[Programming note: I wrote this post yesterday but misconfigured my email provider and it didn’t go out – apologies!]
In my recent post on the common slogan, “Making the complex simple”, I offered a worksheet that gives you a process for creating something better.
The worksheet itself is a good example of what you might call a structured idea board, where you arrange an array of solutions to see how they look against one another. And come up with more ideas in the process.
What’s also useful is an unstructured idea board: a place to gather facts, feelings, faces, studies, articles, books, pictures, art, reports, research, etc. – things not equivalent to one another… but related.
The challenge is this: how extremely different can two elements be while still being connected in some way? That’s where you find creative, original ideas that have economic value.
You might use an unstructured idea board in your work? If so, let me know what name you use for it.
Look at all the names others have come up with:
- idea chart
- organizational chart
- flow chart
- mind map
- org chart
- entity-relationship model
- link diagram
- graphic organizing chart
- concept map
- relationship chart
- “connect the deaths”
- “the big board”
- crazy wall
- murder board
- working wall
- cork board
- idea board
Just looking at these names is thought-provoking.
Practical advantages of the unstructured idea board
At the most basic level, an idea board lets you identify what you are missing – what you need to complete your work.
I find images, for example, to be extremely helpful for developing writing ideas – not to use in the content but to think about the subject differently.
Take a look at the “Writing Ideas” idea board splayed out across my 27-inch iMac:
At a glance, I can see which of my writing ideas lacks an image.
I can also see which writing ideas lack research.
I know for example, that the “Dolphins see new things with their left eye” article idea was inspired by a conversation I had with someone about a research study on dolphins, in which they were observed to use their right eye to look at familiar objects and their left eye to look anything new. So I need to go track that down – and probably something else besides it.
But that’s “low-level” practical stuff.
What’s big-level stuff that goes into an idea board? Emotions. At least in marketing.
For marketing ideation, get emotions on your whiteboard
I don’t know how police detectives use idea boards, but marketing runs on emotions, even when you’re selling software and technical services.
Because strong emotions are right next to strong business problems – and that’s where the money is. Or the impact, depending on your perspective.
A useful piece of digital-era marketing advice is to find where your customers complain. A few places to look online:
- Facebook Groups
- LinkedIn Groups
- Google Groups
- Twitter hashtags
- LinkedIn hashtags
- Instagram hashtags
- Slack communities
- Discord servers
- Software support forums
(Protip: pay special attention to that last one… even if you’re not in software)
That list might get you to where your customers reveal their emotions, so look for words like:
- can’t stand
- so sick of
And you should have some powerful messaging – and ideas – to use in your marketing.
There are even emotional patterns in my own aforementioned idea board on writing ideas.
For example, the phrasing of many of my writing ideas follows this pattern: Why [something] is bullshit. Or some other strong negative.
While I might not use that word to title my content, it’s a signifier – that I feel deeply about something and I should explore it more. At the moment I first made the note, probably on my phone’s Google Keep app, I felt pretty strongly about the issue. Expanding the note into a piece of content has to do with getting in touch with where I was emotionally when I made the note.
In fact, my post about how to do a brainstorming meeting – began with this note: “Why Brainstorming is Bullshit”.
Strong emotions should drive your marketing strategy, messaging, copy – everything.
Idea boards tell your brain how to organize
Mapping your thoughts to an idea board will shape your thinking instead of letting it be shaped by your environment. 
When I took a studio drawing class in university, the teacher instructed students not to hold the pen the default way. Why not? To prevent your thinking from following the same old regular neural patterns reinforced by holding a pen to make words or doodles. 
It is the same with idea boards – if you don’t make your own, you’ll end up using the three common defaults: your desktop and its folders (real and digital), Word/Google docs, and spreadsheets.
And you’ll take in information the same old way as if you were checking a bank statement.
Imagine yourself taking on the task of launching a 3-month marketing campaign: let’s say you are going to do some combination of LinkedIn content, LinkedIn outreach, landing pages on your site, and remarketing.
And let’s say you want that campaign to go well – and you want to supply it with a steady drip of good ideas. Instead of being the typical hack job that results in worthless LinkedIn-spam.
To be clear, in content marketing – which is what my sample idea board above is used for, there is no substitute for actually creating the content, doing the work.
But it’s hard work… so why not make it a little easier on yourself.
Let me know how it goes.
 I can’t irrefutably back up that assertion with science, though I could cherry-pick a half dozen published studies. But the broad popularity of idea boards in one form or another is a testament to their effect on your brain. Long before the discipline of neuroscience existed, philosophers used the term plasticity to describe the effect of habits and environment on thinking.
“Some natures are distinguished by plasticity or the power of acquisition, and therefore realize more closely the saying that man is a bundle of habits”- Alexander Bain, The Emotions and The Will, 1859
 Studio drawing is the practice of learning to see. You draw
an object or a person placed before you what you see – exactly what you see: lines, planes, curves, lightness, and darkness, etc. And in the process, you notice more than you ever would otherwise. That’s why self-portrait work is transformative. The point for idea boarding is: make your brain take in information in a new way.