Sometimes, your baby is just ugly

Screen shot 2010-03-23 at 10.54.44 PM Thick skin. 

We had a lively discussion on that very topic at work this week. 

As marketing professionals, it's our job to come up with compelling ideas (writing, design, etc. etc.) that will trigger actions and reactions from the intended audiences.

To discover those ideas requires a great deal of collaborative thinking and working together to sift through, push, pull and generally heat test each of them to see if they can stand up.  That can be brutal if you've made the fatal flaw of falling in love with your own idea.

Brainstorming has this "warm and fuzzy" image.  Who wouldn't like to just sit around and think up ideas?  It sounds so wistful and charming.

But in the pragmatic world of marketing, you don't really have time to putter around in the ideation stage for too long.  You need to shift back and forth — generating ideas, evaluating ideas, building off each other's ideas and twisting and turning someone's ugly baby into something interesting and curious.

Sometimes to get to the truly genius idea — you have to pop the head off of someone's ugly baby.  There it is… the cruel truth about brainstorming. 

You might be the poor shlub who has to watch his idea get trampled in the quest for the really, really remarkable solution. 

I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to be creative — I have to go through a lot of horrific, trite, pun-like ideas before I get to the good ones.  And usually in the early stages, I sometimes come up with an idea or two that I think is just about as smart as anything could possibly be.

Until someone starts knocking holes into it.  When I was young (both in age and professional maturity) I'd get upset and defensive.  It hurt. After all… that was MY idea and it was THE answer.  I clung to it, fighting off the enemy who wanted to attack my baby.  I was sure it was THE answer.

Of course… it wasn't THE answer.  And by putting it through its paces and criticizing it out loud, my co-workers were able to riff off my mediocre idea to get to something fresh and new. 

My ideas — the good ones, bad ones, off the wall ones — even the ugliest babies in the bunch are a part of the process.  And my job isn't to create "art" and defend it to the death.  Our clients can't afford for me to fall in love with the ugly babies just because they're mine.

How about you — do you make it okay for other people to tell you that your baby is ugly?

Photo thanks to MetsBallers

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10 comments on “Sometimes, your baby is just ugly

  1. Karl Sakas says:

    I like your point about not defending your idea to the death.

    I’m in the midst of advising a consulting client about their website redesign. They need to prioritize the e-mail signup box and the “buy tickets now” link, so that they can capture short-term revenue AND stay connected to prospective customers in the future.

    In spite of my persuasive skills, I’m not sure they’re going to execute it in the most profitable way. But I realize it’s ultimately about them, not me.

  2. Maxiosearch says:

    I like your points and share your thoughts. I think that when you come up with new ideas the best thing to do is to open your mind and listen to what others may say about it or similar things that could affect and improve your own idea. Brainstorming is great, but you can´t get the desired results out of a brainstorming session if you´re not flexible enough and opened to listen other´s ideas.

    At the end, you will have to modify your plans, products or services to what your niche market dictates.

  3. Karl –

    It’s not easy to do, by any means. But you either trust the “two heads are greater” maxim or you don’t.

    We run into situations like you describe all the time. Here’s my standard speech “You hired us because you believed in our expertise. I believe it is our responsibility to tell you what we think, especially if you don’t want to hear it. But, in the end, as long as you will hear us out — it’s your money and we’ll do what you want as long as it is not illegal or unethical.”

    9 times out of 10, if they hear us out — they end up following our counsel. But not always.

    Good luck with that one!


  4. Tom Twose says:

    wow, interesting. Know exactly what your “riffing” on.

    Am a web designer but “cut my teeth” in a past life as an audio composer for various companies. Learnt the hard way on not taking my “art” so personally.

    A subjective minefield when investing your creatives into whatever project. Goal I learned, and (ahem), learned a few times, is to riff on a bunch of “emotive contexts” and choose which one fits the target… Always ends up as the one that you think pragmatically for never really works however, the one you did the first time when your not thinking usually works.

    Is why music producers always save the first track when recording.

  5. Faiq Ahmed says:

    Falling in love is inevitable for every young professional, but what matters is the Reality Check of this is good for yourself or the project you are working on?
    I agree its tough and hard, even I feel that at time that I am falling in Love with my own ideas. But what needs to be done is to have a grip on my emotions and try to stay neutral and open for criticism.

    Key is;
    To act like an Observer/leader!!
    It doesn’t matter if its an issue, Problem, Idea that you have come up with or somebody else owns it. All you have to do is to come up with a starting point and let others work on it form here onwards.
    It is essential that you don’t get involved (have a Bird Eye View), unless the solution is reaching the finalization stage and then you evaluate it is necessary.

    It would help you in seeing the bigger picture and the reality of the issue, and most importantly preventing yourself form falling in love with your IDEA!!

    (something I learned from my boss today)

  6. John says:

    Well you got my attention! I didn’t expect to see that this early in the morning! Certainly a good way to put it though. Some people get so emotionally attached to their ideas and so the criticism hurts I guess.

  7. Shirley Burns says:

    It doesn’t matter whether my baby truly is beautiful, whether I just perceive it so, it is still hard for me to hear any criticism, constructive or otherwise. I am working on trying to accept it in the spirit in which it was intended. I am a work in progress to say the least.

    I try to remember that greater minds than mine have struggled with this. Thomas Jefferson, who clearly had some talent with expressing thoughts, could not bear to hear the criticisms and “suggestions” for his beloved Declaration (he says he was “not insensible to their mutilations” ~ how’s that for frustration?)

    In his memoirs/letters, he describes a story that Dr. Benjamin Franklin told him to help allay his concerns. It’s called “The Hatmaker’s Sign”. You can find a version of it at , but I encourage you to find the children’s book by Candace Fleming at your local library for the most charming effect (yes, I am encouraging you to read the children’s version!!).

    Basically, a friend of his decided to open a hat shop and drafted a sign to hang out front. Each person he meets along the way to the signmaker has a different opinion of what the sign SHOULD and SHOULD NOT say (and what artwork SHOULD and SHOULD NOT be on it!). Until he gets to the signmaker with a version of the sign unrecognizable to his original. Sound familiar?


  8. Shirley —

    I read your comment and went right to my library’s website to reserve the children’s book. I can’t wait to read it — thanks for telling us about it.

    I am guessing it will be an awesome teaching tool for us with clients.


  9. I have a BFA in Visual Art, and if there’s one discipline in which people will tell you that your baby is ugly — ugly in concept, in execution, silly, trite, lazily thought out, not thought out, etc — it’s in visual art. So now I may not always actually agree with you, but I will definitely entertain whatever feedback on my ideas you want to give me.

  10. Tracy says:

    I definitely agree that brainstorming needs to be entered with the frame of mind that it’s not an opportunity to be praised, but an exercise in separating what might be good from what probably isn’t. Holding on to the latter for sentimental reasons will usually end up in disappointing results.

    At the same time, I would caution against dismissing an idea simply because it doesn’t immediately resonate. Casting out reasonable ideas out of hand can put a damper on the creative process. As long as it’s not outside the established parameters of the objective, try looking at the idea from different angles. If, after 60 seconds of consideration, the idea still doesn’t seem useful then it is time to put it aside and move on.

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