A good idea is worth the wait

John Foust

Apr 1, 2022

The advertiser’s original idea— as weak as it was — got the ball rolling in the right direction.

When I was a kid and jumped to conclusions about something, my father often said, “Hold your horses, son.” That old saying means, “Whoa! Stop and think carefully before making a decision.” Dad had a lot of wisdom. He knew that one of the most important lessons he could teach me from an early age was to think before taking action.

There’s talk these days about “deferring judgment” when discussing ideas or hearing the opinions of others. That’s another way of saying “hold your horses.” The concept of delaying judgment has been around for a long time. In fact, it was popularized in the advertising industry by Alex Osborn, a co-founder of the BBDO ad agency. Osborn incorporated judgment deferral in his rules for creativity, because he understood the value of encouraging judgment-free discussions of just-proposed ideas. In his writings, he labeled his system as “brainstorming,” a term which has evolved into a general description of creative thinking.

It takes patience to defer judgment. We’ve all been in meetings where ideas bounce around the room. Somebody mentions the first glimmer of an ad idea, and before you know it, someone else says, “No, let’s consider this other idea.” As a result, the first idea dies on the spot — and the discussion narrows in focus, often with the most outgoing person in the room taking center stage. That’s not good for authentic brainstorming. And it’s not good for the person whose idea was just suppressed.

At this stage in the process, the objective is to gather as many ideas as possible. Encourage ideas to flow, so people can build on each other’s creative thinking. Be patient and listen.

Consider Melanie, an ad salesperson who was confronted with a client who wanted to run a big headline that boasted, “We’re the popular choice” — an empty claim with no evidence to back it up. “I cringed when I heard that,” she told me, “but I didn’t interrupt his train of thought. I told myself to approach his idea as the beginning of the conversation, not something to take a stand against. So I asked questions and listened for possibilities. Along the way, he mentioned that he had recently received compliments about his store’s customer service. As he talked, I realized that testimonials could make the concept of popularity come to life. He liked that idea, and we ended up with a campaign that featured a quote from a different loyal customer in each ad — along with that person’s photo.”

Melanie’s advertiser was happy with the outcome, but more important, her approach strengthened their marketing partnership. There wasn’t any magic involved. It was simply a matter of deferring judgment and soaking up as much information as possible. The advertiser’s original idea— as weak as it was — got the ball rolling in the right direction.

The point of all this is to slow down. When you hold your horses a little longer, a better idea might gallop into the picture. © Copyright 2022 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: john@johnfoust.com