When I started this little thing called Ideasicle five years ago this month it was with a germ of an idea, faith in the power of creativity, and the blind optimism of an entrepreneur.

It’s an idea that stripped away the normal agency requirements of, well, an agency (the building), the overhead, the salaries (except mine), even the execution of our ideas. Ideasicle would be new kind of idea generating machine that was better than crowdsourcing, nimbler than advertising agencies, and faster than freelancers.

Like most business endeavors, it didn’t start out perfectly. And I’d wager a business around something as intangible as creativity can never attain perfection. But one thing I know is that Ideasicle is powerful.

To celebrate our fifth birthday, I’m sharing the top five lessons we’ve learned:

  1. Four Experts is our magic number.

  2. Mixing perspectives makes ideation exponential.

  3. More ideas are better.

  4. Less time accelerates ideation (to a point).

  5. We can solve and inspire and that’s ok.

Now, grab your party hat and let’s dig into these five insights.

1. Four is our magic number.

When I first started experimenting with Ideasicle, I threw every Expert I had recruited onto each assignment. I believe it was around 8 or 9 Experts at the time. Big mistake.

These Experts, though their identities were concealed from the public, knew who each other were. And we are talking top tier creative talent. If they hadn’t met, trust me they knew who each other was by reputation.

Well, with that many people working virtually on an assignment (I think our first was for Pete’s Wicked Ale), everyone was naturally holding back, clamming up, waiting for the perfect idea to post so they wouldn’t embarrass themselves. 

As you can imagine, this dynamic created an idea log jam. We got some good ideas, but there was very little riffing and building between the team members.

What I discovered was that riffing and building is the magic of Ideasicle. Through experimentation we worked it down to four Experts per assignment and the riffing and building was unleashed. It’s small enough so no apprehension. But big enough to get enough perspective.

Speaking of which...

2. Mixing perspectives is exponential.

At first, I only recruited “official” creative people to be Ideasicle Experts. You know, creative directors, art directors, writers, conceptual designers. But then we started getting projects that required strategic thinking or specializations like PR stunts, retail marketing, mobile app ideas, and the like.

So I started adding Experts who were highly creative, number one, but who also had a particular expertise they could bring to certain assignments. And an interesting thing happened.

I started using those specialists on assignments that did not relate to their expertise to see what would happen. 

Turns out, having four different perspectives increases the quality of the creative output. Makes sense if you think about it. Whereas most agencies use a writer/art director team (2 perspectives), I started assembling teams of four that included two creatives, an expert on the assignment (PR, retail, digital, etc.), and then a wild card. 

The “wild card” would bring a perspective to the assignment that would keep the ideation fresh, inspire the other three with new ways of thinking, and generally speaking make the session exponential.

3. More ideas are better.

Back in my traditional-agency days, I was in the camp of presenting clients 2-3 ideas against the brief with a strong recommendation. More often than not, however, the client wanted to see more ideas.

We would crack to each other, “This client won’t know what they want until they see it.”

Well, I quickly learned that Ideasicle, being an idea-generating machine - I mean, seriously, we come up with 50 or 60 ideas for each assignment - could take advantage of this “quirk” in human nature. 

Instead of getting all precious and presenting 2-3 ideas like most agencies, we presented 10 or 12 or 15. And an amazing thing happened. With the landscape of ideas before them, clients were able to articulate much more clearly what they liked and what they didn’t like.

Clients aren’t flawed. They’re just human.

As such, our clients become part of our creative process. We added another round to our standard offering (two total), so that we could take advantage of the far more articulate feedback in our second round. 

Round one is like buckshot. Round two is like a rifle.

More ideas are better.

4. Less time accelerates (to a point).

I can remember working at a traditional agency and we’d brief the creative team on an assignment, we’d have two weeks until the presentation, and the team wouldn’t start it until a couple days before.

It wasn’t their fault. They had other stuff to work on. But it seemed dysfunctional to me.

For every Ideasicle assignment, we take no more than one week per round of intense ideation. We can do it in less time - I’ve turned around ten killer ideas for an advertising agency client in 24hours - but I don’t even ask for more time than a week.

Creativity requires attention to the problem. When the time is crunched to a week, the team knows they have to pay attention and participate or it will be over. 

The more compressed the ideation, the more riffing and building happens in a shorter amount of time. That accelerates the entire process.

Clients love how fast we are, which is nice, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

5. We solve and inspire.

About two years into this experiment, I noticed something interesting. At first, it put me off, but then I realized it wasn’t a bad thing at all.

That is, often we would present two rounds of ideas, it would go incredibly well, it would look like the client was ready to roll on one or two ideas and then...they would have a new idea and go with that instead.

I would call to inquire and the client would say things like, “You made us think about our problem so differently and as a result we came up with X (insert idea here).” This reaction is particularly prevalent with our ad agency clients, but also many of our in-house agency clients. 

Here’s an actual quote from Bridget O’Brien, VP of Brand, Communications & Creative at Vistaprint, about her experience with Ideasicle: “It wasn’t so much outsourcing ideas as it was importing inspiration. The Ideasicle process virtually guarantees large doses of speedy inspiration. The rest is up to us.”

Now, I actually get excited when our ideas inspire new ideas in our clients. 

So there you have it. Five years. Five insights. I’ve never had so much fun in my life. 

Here’s to the lessons we learn in the next five years.

Big thank you to all of our clients who took a chance with Ideasicle in these five years: 

The Dallas Morning News, Holland Mark, Constant Contact, Vistaprint, CVS, Control4, LInkedIn, Staples, Godfrey Advertising, On The Border, Reebok, Cognition, Juice Pharma, Chevy, Allen & Gerritsen, The New York Times, Warner Music Group, AMD, The Boston Globe, Brand USA, Saranac Beer, MMB Advertising, North Advertising, Baldwin&, Ames Scullin O'Haire, RK Connect, White Rhino, Pete’s Wicked Ale, RR Donnelley, Carpet One, Hay Group, Localytics, Nucleus Scientific, Peter Mayer Advertising, Brand USA, Full Screen, High West Whiskey, Mechanica Advertising, LogMeIn, Miranda Technologies, Second Time Around.