell wrote in his iconic book “The Art and Craft of Feature Writing,”
“The reporter adept at synthesis sees and exploits the thread of unifying several developments that to others appear unrelated. He assembles promising story ideas from what looks like a junk-pile of spare parts. He does this by staying alert to possibilities of commonality in the material he reads and discusses with sources; he thinks of events as being potentially linked and tries to spot the connections that a story will provide.”
Connecting indirectly linked events often delivers remarkable angles that stand out in a crowded content ecosystem — take for example a story run by Forbes.com in 2013. It was four days after Fast and Furious star, Paul Walker’s death in fiery crash of a Porsche Carrera GT. The headline of the article, “Pro Drivers, Jay Leno also struggled with Porsche that killed Paul Walker,” linked two disparate events, building up a larger story of a sexy, dangerous car at loose on the streets, endangering our celebrities.
Even though Walker’s death was no longer breaking news by the time the article ran, the piece hit nearly 300K page views. When on most days, the average Forbes.com post had to only hit 50k page views to break it into the top 5 “most popular” articles on Forbes, this story, piquing the reader’s curiosity for new angles, surged past that mark by 600%.
Connecting the unexpected in your content, undeniably, can make a difference.
How are you doing with generating unique angles for your writing? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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