Getting Creative: The Idea Burn

In 1926, psychologist Graham Wallas outlined the basic creative process, which has been the overall framework for understanding and fostering creativity for almost a century. The Wallas process can be outlined in four general stages:

  1. Preparation: loading up your mind to be creative
  2. Inspiration/Insight: the process of generating ideas
  3. Incubation: the process of refining and iterating ideas
  4. Verification: the process of validating ideas

In our last post on creativity, we looked at four different methods for generating ideas, from lateral thinking and perspective shifting to concept porting and conflict creation. Let’s look at the actual process of creating the ideas now. For this exercise, you’ll want to be alone with the idea recording method(s) that work best for you.


One of the most important things in my personal experience when it comes to idea generation is understanding when it’s time to bring in other people and when it’s time to tackle idea generation by yourself. If you work in an environment where there are no strong personalities and no hidden interpersonal conflicts, then you can jump into group idea generation immediately.

If, however, you work in an environment where there are one or more dominant personalities (what I jokingly refer to as the HIPPO: the highest individually paid person’s opinion) or lurking interpersonal conflicts, then group idea creation is a bad place to start. In situations and environments where you have less than ideal circumstances, group dynamics can suppress ideas rather than let them flow. If you have especially shy coworkers, you’ll definitely want to start with solo idea creation so that those individuals can have the opportunity to create as many ideas as possible before facing a group.

To do the idea burn, there’s a simple method called a 3 x 3 x 3. Using the timer on your wearable technology, smartphone, computer, or just a clock, mark a 3 minute period where you will do nothing else except capture idea fragments. These can be words, phrases, bullet points, audio recordings, doodles, etc. but the goal is to generate as many idea fragments as possible in a 3 minute time period. Do whatever you need to do to get out as many ideas, and when you get stuck, use the techniques from the previous post to get yourself unstuck.

Once you have your compilation of ideas, identify 3 of them that you think are the strongest. Set your clock for another 3 minutes and expand on those 3 ideas as much as you can, creating as many details as possible about each of your ideas. When you’re done, you should have enough ideas and 3 in-depth ideas that you can then take to a group meeting or to the next stage of idea generation, incubation (in the next post in this series).

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

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Posted on December 17, 2013 in Creative, Strategy

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
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