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Expert Sourcing For Marketing Ideas Works. Here’s Why.

A year has passed since I launched this great experiment I call Ideasicle.

We’ve come up with over 500 marketing ideas for eleven amazing (and brave, I might add) early adopters like AMD, Chevy Cruze/Silverado, Miranda Technologies and The Boston Globe, to name a few. Along the way, we’ve fine-tuned our pioneering “expert sourcing” model thanks to the advice of both clients and our Ideasicle Experts. We’ve also learned cranium-loads about the nature of human creativity itself.

One thing is now clear: expert sourcing works.

As our newest client, Kevin Joyce, CMO of Miranda Technologies, recently put it, “Having access to some of the most creative minds in marketing without having to boil the ocean is the future of how we should all be working. Ideasicle works.”

In this, our first “Annual Report,” I‘d like to explain why Ideasicle, and our expert sourcing model, works.

First, when perspectives collide, magic happens.


Keith Sawyer says in his book, Group Genius, “Understanding how individual creativity combines with group genius is the key to realizing creative potential.” Damned if we didn’t prove that point at Ideasicle this past year. The partially naïve theory I had going into all this was: If I could recruit brilliant people to come up with ideas virtually, pay them well while keeping our overhead otherwise extremely low, we could give our clients access to a marketing weapon they’ve never had before, certainly not at these prices. I figured that each Expert individually would post their ideas, I’d go through them all, present the best ones, and that would be it. I didn’t anticipate that the real magic would happen between the Experts. Turns out the Experts didn’t simply post their own ideas; they read each other’s ideas, riffed off those ideas, developed them, and validated them. This kind of “sparring” doesn’t happen in crowd sourcing models because everyone is competing against everyone else. In line with Sawyer, I believe it’s the combination of individual creativity and group genius that renders Ideasicle a magic making machine (that was almost the name of the company, by the way – “The Magic Making Machine” but somebody owned it).

Second, expert sourcing offers finely-tuned expertise.


I suppose that if I had recruited twenty random adults, called them Experts, and given them the same virtual tools, I may have gotten some positive results. But here’s the thing: While anyone can come up with an idea, not everyone can come with a brilliant idea, and do it quickly. So I didn’t recruit random people. I recruited the most brilliant people I’d ever worked with. Real barn-burners with experience at places like Goodby, Wieden, Chiat, BBDO, Crispin, Arnold and many other tier-one creative agencies. I finely tuned our expertise by filtering not only for brilliance, but speed (see “Picasso Principle” for more on that) because I wanted part of Ideasicle’s value prop to be quick turnarounds (we had one day for one ad-agency client!). These Experts are the types who, if you can infect their brains with an inspiring brief, can’t help but come up with ideas. They don’t come up with ideas just as a job, it’s who they are. So, they are an exclusive club of hand-picked magic makers.

But selectivity was just the beginning. In the early days, I put all the Experts on each job and, while the results were good, the process was a bit of a mess. No one felt ownership over the projects, Experts felt a level of intimidation posting an idea for nineteen others to see, and, as a result, the ideas that emerged took awhile to emerge and tended to be air-tight with little room for influence or improvement. I wound up knocking the number down to five per project and then, finally, four, which turned out to be the magic number. Then, once the Ideasicle Experts had each completed a few jobs in teams of four, they seemed to sharpen themselves as they cut. I would assign the four Experts to a job – maybe a cultural strategist, a CMO, a digital guru and a creative director – and  because of the vastly different perspectives of each Expert, each one would leave the session a better Expert. They learn from each other, are inspired by each other, and hear about new tactics and strategies from each other, simply by participating in our ideation sessions. The Experts often tell me in our post-mortem email chains things like, “I feel like I learned a lot” or “That was seriously inspiring.” And these are people with an average of seventeen years experience!

More recently, we’ve discovered that we can improvise on the fly with the team make-up, with excellent results. We can work a new Expert into a single project almost on a moment’s notice. The Ideasicle model is so virtual and our industry connections so vast that it’s simple to recruit people with a niche expertise and team them up with a couple of my regular stable of Experts. We did exactly that for two AMD projects – one targeting the United Arab Emirates and the other targeting Mexico City (read about how the UAE project unfolded here). In both cases, I was able to find and vet brilliant Experts with expertise in their respective countries to work with my existing Experts in the States. In the case of the UAE, the UAE Experts would post ideas during their day (our night), and the US Experts would respond and post ideas during our day (UAE night), so in some ways it was even more efficient. The point is that we can finely tune the team itself, on the fly, whenever necessary, while still maintaining tight reigns on ideation quality.

