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David Guerrero on his Cannes Master Class on crap ideas

You have to go through a lot of crap to get to a good idea.

If you don’t know how to do something pretend to be someone who does – so says Neil Gaiman. Or as I rephrased it: If you’re crap at something pretend to be someone who isn’t. I was sent a video of myself giving this talk on a previous occasion. And decided I needed to do some homework. One of the tips I googled was that it was more important to connect with the audience than anything else. So look at the people not at your notes. Good thing was I knew the content well. So I had to learn the sequence, remember what to say and concentrate on looking at the audience. 

The first question was of course whether there would be an audience at all. I’d put up some posters in the Palais. And, encouragingly perhaps, they disappeared. It was either some eager fans or some very efficient cleaners. Luckily there were enough people there to make it worthwhile. And I manage to get our idea across – that you need lots of ‘crap’ ideas to get to a good one. This is underpinned by Sturgeon’s law: that 90% of everything is crap. The upside is that 10% of everything is not crap. So that the ‘more crap you do the better you get.’ It’s something to encourage you when staring at a blank sheet of paper.

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It takes just as much time to produce a crap idea as a good one. So how do we make sure that the work we are doing is the best we can manage? I argue it is by spending more time at the beginning of the process. 

The best work is uniquely tailored and can fit no other client. It can only come from a thorough examination of all the alternatives. It can also only come from an environment where ideas are not being pre-judged and killed off too quickly. And it can only happen when then you need to come back and judge them objectively. And finally you need to refine the idea to the greatest possible extent you can.

So I get through all that – and show some examples of our work – including tourism, Unselfie and Pantene. The latter two had just won prizes at the festival so that was good. And finally I take people through our ‘crap idea generator’ an online tool at www.crapideas.com that allows you to generate a lot of ideas quickly and break through predictable barriers. 

We crowdsource a problem and then we end up with ‘how do you stop people from leaving the tap on when they brush their teeth.’ And then we give away lots of prizes – books, and some of the remaining posters. Was it in the top 10% of festival masterclasses? Who knows. But it was fun to do. And preparing for it taught me something in any case.

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