A long time ago, my screenwriting partner and I were sitting in an office building in West Hollywood, when we were enlisted by our agency to pitch a movie based on a property they represented: the World Series of Beer Pong.

Simple enough, right? But coming up with the idea itself was an excruciating, soul-baring process that took well over a month, and no matter how many games of beer pong we played, I’d lie awake in bed at night wondering how exactly I’d gotten to this moment in my life.

We did eventually come up with a very funny pitch. It didn’t sell, but it was a valuable lesson: sometimes the simplest ideas aren’t all that simple to come up with, much less share.

In this episode of Margins, we dig into the part of the creative process where you begin to vet and share your ideas.

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Try a Little Design Thinking

Chris Conley founded gravitytank, a management consultancy that used design thinking in its work with clients. Since selling gravitytank to Salesforce, Chris has become involved in a variety of endeavors.

Design thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be obvious. As a set of principles, it requires a relentless focus on the user of the solution you’re considering. “You have to go figure out what’s really happening,” he says.

Figuring out if your idea is good like this also requires patience, which Chris isn’t most people’s strong point. “They use existing data or a stereotypical understanding of how the industry works or what customers actually do,” he says. With design thinking principles, “you’re doing a lot of work to solve the right problem, whereas traditionally we’re taught that the problem is presented to us,” he says.

“You have to be a curious, inquisitive person in the beginning to make sense of what’s really happening.”

Find a Way to Test Your Ideas

David Meerman Scott is the author or co-author of multiple books, including “The New Rules of Marketing & PR” and “Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans,” which he co-wrote with his daughter Reiko Scott.

David is a bit of an idea machine. He uses multiple strategies to test out concepts before pushing them out in a big way. “I’ll begin by doing a few tweets about the topic,” he says. If the tweet gets a good amount of engagement, then he blogs about the idea and begins to include it in speeches. This real-time engagement, he says, is effective for fleshing out ideas that can eventually become his books.

For “Fanocracy,” David has been asking people about their own personal fandoms, including presidential candidates. “Pete Buttigieg is a fan of Gershwin,” he says. “And Kamala Harris is a fan of Bob Marley.”

“What I try to do is use the technique I’m writing about to market and promote the book. Because how good is it if you don’t use it yourself?”

Resources Mentioned in This Episode