Boy fishing om wharf

Copywriting tip 12: Fishing versus trawling

Boy fishing on wharf - trimmed

A few years ago, I was invited to give a talk in Thailand.

Speakers from all over the world, on a whole range of topics.

Mine? Digital.

As I waited nervously for my slot, I listened in to the speaker before me. A creative director from an agency in India.

He talked about how most people go about idea generation.

‘They fish,’ he said.

Now, I used to fish at school.

I’d start by planning where I was going to drop the line in.

Based on that, what bait would work best. (Although I hated putting worms on the hook, so it tended to be bread.)

I’d get there early. Set up. Throw the line in. And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Waiting for that fish to bite.

And that’s how most people go about idea generation.

Black and white photo of man with chin in hands, thinking

You clear the decks. Get a fresh cup of coffee (or tea or wine).

Blank pad. Pen at the ready, and …?

You wait.

‘Where’s that pesky idea?’.

And you wait. And wait. Waiting for that perfect idea.

Before you know it, you’re running out of time. And you start to panic.

Much better, this speaker said, to trawl.

Close up of trawler nets

What happens when a trawler goes out?

It throws out a net. Catches lots.

Then throws back what it doesn’t want.

And that’s the tip for coming up with a great idea.


Come up with lots of ideas – even if they’re rubbish – and pick out the great ones.

Trawl, don’t fish.

Edward de Bono once said:

‘The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas.
It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong
than to be always right by having no ideas at all.’


And in my article ‘Instant ideas: 30 concepts in 30 minutes‘, I explain exactly how to trawl for ideas.

I’ve never forgotten that talk in Thailand. A real a-ha moment for me.

I hope it is for you, too.

So, get trawling. Don’t fish for a great idea.

Get lots.


This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay


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Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.