How To Come Up With A Wonderful Idea (According To OK Go)

June 6, 2017

I came across a TED Talk a couple of weeks ago, given by OK Go, about how to come up with a wonderful idea. OK Go, for those who do not know, are best known for their absurdly elaborate viral music videos that include dancing on treadmills, singing and dancing in a zero gravity plane (“vomit comet”), and a half-mile-long Rube Goldberg machine. All of these videos have garnered millions of views on Youtube and have made OK Go a household name across the world.

The TED Talk addresses the question, “How do you come up with your ideas?” Lead singer Damian Kulash answers this question by saying he feels like they don’t so much think of the ideas – they find them.

This seems like a copout answer until you hear him further explain what he means. It is not that they are lucky enough to stumble upon and “find” viral idea after viral idea, but that they are consciously putting themselves in circumstances to line up disparate pieces of information to find that perfect idea. When these pieces finally line up, it is not so much that they thought of the idea, but that the idea was always there, and they just lined up the pieces. The ideas that they want to find all need to be tied together by the theme of surprise, and this need for surprising ideas makes the process to get from idea to video a little different than the typical brainstorm-to-activation process.

We as budget-conscious service-providers want to give clients the most bang for their buck and also ensure their program’s success. We brainstorm, plan, revise, send to clients, revise again, test and then execute. This process helps ensure success, but can also lower the amount of truly surprising ideas that get from ideation to execution. Ideas that are both surprising and sure to succeed are extremely rare and hard to find. OK Go has invested in putting themselves in situations in which these one-in-a-million ideas happen a little more frequently. Instead of planning and revising their dance routine in a zero gravity plane before going up in one, they spent a third of their budget to rent one for a week to play around until they found their idea.

I am by no means suggesting that we spend a third of our clients’ money on renting a “vomit comet,” but what I think we can learn from OK Go is that surprising, groundbreaking work is rare. Even more rare is groundbreaking work that survives six rounds of revisions. To create groundbreaking work, we have to find clients and projects that trust enough to play in the sandbox of great ideas. Only then will we be able to find the ideas that surprise and delight as much as dancing on treadmills.

Watch OK Go’s Ted Talk here.