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My guest today is Don the Idea Guy. Based in Columbus, Ohio in the USA, Don is a consultant, author, and speaker. Originally a Graphic Designer, he has been working with independent entrepreneurs and corporations to come up with creative twists on what they are doing for a couple of decades now. Don is best known for his brainstorming but he also helps customers action the ideas if they need help in that area too. In this episode, he shares his process for coming up with ideas, tips on sorting ideas and also many, many great resources.
What you will learn:
• Don’s story
• His process for generating ideas and brainstorming
• Tips for sorting ideas
• Five Buck Brainstorms
• Don’s Super Action League Mastermind
• Suggested resources, including books, people, and apps
Don has always been an ideas person but didn’t think about how to apply that until an employer decided he would make a better salesperson than a graphic designer. After reading The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer, Don took to heart the advice that ‘if you’re not making enough sales, you’re not having enough fun’. Instead of going to try to sell customers the product or service, he went in with an idea and then found this often worked. In bidding situations, because he had given the potential customer an idea for free, it would turn into a sale as they wanted him to execute the idea.
Even though he didn’t want to be in sales, Don has also always been entrepreneurial. He often had side hustles going as a kid. He collected comic books and charged his friends a quarter for membership of his comic book reading club. He also had paper-routes and a job doing telephone sales for the newspaper. Originally Don wanted to be a cartoonist but realised he didn’t really have what it takes to do that full time, so he went into graphic design. However, because of his sales experience in earlier jobs, he asked better questions, and this often led to more sales and more ideas too.
At first brainstorms were just free form. Don would go in blind, talk to a customer on a project and just ask them questions about what they were trying to accomplish, what they did before, and what they have considered doing. The conversation would shift and there was a natural progression toward ‘what iffing’ where Don would just toss out other concepts for them to consider, not fully fleshed out ideas. The process at that point, in the early 2000s, was strictly based on ‘what ifs’, which led Don to writing his first book called ‘100 Whats of Creativity’.
Over time, Don developed a more defined process. He started calling it BeanStorming instead of brainstorming because he would meet people over coffee. There were 7 steps in the beanstorming process, and he became not only an idea guy but an idea ‘barista’. The ‘What if’ book has now evolved from the original one and is available in paperback and on Kindle. It’s been used in university classes, in everything from creative writing to engineering. Kraft Foods even had it translated into French and sent it to their product development team!
Don’s process for brainstorming ideas
The thing that gives people trouble is not just how to come up with the idea but then picking one. Don emphasizes that coming up with the idea should be completely separated from evaluating the idea because they’re two separate processes. If you’re coming up with a concept and then stop to decide if it’s good or bad at that point, you just stopped the creative flow right there. Brainstorming is coming up with masses of ideas, good ones, bad ones, impossible ones, ones that are way too expensive or super cheap, and totally ridiculous ones. Just come up with the ideas.
Don’s line is: ‘I come up with more good ideas because I come up with more bad ideas than most people.’ Once you come up with a mass of ideas, then you can start to sort them. Don’t consider them good or bad, they’re ideas can use now or ideas should save for later. Sort your ideas by ‘now’ and ‘later’, and then have ideas that are short term and easy, vs long term or more difficult to put into action.
Tips for sorting ideas
Don uses Moleskin notebooks and things like Evernote for idea archiving. When actually brainstorming, he records it digitally (either via a Skype session or using a phone) and then transcribes the ideas. If you have to stop to catch up with the note taking, it breaks the flow, so he insists on always recording things with every client. Once it’s time to sort the ideas, they all go onto sticky notes on a whiteboard, or in a digital task list. The ideas that don’t get chosen go into the notebook or Evernote for referring back to later if need be.
Everything in the physical world has a digital match, and Don finds it useful to go back and forth between the physical and the digital lists. For sorting, Don prefers the physical list because he finds there is something in the physical action of taking a concept from one column and putting it into another. He loves to use yellow sticky notes with one single task on each one. As the project moves along, the sticky notes can go into different columns. However, searching for ideas is hard on paper lists. If you can type the lists up as well, you can use the search function later, but also while you’re typing you can think to evaluate and add notes as you go. There is no one right way and Don suggests using the process and tools that work for you at the time.
The Five Buck brainstorm
Don has always found it difficult to explain what he does for a living, and he gives away a lot of brainstorms because he finds people understand ‘professional brainstorm consultant’ much more through experience than explanation. The $5 brainstorms started out as a Fiverr project, where instead of charging $200 for a one-hour brainstorm, Don charged $5 for 15 mins to come up with 12 ideas. Then he began selling the list of a dozen ideas on different topics. For example, “A dozen ideas to use Blab for sales and marketers,” “Ideas for non-profits to generate donations and volunteers.” Don sold them as one-offs on Fiverr, as sample brainstorms, but eventually decided to build his own site around it.
It’s a low-cost membership site where for a monthly or annual subscription you can access those brainstorms and collections of ideas on general topics. It’s a lower point of entry for people who are interested in new ideas, and a nice practice for Don’s habit of coming up with ideas on random topics. Some topics are submitted by people but most are Don’s own ideas. The most popular was ‘What Sales People Should Do After They Lose a Sale.”
Super Action League Mastermind
Don has started a mastermind called Super Action League. It’s not like other masterminds with planned lessons to work through, but more like what Don was looking for himself in a mastermind. It’s a more free-form and custom application, working on specific problems together. Being known as The Idea Guy, people sometimes commented that ideas are nothing without action. Don has always agreed with that and offered services to help with that, but it was the idea generation he highlighted and was known for. This mastermind helps balance it out and highlight the action-taking side of things. It’s a beta program at the moment, and small by design. The group has a Slack channel and gets together regularly through Zoom video conferencing. In 6 months they’ve put into action and launched 4 ideas that participants can earn revenue off while they’re doing their day jobs and developing other ideas.
Don’s other projects
Big Yellow Sticky Big ideas written on yellow pieces of paper.
Yellow sticky guides are also available – Yellow Sticky Guide to Giving
Yellow Sticky Guide to Done
Creative Blocks Club
a subscription service with collections of creative catalyst delivered each month
Don also speaks at events
Mentors have been important resources for Don. Although most of his mentors have been virtual, he has been fortunate enough to meet many of them in person. He says it’s a matter of finding somebody’s voice that appeals to you and who has ideas that you think could action. Don’s include Jeffrey Gitomer, Anthony Iannarino, Seth Godin and Chris Brogan. Even though they’re not around anymore, he also includes Walt Disney, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin and Nikolas Tesla as mentors.
- The book The Sales Bible and the email newsletter Sales Caffeine by Jeffrey Gitomer
- The only sales guide you’ll ever need by Anthony Iannarino
- The Idea Virus by Seth Godin
- The books Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants by Roger von Oech, and the associated apps
- How to Jump Start Your Brain by Doug Hall
- Don has used apps such as BrainSparker, OFlow, Obliquely and Spark. Also Slack, Things, Zoom, Google Docs, Evernote, and Trello. And of course, yellow sticky notes!
- James Altucher, come up with 10 ideas on any topics every day.
Don says all you need is triggers to spark your creativity. You can choose a random word or random image or question and go down a rabbit hole. The people who still see it as wizardry think it’s so beyond the realm of their skills that they don’t try. People feel it’s more difficult than it really is. Some people are better at creativity and coming up with ideas than others, and a lot of it is practice.
Find more about Don
You can find out more about Don, and the links to all his other sites, at www.dontheideaguy.com