Binning the boring and the bad (Mistake #104)

Some examples of boring ideas:

* Me and My Beauty Routine – for a glossy women’s magazine
* The NHS is Wonderful – for the Guardian
* “I love Dogs” – for a dog magazine

These are just terrible. When I see something like this I don’t tell the student they’re terrible, but I do tell them they’re a bit dull, and try to get them to find the idea within the idea, or to approach a specific aspect of the subject from an unusual angle. “Something different!” I implore. Originality is important. You need something an editor will have not come across or considered before. Something that you can’t recall seeing in the publication concerned, but that you’re sure would be relevant and interesting to the readership.

“Cats, you say?”

Some do so, and, either quite soon or eventually, come up with a brilliant idea. But a few do something even more amazing. They do a 180 degree about turn and offer something like these instead:

* An anti-cosmetics rant / investigation – for a glossy women’s magazine.
* Junior Doctors are Lazy – for the Guardian.
* “On balance, I prefer cats really” – for a dog magazine.

I am prepared to be proven wrong (go for it!), but I’d say these are bad ideas. Why? Working backwards: because a dog magazine is about dogs, because the Guardian is a left-leaning paper and even the Mail might baulk at that idea, and – this one may not seem obvious – because glossy women’s magazines rely on lucrative advertising by beauty houses to pay their bills, and would never bite the hand that feeds.

Now. All that said, these bad ideas can be useful stepping stones to super ideas. This ‘stepping stone’ suggestion is inspired by a brilliant book by Edward de Bono – Po: Beyond Yes and No, which argues for a lateral thinking technique where what might seem like something bad or ridiculous can actually be a useful stepping stone to something exceptional.

The po-ssibilities are endless

So what if we treated those bad ideas, which have come from inverted boring ideas, to the ‘Po’ treatment?

* A profile of three women who learned their trade at the top beauty houses – but then left – perhaps frustrated and under-appreciated – to set up their own cosmetic business.
* A profile of a junior doctor who admits he was lazy, but changed his ways – perhaps thanks to a shocking wake-up call (near death?).
* An article giving advice to dog-and-cat owners, for various situations (if their animals are no longer getting along, if they find themselves suddenly ‘favouring’ one over the other eg).

Although I’ve mentally covered a few of the steps to get there, in order to keep this Mistake short I’ve skipped a few, I hope you’ll be able to recognise elements of the bad ideas in the much better ideas after a few mental steps. You could carry on from these ideas, taking further stepping stones, changing different elements, not worrying if you lapse into ‘bad’ territory, until you get to something really good.

Boring, inverted to bad, stepping to good. Give it a go.

Comments 5

  • "The Po-ssibilities …" Was that your first idea for a caption? 😉 Looks an interesting book. Another one to add to the reading pile. Mind you, there are some expensive second hand copies out there.

  • I think it was my first idea for a caption, yes … you've po-plexed me, with that, Whaley! I need to dig out my old copy (moved two years ago, almost, and still there are unopened boxes … ), but am sure you can find it in a charity shop, which is where I got mine!

  • A very po-sitive post (see what I did there?!). It can be difficult to come up with fresh ideas for editors – especially something they haven't seen or thought if before – new angles, thinking outside of the box are good if you can manage it. Off to think if a few ideas for pitches while I'm in the mood.

  • Striking while the iron's hot! Wish my iron were hot more often on a Friday afternoon …

  • I wouldn't get too excited, Alex. It appears my iron was not quite as hot on a Friday afternoon as I would have liked it! Nothing doing, I'm afraid – but I am working on it.

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