The article below is from Second Wind, written by Deborah Budd

I’ve been reading about creativity in general, and really have enjoyed all of the fresh resources available on the internet. Every few days, I discover a fantastic blog offering insights and research about the idea process and creativity in general. I’ve gathered some thoughts on the creative process into this collection of tactics for moving good ideas into the “great” category. What tactics have helped you improve your idea creation?

Be different, not just good. If you aren’t reshaping how your audience thinks and feels about a product, service or brand, you are not really bringing the client value. How can you create change? How can you use that change to benefit the client and their customers?

Start with good data. Insights emerge from knowing the product, industry, customer and brand. Make sure your team has as much data as they need to steer them toward ideas that will solve client problems and fill customer wants and needs.

The best creative minds use ALL of their brains. Left brain, right brain is old hat. You do research, mull things over, debate and discuss initial thoughts, jot some notes… then set it aside and go on to something else. According to recent research, your subconscious goes to work on the data and preliminary thinking, and ideas emerge as other areas of your brain reference past knowledge, make connections and incorporate new influences. Creativity is a process, not an instant of imaginative force exercised against a problem.

Keep the input flowing to build stronger output. Great ideas are often a matter of combining old practices and new thinking—or mixing old and new elements in a different way. This means we have to be good at relational thinking (how does this thing work with that one?) and connective thinking (Hey! This just made me think of a great idea for that…). Help your mind get better at relational and connective thinking by exposing yourself and your team to experiences, influences and ideas. Build a library of resources (print ephemera, design annuals, toys, fabrics, patterns, color references, etc.) your team can use to start creative juices flowing.

Be alert to ideas bursting into bloom. We all know that sometimes ideas just pop into our heads, usually when we aren’t actually trying to dream something up. You’ll be trimming a hedge, or taking a shower, or playing with your child, and suddenly, an idea for that tricky client brief emerges. Jot down these “light bulb moments” in a notebook or smart phone app so you can share them or give them added attention later.

More ideas mean more good ideas. Volume counts when you are brainstorming and want to throw as many ideas into the hat as you can in a compressed period. Afterwards, you sift and sort to find the best ideas. Even then, those ideas may need to be tweaked and pushed and stretched until they reach the level of quality needed for every big project. While you may generate lots of ideas that won’t work, you’ll also create a lot more ideas that have value and can be developed. Try to hold regular brainstorming sessions to help your team get comfortable with sharing every idea, not just their few highly polished gems.

Sometimes, you need to work alone. Not every idea has to be crowdsourced or brainstormed. Ensure that team members have alone time to think and play with ideas. This applies to pre-brainstorming as well as individual assignments.

Foster a safe environment for ideas to sprout and grow. Ideas are not right or wrong, good or bad… they are average, better or best. Never dismiss an idea out of hand; explore it, bend it, discuss it, hammer it into new forms. Only after analysis and questioning can you see if an idea will stand up to the demands you are going to put upon it. Make sure your team knows they can lay an idea on the table and have it treated as one with potential. If it is eventually discarded, no matter. It’s how you receive it and work with it that creates the sense of being in a creative hive, where idea production is expected and welcomed.

Don’t accept the first good idea that comes along. Keep pushing until it is the best idea you can make it. “The enemy of the best is the good enough.” Never settle. Quality is the goal. You can choose to create lots of mediocre ads, repeated ad infinitum to drum a message into the listeners’/viewers’ heads; or develop a few finely tuned, memorable and engaging messages that people connect with, recall… and act upon.

Develop the habit of trying to make every idea a little better. Not every idea has to be earth-shatteringly brilliant. But most ideas can stand to be improved. Aim to improve each idea just a little from its starting point. Over time, you’ll see your idea output become stronger, and your creative reputation grow. This incremental improvement strategy can help you become the best creative agency in your market… or the universe.