Sitting down to write an article can be a daunting task. Where do you start? How do you organize it? Even if you have a great story idea, how do you make it interesting or write about it in a way that hasn’t been done before? According to Kapost, 99% of content marketers see the need for a constant and steady stream of ideas as crucial to content marketing. However, only half of marketers report having enough ideas to fuel their content marketing needs. Marketers feel as though they are rehashing the same topics over and over, coming up with stale ideas and writing about things from the same old angles. So how do we find new ways of coming up with unique story angles?
The term lateral thinking came about in the 1960s when Edward de Bono coined it as a way to describe how writers come up with new ideas by looking at problems in a different way. This ability to glean a different perspective on the same old problems is a pivotal part of content ideation, and being tasked with consistently producing interesting and relevant content. It requires pushing yourself to think in completely new ways about story topics in order to come up with fresh content that keeps your readers engaged.
You might, as most humans are, be used to seeing things in terms of binary choices – one option over the other; but inventive ideas lie beyond this assumption that you have to make the immediate choice between the two given options. From Aristotle arguing that the world is round to Einstein’s discovery of the theory of relativity, history has proven that creative breakthroughs generally occur when people employ lateral thinking.
Great artists have, historically, changed the world of art forever by breaking the rules. Modern art continues to smash the rules of perspective, color and proportion and technology is doing the same thing. Think about the way Picasso rendered objects and people in his antiwar works, like Guernica, or how Dali decided to paint clocks as droopy objects that wilt and melt to depict memory. When we examine the huge breakthroughs, inventions and solutions that have come about in history, we see the same pattern of broken rules again and again. Even though our default setting is linear thinking, we can overcome that instinct and train ourselves to think more laterally to come up with new content and story ideas even in seemingly bleak moments.
One of the easiest ways to employ lateral thinking is by using random words to brainstorm. In his book Thinkertoys, Michael Michalko suggests introducing a random idea or word and seeing how it relates to your story. Brainstormer is a great iPhone app that provides random word prompts to help writers get more creative. For example, if you’re writing a story about using Google tools for keywords, you can use a random word, picture or even sound to open your mind to new ways of thinking about it. The idea is not to directly solve your problem using the random word, but to employ the random word to help your mind start thinking in different directions.
Stating the Conventions
Lateral thinking means that you have to get out of the frame of mind of thinking about a problem in the usual ways. One of the best ways to do this is to force yourself to think about it in the most typical way. Ask yourself how the situation would normally be dealt with or handled and map out the most obvious and straightforward answers to the problem. Once you have these laid out you can ask yourself what you would do if you couldn’t go forth on one of these paths. The only routes left are the lateral, less conventional ones.
Ask a Different Question
Sometimes the question itself is the issue. If you’re trying to create content with a question in mind, reframing the question or asking a completely different question, can be a helpful way to look at the problem. As de Bono suggests, if you’re presented with the option of going through one of three doors, instead of asking “Which one should I go through?,” you could ask “Do I go through any of them?”
Start With the Answer
When we’re mapping out story ideas, we often get into a pattern of looking at the issue as a means to and end. We might think in terms of how we can talk about make a city more energy efficient when what we really should be asking ourselves is how we can renewably generate a certain amount of energy. Starting with the answer can often lead to huge breakthroughs simply by reframing the question in new and unique ways.
In order to come up with new story ideas that feel fresh and scintillating, we have to break down assumptions and find new ways of thinking about things. Even though the new solutions might be super simple, the path to getting there can take a little bit more work than we might expect. But the combination of hard work and the consistent practice of lateral thinking can lead to great things – like keeping and building a thoroughly engaged audience.