James Webb Young was an American advertiser, professor, and author of the bestselling book, A Technique for Producing Ideas. Young believed that ideas could be churned out like a 1925 Ford Model T. He wrote, “… the production of ideas, too, runs on an assembly line; that in this production the mind follows an operative technique which can be learned and controlled.”
Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t our lives be much easier if ideas for our blog, social media posts, and sales emails came to us like an assembly line churning out one engine after another?
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. We’ve all been there. We’ve opened up our word document, ready to share our ideas and wisdom with the world, but the words escape us. That little cursor just keeps blinking back at us, our coffee begins to cool on our desks, and our minds remain blank.
Perhaps we do a Google search for “how to come up with blog ideas,” but that only creates more work.
Nobody wants to sort through “93 Tips to Come Up With Blog Ideas” or “189 Creative Blog Post Ideas That Will Delight Your Audience.” More often than not these lists leave us feeling even more exhausted and uninspired than when we began.
The issue with these “lists” and “tips” is that they don’t get to the heart of content creation. They fall victim to the old saying, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
As Young wrote, “What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced; and how to grasp the principles which are at the source of all ideas.”
We don’t need more tactics, we need principles. Tactics force us to wait around for inspiration to strike. Principles give us the frameworks to produce one idea after another. Tactics may give us a fish, but principles teach us to fish.
That is our purpose here: to teach you the principles so that you never run out of blog post ideas again.
Principle 1: Become a Storyteller
In one of the darkest days of a Los Angeles man’s life, he learned that his three-year-old grandson was going to die. His daughter’s boyfriend horrendously beat the small child, and his grandson was to be taken off of life support at 9pm.
The man wanted to fly to Denver to see his grandson one last time. As he rushed to the airport, his wife called Southwest Airlines in hopes of getting him a last minute flight and explained the situation to the Southwest employee.
Unfortunately, traffic en route to LAX caused the man to be late. When he approached the gate, 12-minutes after the scheduled departure, he found the pilot awaiting his arrival. The pilot looked at him and said, “They can’t go anywhere without me, and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”
That’s the power of story. Stories allow us to show what we stand for and how our products and services can help people rather than telling our audience how great we are. Southwest didn’t tell us they had excellent customer service or that they are a team of people who care. We connect those dots from the narrative.
The best part is that stories come up every day in business. Stories of exceptional customer service. Stories of people satisfied with your product or service. Stories of your employees backgrounds and expertise. Your accomplishments, visions, and even failures are stories to share on your blog.
People don’t want more facts and figures. They want to connect with you and your organization, and there is not a more powerful way to do that than through a story.
Become a storyteller by noticing all the events that occur every day and sharing them with your audience. When we make it a practice to scan our environment for stories to share, our well of blog post ideas will never run dry.
What stories can you start telling today?
Principle 2: Capture & Connect Everything
“An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.” – Vilfredo Pareto, Itailian Economist
In 2008 (a decade before Instagram had 1 billion users and daily podcast listeners had 500,000 shows to choose from), Americans consumed 10,845 trillion words.
Information is everywhere, yet coming up with great blog post ideas is still a challenging task. Why?
It’s because ideas don’t come from information alone, but from building connections and relationships between different pieces of information.
Let me explain.
Author and Entrepreneur James Clear has a brilliant definition of creativity. He defines the creative process as “the act of making new connections between old ideas or recognizing relationships between concepts. Creative thinking is not about generating something new from a blank slate, but rather about taking what is already present and combining those bits and pieces in a way that has not been done previously.”
Meaning ideas from your blog can come from anywhere! When you begin connecting new information you learn to your business, products, and customers, you’ll have an endless stream of ideas.
1. Capture The Information
The first step is to ensure that you are capturing enriching information.
Of those trillions of words Americans consume, a majority comes from sources like the news or ESPN.
Begin separating yourself from the majority. Live in a curious way and become fascinated with a wide variety of topics. The more you learn, to wider your reservoir of ideas becomes.
Then capture that information. Write everything down. It doesn’t matter if you use a physical notebook or a digital system like Evernote or Google Drive.
2. Connect The Information
Now that you’re capturing all these new and interesting things, it’s time to connect them back to your business, products and services.
When you learn something new, make it a practice of relating it to things you already know. Can you take lessons from NFL franchises to improve your brand loyalty? Are there lessons in how Harvard runs their classrooms to improve how you run your meetings?