Third, our creative process conforms to human creativity (not the other way around).


When I started all this, I thought Ideasicle’s virtual nature would encumber the ideation process. Being from agencies like Wieden, Mullen and Arnold myself, I assumed nothing beats good ol’ face-to-face ideation. I’ve since found quite the opposite: Virtual ideation augments an individual’s creativity in several important ways. One is the removal of physical barriers. At a traditional agency, or even ideation on the client side, people might hold a brainstorm in a room, with maybe some pizza and lots of white boards. Now, people being people, it’s impossible to “depoliticize” the dynamics of that room. Some participants are more senior, some more junior, some are “supposed” to be idea people, some are just smart (hopefully), some are well spoken, some sort of shy, some report to others, some are the boss, etc. As a result, a significant, but unspoken filter is applied to every idea in the session. In the backs of our minds, we hear, “What will all these people think of me?” In contrast, the Ideasicle virtual model reduces every Expert to a typeface. Each of the team of four is equal. All that matters is what the Experts type into their keyboards on the ideation site. That’s it. No politics, no dominating personalities, no intimidation. Just ideas, pure and unadulterated. And when it’s this pure, the thinking is immediately liberated.

Virtual ideation also facilitates creativity because it operates in a time-deferred manner. There’s nothing I can’t stand more than “appointment creativity,” where you have exactly two hours to come up with the idea, on a Tuesday, between three and five in the afternoon, because that’s the only time you can get together to work on the assignment. At Ideasicle, I’ll post a video briefing on the password-protected site on a Monday, and Experts can view that briefing on their time (most do view it the day it’s posted). When it comes to posting ideas, some Experts are immediately inspired and start posting. Others let the briefing sink in for a day or two, let it collide with their life’s experiences, let it percolate while sleeping or taking a shower the next day. Creativity abhors a gun pointed at its head, so Ideasicle puts little flowers in those gun barrels and lets human nature run its creative course.

Lastly, Ideasicle’s expert sourcing model facilitates creativity because it’s fun. Really fun. One Expert put it this way: “It’s like an idea video game.” It is always fun to come up with ideas, particularly for this crew of creative geniuses. But by removing the physical barriers, requiring that Experts attend no presentations, eliminating all the bullshit that normally accompanies idea generation, and by conforming to the Experts’ personal methods of creativity, I can see why our Experts have such a blast working on Ideasicle assignments. And it shows. Fun is the fuel of genius.

Finally, we are financially liberated to come up with any idea.


When I started Ideasicle and made clear that a major part of the premise would be “no execution!” people thought I was nuts. They told me all the money is in production, not ideas. It’s about billing hours because clients don’t value ideas. I’ll never make money just on ideas, they said. I countered with my belief that Ideasicle could never be 100% unbiased if we were a slave to the “Time of Staff” business model. A company full of people ready to execute stuff is more likely to come up with ideas that those people can execute. And therein lies the problem for me, and the business opportunity for Ideasicle. Execution is quickly becoming democratized and cheaper. Couple that with the fact that what clients want most are better ideas, particularly in a marketplace that changes as fast as ours. I wagered that clients would pay for a secret weapon for ideas on two conditions: The ideas were genius and the ideas were completely unbiased (you could add “at a surprisingly low price” as a third, if you like). While Ideasicle is not right for every client, so far I’m winning that bet, knock on wood. Our clients use their own resources (in house agencies or other agency partners) to execute – see our first case study for AMD here. And Ideasicle is free to ideate with no financial bias. Hell, we don’t care if an idea is free to execute, as long as it will work. Do we leave money on the table? Yes, every time. Are we coming up with better ideas as a result? Damn straight.

So there you have it. Year Two will no doubt present us with new opportunities for further refinement. And you know what? With no bricks, mortar or bloated staff, changeables are part of Ideasicle’s DNA, like payables and receivables.

Bring it on.