Rule #1: Assume nothing

Rule #1: Assume nothing

Given the luxury, I will sit around and wait for it.

Something will get my attention, like my eyebrows, which I will diligently proceed to pluck, or, God forbid, some Youtube title from the usual suspects (John Oliver, Wisecrack, Peaceful Cuisine or the Nerdwriter. Chanel, too, I’m not ashamed to say. I may end up with perfect make-up on a day I have no meetings, and that’s just fine.)

Sometimes, this will pour out of me. Sometimes it just drips, Chinese style, like some perverse hide and seek routine. Either way, I will need to pace myself.

If this doesn’t sound in the least familiar, think of your last presentation deadline.

Did you get a slice of the elephant done each day or did you gulp it all the night before? And how did you work your mind into it?

Maybe this will help. Smarter people than me have done it.

Book time to stare at the wall. Have a pad and pen ready. Eventually, a thought will cross your mind.

It might happen in an hour, but it might not. (I mean, for real, book me for an hour and I’ll have 10 ideas. Sometimes, one may be it, but can I guarantee that? Here’s what I can guarantee, who guarantees it is bs-ing you. Because you just don’t know. But you will get something, that’s for sure. And something takes you somewhere. I’m not channeling the Cheshire cat, I promise. I’ve just done this for a while.)

Back to the wall. It can get excruciating, and I totally understand why you would want to walk away from it. And by all means do, if you can. Outsource it to the likes of me.

But since we’re not faking it here, let me tell you, there’s no way you can outsource all of it. And you don’t want to, anyway.

Because what happens while you stare at your metaphysical wall is precious. It’s time you gift yourself into the ivory tower to see where you are. Possibly glimpse where you’re heading.

You might want to start that on your own. It helps to have someone to bounce ball with, throw stuff around, just to see what they hear and, ideally, rephrase it. Distill it into one liners, key questions or koans. The air will clarify around you, I promise. There’s nothing like the cold crisp tingle of an idea. Then you write it all down, real quick.

I always record these conversations. What you’ll say in the first one, you may never repeat.

It’s a twilight zone, where doors of perception swing open. I used to quote Huxley in high-school without really getting it (“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite”). I was a Doors fan, very much intrigued but not fully engaging the idea. For that, I can forgive myself. High-school is a good time to believe in the esoteric.

At 40, I’m more into basic questioning. What makes you say that? I’ll ask the dumbest of questions fearlessly. I’ll assume nothing. I have learned that to be the key.

Some of the most revealing conversations I’ve had had that in common: allow myself the time to be in the presence of the idea. Assume nothing.

Then, go through the same process: can I recreate it? Say it exactly as you say it. Can I generate it? Say it as if I was you, owning it. Can I generate from your world? Put on my magic VR glasses, enter your world and see what’s in there and describe it as your audience needs to hear it.

That, actually, is what I do. It’s how I get to your DNA (core, why, what, X-factor or whatever else you call them out there) and then am able to phrase it into your one liner, your pitch, your mini bio, your home and about page or your deck.

In one of the monthly sessions copy mama Amy Posner does at the Copy Clinic (Hogwarts for the likes of me), I’ve met this wonderful fellow copywriter from Toronto who specialises in interviews. Hannah Shamji is also a nearly registered counsellor, diving deep into issues she needs to keep contained but be able to capture. Think Harry Potter, pouring from his potion bottles to get lucky or go through other people’s memories.

Hannah and me, it turns out, have both a thing for immersion into other worlds to come out truth in hand, and the same Flat Iron Building poster from New York in our respective homes. My favourite takeaway from our first conversation: don’t question, ask. When you question, you’re already implying things, and that’s you, not them. Didn’t I say it? Yes, I did. Assume nothing.

I love playing for time, by the way. The more I get, the better. Something inside is shifting into focus, while on the outside I go for yoga or watch series. “How do I explain to my wife that when I look out the window I’m working?” Joseph Conrad, whom I have never read a line from and will not pretend otherwise, said it. And it’s true. I even moved my desk now, so I have a better view.

(I only work with innovators, btw. If you read this far, chances are you’re one. Lovely to meet you. Sign up for my posts, I’ll have good idea stuff coming your way.)