Are You Stuck in Pitiful-Idea Prison?

Coming up with creative ideas can be one of the trickiest aspects of our job. It’s possible to over inflate concepts we dream up so that they seem terrific (and oh-so-clever) in our own minds, but fall flat once they hit the screen. Today we’re going to examine if you might be suffering from a long term stint in Pitiful-Idea Prison, and possibly don’t even know it.

Let’s start with a real-world example. In a previous article on creative thinking, we looked at a clip from the 11 Second Club and tried to brainstorm unique concepts that applied some imagination. Let’s dip back into that well and look at the audio from the October 2014 contest of the 11 Second Club:


The transcript is as follows:

“Oh, no, no, no! You’re eatin’ the car! Don’t eat the car! Not the car! (SFX) …don’t understand a word I’m sayin’.”

This clip is from the classic Turner and Hooch, and follows Tom Hanks as he yells at a very drooling dog who is chewing on the seat of his vehicle.

So when we think of ideas for how to animate this clip, how do we know if we’re locked up in Pitiful-Idea Prison?

Red Flag #1: Instant Ideas

Every day the world gets a little smaller thanks to the Internet. What I mean by that is you are having more experiences that are shared by people all over the world. While once upon a time the life of someone in China was VASTLY different than that of someone in Spain, today they are a lot closer to each other. (Still different in many ways, which is great, but not nearly as much as a few hundred years ago.) Today movies, music, books, and media are distributed instantly worldwide, and people across the globe share those experiences.

What this means is the first few ideas that pop into your head are very likely going to be ideas that pop into everyone’s head. And that means if your initial plan seems particularly clever, it very likely isn’t. That’s not ALWAYS the case, of course, but a majority of the time it will be.

Everyone Thinks of These First
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What to do?

Toss those ideas into the trash bin.

Don’t ignore them, mind you. Still write them down and get them out of your head. There may be nuggets in there that are worth saving. Mostly, though, you want to get the first few ideas out of the way and move on to bigger and more unique things. Take a look at this diagram:

Pools of Ideas
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On the left we see a visual representation of coming up with three different ideas. Comparing each one, you select the one that is best of those three. That’s a good start, because you have three ideas to choose from. Picking the best of those means the selected concept is better than two other ideas.

Look at the right box, though. Here we have fifteen ideas, and have selected the best one from that group. Suddenly our “best idea” is the best out of fifteen and not just three! That concept is likely to be far better just based on the fact that it came from a much larger pool. It’s the same principal as “Big fish in a little pond that becomes a little fish in a big pond.” A person who was possibly great at something in a small town or school very often finds themselves lost in a sea of much better artists/athletes/whatever when they go outside the small pool and see the world. The larger the pool, the more impressive the best of that pool tends to be.

So the first step to getting out of Pitiful-Idea Prison is to let go of early thoughts and dig deeper. No one is going to burrow out of their cell by scratching through the stone on the surface. You have to get under the first layer and down to the rich, soft dirt beneath!

Break free of the prison!
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Next time we’ll take a look at some other ways to break free from behind the bars of mediocrity when coming up with ideas. In the meantime, are there any methods you personally use to shake off the doldrums and be more original and creative? Share them in the comments below! We’ll all get together and plot a mass-breakout of Pitiful-Idea Prison.

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Sabina K

I think it’s important to have fun with ideas, explore and even goof around a bit. 🙂 Sometimes the silliest stories or designs are the ones people like the most!
When I’m stuck with a cliché story, I try to think about scenarios that will definitely NOT happen. I come up with list of overused ideas and stay away from them. I know I don’t want my story to go in those directions. Then I try to come up with creative ideas that stand out. Doing little story charts really helps me too! As soon as I come up with something I write it down and do a quick thumbnail.


Great article, but the reality is that in a production enviroment you don’t have the luxury of thinking of approaches when your quota is falling off behind.

keep it up guys.


Hi, cool article
I think first basic idea can be well done, it depends on the director’s vision

I believe in Christopher Nolan re – directing “transformers” for exemple 🙂
Steven Spielberg re – directing “hercules”
David Fincher re-directing “big mama”


Often times I think if I was just better at coming up with killer ideas then there would be no stopping me. All my ideas seem to fall flat. It would probably also help if I could execute them better maybe. I will try to get better at it.


I wish I could come up with better ideas but I never seem to. I have a friend in school who is like an idea machine and all the teachers love him but I can never seem to keep up with his creativity. I just have to beat him in other stuff like basketball lol. 😛


I really like your article here. I know the feeling well. Too well! ^.^