I was not a good kid at school. I was annoying. I asked questions. But not the ones you are supposed to.

I wanted to know how history spoke to now, why only one opinion was being presented and how much my teacher was being paid.

This led to lots of detentions.

classroom image

The form for these was to write an essay, which was usually a pointless piece of writing about your own behaviour and its consequences. Little did I know that these 45-minute writing exercises would prove to be great practice for how I work in ideas now.

My essays (which teachers usually dramatically tore up without reading) were usually extreme ‘what if?’ monologues, where my refusal to toe the line now would eventually end up with my own homelessness and, ultimately, my death.

I would bring in events of the time, unlikely scenarios and political discourse to lead the narrative to my ultimate demise. I died in that gutter many times.

Unknown to me at the time (and horribly unappreciated by my teachers!), I was learning to think out ideas to their extreme conclusion. The conclusion reached was logical, but the process that led there was not. I travelled various routes to the mortuary, with many twists and turns along the way. But each step followed on from the last, each consequence was initiated by an action.

This is precisely how I test and stress test my own ideas to this day. Having ideas for a living is close to madness and the results can certainly border on the unhinged. Hundreds of ideas banging around inside your skull will do that. I live in fear of being judged for the scrawlings in my notebooks. I’m not sure I’d be let out again.

But idea creation necessarily means exploring the extremes of your brain. You certainly don’t put everything in the brief you deliver to the client. But you do have to throw in some of the more extreme ideas in case they like them. To be honest, after a while you may even lose track of just what extreme is. Okay, okay, so kidnapping a rival CEO is extreme. Who knew?

People who have great and unusual ideas cannot be bounded by social mores or what has gone before in their thinking. They have to mostly colour outside the lines. Sure, you’ll get some good ideas from 9-5 thinking. But for things that stand out you’ll need an ideological extremist.