Something From The Idea Factory: Red Velvet Funnel Cake


As an agency responsible for continuously generating fresh and innovative ideas, uncovering news ways to keep a team motivated and inspired is critical. Often times we don’t have the luxury of sustained creative development and are put to task by clients who want to see their problems solved thru multiple lenses. And given the speed by which we need to land on a solution, it is easy for process to fall by the wayside.

Cartoon by Matthew Diffee.

Matthew Diffee, the hilarious, deliciously smart cartoonist for The New Yorker takes a simplistic approach to generating ideas—he “thinks of them.” In his presentation, How to be an Idea Factory, he purports that there are three influences: you, your environment and your process. While most creative types would agree that having the right mindset, valuing uniqueness and possessing a level of curiosity are core to the job, Mr. Diffee believes in order to be successful in generating ideas, one must have a thick skin. In fact, what can kill a potentially brilliant idea (enter red velvet funnel cake) the fastest is self doubt. Why would you eat fried dough when you can eat red fried dough?

Also important to effectual ideation is being in the right place at the right time. These days, it can be hard to unplug and get those creative juices going. Mr. Diffee recommends making it easy to start and to “generally do something bad before.” He astutely points out that sleeping is awesome so if one does their best work in the morning consider doing a daily task one might find tedious (Diffee does the dishes) prior to beginning the process.

An example of Matthew Diffee’s idea process.

When faced with thinkers block, it is important to recognize the signs and reframe the problem—alter the approach, change the deliverable, get new inputs. Heck, put in constraints or bring in a lifeline. Diffee proposes simple steps for getting in the zone. He calls it “flipping the funnel” and in this case the funnel is upending one’s focus. In his words, “you’re not doing it right if you’re not drooling” and when the “tasty batter has run out,” lift that funnel and flip it. Set up the problem and then add to it, subtract from it, invert it, mash it up a bit.

Diffee advances ten rules to follow when developing creative ideas. Since everyone loves a top ten list, here it goes. Stay clear of ideas that are:

  1. Too lowbrow
  2. Too politically incorrect
  3. Too dark
  4. Too weird
  5. Too political
  6. Too difficult to get
  7. Too dumb
  8. Too bad
  9. Too dirty
  10. All of the above

Matthew Diffee believes that we all have the ability to be creative and to deny that is akin to denying we’re human. He also believes that 90% of ideas are bad ones, and that in order to deal with the rejection one will undoubtedly face, assume most ideas aren’t as good as they could be. It’s the continual questioning and “sudden cession of stupidity” that spawn good creative ideas. And once we’ve acknowledged we’re all inherently creative, we can tear down those barriers and realize that those road blocks are truly just in our own heads.

Why would you eat fried dough when you can eat red fried dough?

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