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I was lucky enough to start my marketing career at BBDO, a storied Madison Avenue agency. While the agency had long abbreviated the names of the original partners, we learned that they were messrs. Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn. We’ll come back to Alex Osborn, a true giant in the industry by the 1940s, because his breakthroughs still inform how we should think as marketers today.

But first, what’s happening?  With all the tools and techniques at our disposal now, if we’re not careful marketing can become mechanical – unitized and processed. Think about it…

The post.

The release.

The ad “unit.”

The creative “assets.”

The event.

The e-blast.

The landing page.

The dashboard.

CTAs and CTRs (pretty important, BTW)

And so on.

In the heat of pushing out and standing up the elements of our programs, we have to remember the principal undergirding that will build brands: creative ideas that move people.

How do we return there? That’s where Alex Osborn comes in.

In addition to running an agency, Osborn was intensely curious about the nature of creativity. Creativity in this context means far beyond the artful and clever.

It means idea and solution generation. Specifically, solving for unknown answers rather than established answers to problems, something many smart people can do. In fact, the truly creative person used divergent thinking – the ability to fathom and shape many solutions to a problem – a conclusion that Osborn verified through research on patents awarded over the years (divergent thinkers earned more patents).

In essence, a volume of ideas (even if a few are stinkers) will yield the most winners, especially when built upon by team members. Osborn went on to develop and coin the modern concept of “brainstorming.” Yep, that was him.

So how is your organization using divergent thinking to form big ideas? Challenge your team to break away from the routine of the marketing function and be sure the ideas are there. Lead with rigor.

This is not volume for volume’s sake, it’s about a process of thinking to get to the very strongest idea. A simple, tough question we like to ask ourselves is, “is this program going to turn heads or spark a movement?” If it’s not bold enough thinking born of an immersive process of divergent thinking, it probably won’t.

Step back this week and encourage your team to think about the big picture goal and whether the ideas they are generating (within the increasingly mechanical aspects of a marketing program) have the power to move people. Then, encourage divergent thinking. You’ll be amazed by what it can yield, and at how much better you’ll connect with your audiences.