Too many ideas? Simplify with big-picture brainstorming
May 11, 2016
Usually, my blog brainstorming is a productive, streamlined process. For 42 minutes this past March, though, I went a little nuts-o. Here’s the photographic proof.
When your eyelids droop just by looking at a list of possibilities, you know there has to be a better way to execute it. And guys, there is.
During the first week of the year, I decided that I was going to launch my email newsletter, and I was going to do it with a content upgrade. Awesome. Then client work came in and January ended. And then client work tripled and February ended. Finally, March rolled around. I looked at the calendar with shiny, hopeful eyes.
Lesson #1: Shiny, hopeful eyes don’t mean shit.
I didn’t do squat about my newsletter or my content upgrade until March 20. I procrastinated in every way possible. I even filed my tax return. Then, while I was sorting through a pile of notes, I dug up my list of goals for Q1. Right at the top in hopeful, shiny letters was “LAUNCH CONTENT UPGRADE! LAUNCH NEWSLETTER! REALLY!!!”
Well, damn, I thought. I had 10 days left. So I pulled out my credit card, hopped on ConvertKit’s website, and signed my shiny, hopeful butt up.
The next day, I started brainstorming content upgrade ideas. At the time, there were 30-odd posts on SeeBrittWrite. I wrote all 30 of those titles down on 5 sheets of notebook paper and spent the next 42 minutes coming up with content upgrade ideas for every single one of my blog posts. The result was 27 unique ideas. Twenty-seven, guys. That’s bat-shit insane.
Lesson #2: When your brain says, “Babycakes, this is crazy-talk,” listen.
I flipped through those five pages of paper and wanted to crawl into a cave without wifi. Then, I decided to come up with a better way to get this done. A shortcut to brainstorming sanity. That’s where the Big-Picture Brainstorming Method comes into play.
As I troubleshot my big brainstorming mess, I realized that I needed a new approach. This approach would need to maximize my time by creating content that was relevant to a majority of my blog posts and to my newly launched service, the 24 Hour Blog Brainstorm. I wanted to get s much major bang for my content upgrade buck as I possibly could.
I took a completely different approach with this new brainstorming session. Here’s exactly what I did to come up with content upgrade ideas, step by step:
The results of this brainstorm were far more manageable, from a resources point of view, and more relevant, from a content strategy angle. I did end up with two dozen new ideas. Some of them were bad; these were crossed out. Some of them were great, but not for a downloadable content upgrade; these were saved for future blog posts. Some of them were perfect content upgrade opportunities; these were circled.
I took these circled content upgrade ideas, wrote them down on a new sheet of paper, and ranked them thrice. First, I focused on which idea was the most unique, actionable, and sharable. Second, I focused on which idea I was most excited about. Third, I focused on which idea I could execute the fastest.
At or near the top of every ranking was the Blog Idea Workbook.
The Macro Approach is perfect if you’re short on time, overwhelmed, or looking to do something goal-oriented, which in business is pretty much always. It forces you to pull back and focus on your goals before you begin coming up with ideas.
Step 1: Consider your why
What is the purpose of this brainstorm? Interrogate each answer you give, delving deeper into your “why” until you come up with the root purpose. Here’s what my “why” interrogation looked like:
Step 2: Come up with a what
What does your audience need to know about the product or service you chose in Step 1? What would make them want to talk to you more about it? What would make them want to invest in it? These are the sorts of questions you should ask yourself here.
As I went through this process, I thought about topics related to my service, 24 Hour Blog Brainstorm. I settled on brainstorming. Yep, pretty obvious, right? Chances are yours is a “duh” moment waiting to happen, too.
Step 3: Let your brain out of its box
Now that you have a topic and a direction, let your brain run free. Scribble down everything that it comes up with, even if you know it’s a bad idea. If you’re having trouble building brainstorming momentum, start by thinking in headline templates.
Let’s step into the Situation Room for a moment and talk about the other thing you really need to know about the Big-Picture Method: when to use it. Big-Picture Brainstorming is a hard-hitting tool in your content strategy arsenal. Like every other tool, though, there is a time when it is most effective. Here are some of those times:
When you’re starting something new. It could be launching a new blog, reviving your weekly newsletter, or starting to create content upgrades, as was my situation. Big-Picture Brainstorming will keep you focused on your goals rather than your possibilities, which can help you rein in the paralysis that accompanies new ventures.
When you don’t have the resources to do it all. Time is a business owner’s most precious resource. Content marketing is only a slice of what you need to do every day to keep your business moving forward, and there’s no shame in accepting that and using a tool to prioritize your content creation.
When you’re planning a campaign. A launch is a goal-oriented process, and it requires a lot of forethought and oodles of energy. To get it right, you want to start with your big goal and work your way down into increasingly smaller pieces, rather than coming up with smaller pieces and trying to tie them together into a disjointed launch strategy.
Brainstorming is a personal thing. I get that. I have my own methods, and I’m pretty dogmatic about them. However, the way you brainstorm affects your outcomes, from your basic ideas to your final product.
If Big-Picture Brainstorming feels uncomfortable to you, I want you to try it anyway. Set a timer—10 minutes, that’s all you need—and lean into the weirdness that is this strange new process.
While comfort zones feel good, they keep us following similar patterns and thinking similar, safe thoughts. If you want to be known, if you want to stand out, if you want your business to succeed in a big way, safe thoughts are your enemy. Tear down the safety net—just for 10 minutes—and seek the challenge that will help you grow.