The “Idea Etherverse” (or How to Be More Creative at Work)

Idea lightbulb

Did that lightbulb in your head just go on? Maybe it’s coming from the Idea Etherverse.

In my line of work, people talk a lot about creativity. As a content strategist and copywriter at a marketing agency, people look to my creative services team for fresh ideas.

They appreciate unique angles, bursts of inspiration, and the proverbial lightbulb-over-the-head.

Yet, that creativity doesn’t just come from “the creatives.” Not at all.

Ideas can come from anyone in any role, if you encourage people to express their own ideas. Account managers, project managers, quality assurance testers, proofreaders, and traffic coordinators have come up with ideas that rival the best copywriters, art directors, and other people typically associated with “ideas.”

The problem? Most “non creative” people feel boxed in by the words printed on their business cards. They incorrectly assume they are less qualified to share new ideas or whatever. It’s really just “whatever.”


The Big Secret Revealed: Where Creativity Comes From

For a few years, I worked as a professional comic book writer (which was outstanding training for new media). At comic book conventions, fans and aspiring creators would sometimes ask where I got my ideas.

If you’ve ever sat at a table and watched a parade of people come to your table to ask the same question, you start to challenge yourself to come up with unique and entertaining answers. This is partially to entertain myself, partially to entertain them, and mainly because I don’t have a really good answer.

There are a few creators out there who have come up with funny, snarky, and downright ridiculous versions of the same answer. According to many sources, famed writer Harlan Ellison gets his ideas in Poughkeepsie.

A good friend and occasional collaborator Darick Robertson once told me his theory of creativity. He may have heard a variation of this, but he customized it for me. And I will pass it along to you with my little spin.

Darick suggested that there is an Idea Etherverse that floats just above our consciousness. It’s there all the time and different creative ideas drift past laconically just waiting to be taken down and nurtured. These ideas are as ethereal as ghosts, until you build something around them. They are free for the taking.

Everyone has access to the same Idea Etherverse, so if you let the idea pass you buy, it will float past the next person. That’s why so many people say things like, “I had that same idea!” If there is an Idea Etherverse, then yes, they may have had the same idea.

They probably just didn’t take the idea down and nurture it. So it floated away.


The Idea Etherverse and You

I really like this Idea Etherverse because it places the onus of responsibility on the person who has an idea. For example, you.

Creative services people are more in tune with the Idea Etherverse, even if they don’t call it that. Their antenna is extended, ready to receive the ideas floating around. Because of their role in the workplace (especially in advertising and marketing agencies), they have the confidence to explore and express their ideas.

It is very easy for me as a content strategist or copywriter (depending on the project) to turn to another person in creative services and bounce around an idea. It may be something completely kooky, but usually a fellow creative understands that ideas are fragile and require some nurturing. There may not be a direct, sellable solution, but they will usually play through the scenario of “what if we tried this new idea…?” This is very liberating and often results in new paths and ideas.

Unfortunately roles considered “non creative” may not have that immediate access to kindred creatives. That shouldn’t stand in your way of plucking ideas and exploring them. Pull someone from creative services to the side and share your idea. Occasionally, you’ll find someone who thinks “idea generation” should remain the exclusive domain of “creatives.” If that happens, find someone else.

You may need to tweak your pitch and approach. Or you just may need to find someone who is on your creative wavelength. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that the senior team leaders are the most receptive to ideas from unexpected places, since they just want good ideas. In fact, you might be surprised at how receptive they are to your enthusiasm and creativity.


How to Get Started

The first step is yours, so move forward in a relevant and appropriate way. If you feel an idea floating above you in the Idea Etherverse, gently pull it down and make it yours. Nurture it for a day or three. I find that a new idea is better when you’ve had a chance to sleep on it.

Next, find someone who you consider a creative thinker. Grab a cup of coffee. Maybe sit for a quick lunch. If you’re looking for someone to literally help you develop, evolve, and co-champion the idea, it wouldn’t hurt to spring for lunch. Even on my busiest days, I can easily be bribed with sushi.

After that, sketch out a few ideas in whatever medium works best for you. I like PowerPoint because it gives me the flexibility to mock up shapes and text in a rapid 2D prototype. This is an important step because you should save the details while they are fresh in your head.

Not all of your new ideas will be good, nor will all of them be bad. By sharing them, you will develop your creative muscles, so that you know how to nurture your new ideas. It takes practice to learn how to effectively pluck something from the Idea Etherverse and turn it into something. So don’t give up too easily, especially in the face of early flops.

Sometimes you simply need to defend your creative ideas. Other times, you just have to be willing to move on to the next idea.

Being creative is a state of mind. Not only is creativity needed in the workplace, it is often rewarded in many ways. So pull down an idea, sleep on it a few nights, and start collaborating with a friend.

And if you happen to be in New Jersey and want to share your ideas with me…? I like spicy, crunchy tuna rolls.