A Lesson from the Asylum

A friend of mine last week included me on a very flattering/insulting post on Facebook. Most people would have been somewhat offended. I wore it as a badge of honour. He compared me to a crazy person from an asylum. Hooray!!!!

Ok, there is a back story here. The topic he was referencing was from an interview with Joel & Ethan Coen; the writing, directing, Oscar winning brothers who are responsible for “No Country for Old Men” and many other great movies.

In the interview they mention a process that was used during the silent film era. Apparently, the Hal Roach studio would often employ someone they referred to as a “wildie” at their writers meetings. They would have table readings and discuss ideas. The “wildie” was straight out of the madhouse, and thus would interrupt with inane comments that they tried to entertain seriously.

I absolutely love this. Obviously, it would be considered cruel today. But, the seed of the idea is the same. There are no bad ideas. I can honestly say without exaggeration that the best ideas I’ve ever been a part of have come from horrifically stupid comments or fantastic overstatements. These are not bad ideas. They are the seeds of revolutionary ideas. If you allow yourself to accept them, percolate, and refine them into something truly different, you will have an idea that will inspire people.

So, where else can we find stimulation?

  • Creative meetings - I want to reiterate the original point. When you have a brainstorming session, don’t look for reason why an idea won’t work. Instead, explore how and why it could.
  • Random phrase & word exercise – I’ve worked in a few creative departments where there are internal bets on who could get a ridiculous pre-determined phrase into a commercial. You’d think that this would result in a trite, bitterly misconceived final product. It actually produced some of the most wonderfully creative ideas I’ve ever heard.
  • Conversations – We all have spirited chats with friends about really stupid things. Often they start with “wouldn’t it be cool if...” or “how much would I have to pay you to...” These conversations are goldmines for organic, relatable, just “plain old human” ideas. Write them down. Find a place where they work.
  • Talk to a kid – They have no moral compass, creative disposition, or cultural preconceptions. They are blank canvases of creativity. They can be both brilliant and idiotic at the same time. They also have no understanding of plagiarism. So, steal their ideas today. They won’t even remember! Fools!
  • Turn something upside down – You have a client or you own a business. That business is in an industry/category. Find out who the market leader is in that category. Write down everything that that business is not. Become that.
  • Keep a journal/diary – And then mine that sucker for all it’s worth. You’d be surprised how an average daily experience can be transformed into a fantastic idea simply by sitting in a book for a few years. Marinate your life.
  • Drink booze with friends – That’s a beautiful homework assignment. What you need to do is catalog every conversation you have afterwards. Highlight the breakthroughs, and the points of contention. Any real human experience is a valuable thing.

Never be afraid to let loose your inner “wildie.” Those who keep them contained are doomed to recreate the work of others. Those who embrace the improbable will create the impossible. Thanks Paul!