Fuel Injected In-house: Want to nix expected solutions? Try a cliché list.


by Sam Harrison


Before shooting Contagion, film director Steven Soderbergh sat down with his team and made a list of disaster-movie clichés to avoid.
“We had a list we refused to do,” he told New York magazine. “Can’t show the president. No helicopter shots. You can’t go somewhere and show people suffering where our characters haven’t been.”


Rather than limiting possibilities, the list helped Soderbergh and his team become more creative with every scene. “Those restrictions made us think laterally,” he said, “which was good.”


Take a cue from Soderbergh and try creating a cliché list before diving into your next project:

  1. List all the expected looks, words and techniques your want to absolutely avoid.
  2. Look back at what you and your team have done for similar projects and write down all overexposed solutions.
  3. Wrap up by listing popular approaches used by competitors and others that might label your work as copycat.


Like Soderbergh, free yourself with these restrictions. Let your cliché list drive you to think laterally and explore fresh ideas.


Sam Harrison provides talks and workshops on selling ideas and presentation skills, as well as on other creativity-related topics. He’s the author of “IdeaSelling: Successfully pitch your great ideas to bosses, clients and other decision makers,” “IdeaSpotting: How to find your next great idea” and “Zing! Five steps and 101 tips for creativity on command.” Find Sam at www.zingzone.com