Even better, how can connect information to your audience’s world? Can you describe your product and service with a dating metaphor?
When thinking in connections and relationships becomes a habit, you’ll be stuck by new blog ideas on a daily basis. Anything you consume becomes a springbox for new content, and then all you have to do is share it.
3. Share it.
Share these lessons and insights with your blog audience. Share conventional wisdom in new ways. Take age-old industry concepts and flip them on their head. Your audience will find your novelty refreshing and your competitors will be seen as old school and dry.
The best part is that the more we share, the more feedback we get. By paying attention to your audience’s behavior, you can continue to refine and improve our ideas. What articles do they share with their friends? What comments do they leave on your posts? Which ideas do they consume? Which do they ignore?
For some, this step may be the most difficult. Sometimes in business and life, the problem isn’t the idea, it’s the execution. And for that, we need a process.
Principle 3: Create a Process
Author Stephen King has sold more than 350 million copies of his 50 plus novels. Is King a creative genius? Absolutely. However we can all learn something from his creative process to help ourselves create content over the course of our careers too. King’s secret? Routine.
Around 8am every morning King is at his desk, with a glass of water, and his papers arranged in the exact same way. Just like a bedtime routine, King does the same thing everyday to prepare his mind to create. He says, “The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”
Business and life are busy. Even those of us with the best intentions can end up putting our blogs on the back burner. That’s why most blogs haven’t been updated in years and are sitting out there collecting digital dust. Waiting to write an article until you have time or are feeling inspired is a plan for failure.
What your actual process consists of is less important than actually having one. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekly or daily process. It doesn’t matter if you have a cold glass of water like King or you’re wearing your favorite pair of socks. What does matter is:
- What will you do?
- When will you do it?
- Where will you be?
In one study, researchers asked three groups of people to exercise one time, for 20-minutes over the course of the next week.
The first group was only given the above instructions. They were told what to do, and less than a third of these people complied.
The second group was given the same request, but were given some reasons why exercise is good for you, and about 39% of them exercised.
The third was given a specific day, time, and location to exercise, and 91% of them achieved the exercise goal.
When we lay out what we’ll do, when and where we’ll do it, our chances for success skyrocket, and we separate ourselves from our competition with the most potent differentiator of all: consistency.
What is your process for putting out consistent content?
A sample week might look like this:
Monday, 9-10am, desk: Research and outline this week’s blog post
Tuesday, 9-10am, desk: Write blog post
Wednesday, 9-10am, desk: Edit and publish blog post
Thursday, 9-9:30am, desk: Manage social media comments and discussion
Friday, 9-9:15am, coffee shop: Reflect. What feedback did you receive on the article? How can I improve next week?
Write yours down, and practice sticking to it, and watch as creativity becomes as routine as brushing your teeth.
Principle 4: Be Helpful
As legend has it, at every meeting with the executive team at Amazon, led by CEO Jeff Bezos, sits an empty chair to represent the person that isn’t in the room: Amazon’s customer.
The empty chair is a reminder to filter all ideas through what is best for their customers. It’s a way to change the team’s paradigm. If they are not actively thinking about the customer, ideas may be centered around their ideas, wants, and needs, rather than the customers.
As humans, it’s natural to get bogged down in our own minds. We filter things through our own world. But from a content creation standpoint, we too need to change our paradigm.
As a business, your blog isn’t for you, it’s for your ideal customers. It’s to inform and entertain them. When we change our own thought process from “What should I write about?” to “What is helpful for my customer?” the answers we need will become clear.
If you listen carefully, your customers will help you never run out of blog ideas. What are their wants and needs? What are their pains? What customer service emails begin with, “I wish…”? Pay attention to these moments. Your audience will tell you what to write about.
Help them beyond your product and service. If you sell the finest flower pots west of the Mississippi, you know your customer probably enjoys planting flowers. Can you give them tips to keep their plants alive? Can you interview a soil expert on the best soils to use for certain flowers?
What tips and tricks can you use to help people that might be interested in your product? What problems do your customers write in to the help desk about? How can you give people small wins with your posts? Begin solving your customers problems with your blog for free, and they’ll become paying customers for life.
Adopt these principles you’ll never have to scan 176 tips on Google again. When you change your worldview to scan for stories, connection, and opportunities to help others, and put those ideas into action with a consistent process, you’ll never run out of blog post ideas again.
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