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The Demystification of Idea Generation

by Mike Heronime  |  
May 29, 2007

An advertising campaign or marketing program is only as good as the idea driving it. Unfortunately, ideas can often seem like intangible, elusive specters that are difficult to capture and perhaps even more difficult to conjure.

"Where do your ideas come from?" It's a question constantly being asked of writers and artists. Usually, the answer to the question is a quip. A dodge. A sniff at the poor, unimaginative troll who dared waste the creative person's time by assuming that one could possibly understand the artist's muse.

Science fiction author Roger Zelazny once responded to this question by telling a teenager that the Journal of Crazy Ideas is published quarterly in Schenectady, New York. He went on to suggest that members of the Science Fiction Writers of America can use any of the ideas published in the Journal as their own—Zelazny's explanation for why two different writers will often have the same idea in different stories.

Then there are less abrasive responses that connect the source of ideas to inspiration: nature, friends, other artists, music, and sex—just to name a few.

Harvey Pekar got all of his ideas from his own life. He started focusing on his own pathetic existence with a new purpose in mind and translated what he saw into an underground comic titled "American Splendor" (which, incidentally, became an HBO film that won top honors at Sundance and Cannes in 2003).

But what moved Harvey from a schmuck to a creative genius was not the source of his ideas. It was the re-examination of his surroundings with a new sense of purpose. For Harvey, life was no longer something to fight, it was something to admire. And study. And the more mundane it was, the more it moved him to write.

Numerous people have studied the process that creative people go through to develop their ideas. Most of these students of creativity agree that ideas come from a subconscious process that takes two relatively unassociated thoughts and combines them together to produce a new thought—a new idea.

In the case of Harvey, it was all of the energy that he had been putting into searching for an idea for a comic book (comic book concepts: thought number one) colliding with all of his anxiety and depression about his life (pathetic loser: thought number two) producing the great idea: a comic book about his pathetic life as a loser.

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Mike Heronime is new media strategist for Numantra (, an integrated marketing and advertising services company. Reach him at

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