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David Ogilvy increased yearly sales of the Rolls Royce by 50% with a campaign capped by this famous headline:
“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
This headline was based off of a sentence Ogilvy read during a three-week study binge for the Rolls Royce account which read, “At sixty miles an hour, the loudest noise comes from the electric clock.”
In On Advertising, Ogilvy said, “Study the product you are going to advertise. The more you know about it, the more likely you are to come up with a big idea for selling it.”
The same advice holds true for generating unique blog content ideas.
The more you know about your topic, audience, product, etc., the more likely you are to come up with big ideas for your blog.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have three-weeks-worth of interviews with subject matter experts to draw ideas from (which is what Ogilvy had). Nor do we have three weeks.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with content ideas for our blogs that Ogilvy would envy. It just means that we have to be smarter about how we work on generating ideas.
The Information Dump
Few ideas are original. They’re rearrangements or combinations of other ideas or a new perspective on an existing idea.
But to rearrange, combine, or change perspective, you need knowledge about a subject. That’s why you must begin your search for ideas with an information dump. Otherwise, there’s no raw material for creative ideas.
And you have to be patient because the new ideas don’t happen as you’re researching.
It’s like Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Jobs said this at a commencement speech, but it holds true for finding good ideas.
Stop worrying about your end goal when you’re exploring a new idea. Anxiety and worry block the parts of your brain that you need to generate creative insights.
Stay in the moment and let yourself explore content from industry publications, research reports, and competitors’ blogs. Listen to podcasts, watch videos, and read books.
Don’t Stop at the First Idea
Ever write down an idea for a blog post convinced that it’s going to blow you readers’ socks off then go back and read it and wonder what the hell you were thinking?
Blame your brain.
Our brains are lazy and the first idea we have is usually the most convenient, rather than the best, according to neurologist David Eagleman.
And that’s why even after you’re shoulder-deep in research material and you think you’ve just discovered the cure to boring content, you have to keep going.
This’ll be harder for some than it is for others because, as Art Markman, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, points out, some people don’t like uncertainty and have a high “need for closure.”
These people will “want to finish the process quickly and get on with implementing the new solution.”
If you’re one of those with a high need for closure try purposely not finalizing any of your ideas in one session.
Leave them open-ended or with room for further development, then come back later—you’ll be surprised by what your subconscious comes up with.
Change Your Perspective
What do Seinfeld’s take on dogs pooping and psychological theory have to do with coming up with better blog content ideas?
Let’s start with Seinfeld’s bit:
Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them’s making a poop, the other one’s carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?
Humans and dogs have their categories in our mind. Dogs have tails, bark, and are not in charge of humans. Humans walk on two feet, don’t bark, and are in charge of dogs.
But when Seinfeld uses the word “life forms,” he changes our psychological distance from “dogs” and “humans.”
From this new frame of reference, Seinfeld shows you something brand new about dogs pooping because you’re looking at them from the perspective of someone who sees dogs and humans as “life forms” rather than “dogs” and “humans.”
In the Scientific American, Nira Liberman and Oren Shapira, outline the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance.
The theory states that anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the “psychologically distant” category.
Moreover, according to CLT, psychological distance from a problem affects the way we think about that problem. Specifically, we think about problems we’re more psychologically distant from in a more abstract way.
And when we think of problems in a more abstract way, we generate more surprising connections.
According to CLT (emphasis added):
It’s possible to induce a state of “psychological distance” simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person’s perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely.
Long story short: We can come up with better content ideas by creating some psychological distance between ourselves and our topics or products.
Because when there’s no psychological distance between us and our problems, we go back to our rigid, pre-defined thinking patterns. And there are no good unique blog content ideas there!
As Einsten once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Share Your Baby Before it’s Born
Every creator I’ve ever known can’t stand to let their creation see the light of day before it’s done.
But to Tina Seelig, best-selling author of inGenius, the key to effective experimentation is “to get concepts out in front of others as soon as possible, so that everyone receives rapid feedback on their ideas.”
In fact, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t share your ideas early. According to Seelig, the longer you spend on an idea without sharing it, the more attached you’ll become to that idea.
In the end, you’ll be less likely to let the idea go if it’s not working well.
If you can, try to share your ideas with a wide variety of people. Not just your coworkers, but your friends and family too.
Even if they don’t completely understand what you’re talking about, they may say something that sets you on a productive train of thought.
Shut Up, Put Down Your Phone, and Observe
Most people are not paying attention to any one thing for very long.
In fact, a 2014 study showed that the average American information worker switches their attention to another task every 59.5 seconds.
Maybe that has something to do with the fact that we also check our phones an average of 80 times per day.
But it’s also caused by the creativity-killing phenomenon called adulthood.
As a child, you don’t know anything, and that’s okay, so you’re not afraid to ask dumb questions. And you’re not afraid to propose and test out outlandish ideas.
You actively observe the environment around you, even if that means sticking a fork in an outlet or two.
Then you become an adult, and all of a sudden, you know everything. Or at least you’re supposed to. So you start looking for patterns.
Eventually, everything starts to fit into the neat categories you’ve created to make sure you don’t stick forks in outlets anymore.
But the problem with categories is that they’re strictly defined. They’re concrete. They’re not abstract. And that makes it harder to generate ideas.
So if you want better ideas, you need the ability to observe.
It’s a rare ability that most people don’t even recognize as a skill. Yet there are people like Jerry Seinfeld who we all recognize for the genius that springs from their masterful observation of the mundane.
You can find truth and insight (and humor) the same way by learning to hone your observational abilities. Spend more time watching, listening, and shifting your perspective and less time jumping to conclusions.
Don’t Be Scared to Flail
Inventor James Dyson made 5,126 prototypes of his vacuum before getting it right on the 5,127th try.
He said, “The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.”
So channel your inner child, ignore your inner critic, don’t be scared to share, and put your damn phone down.
And one last thing.
If someone ridicules you for taking a creative risk, remember it. Then, when (not if) you come up with your big idea, you can remind them to have a little faith next time.
Revenge is a dish best served creatively.