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Note: Learn more about the “Pop Business” series in this Tumblr post. Guest posts wanted!

Spoiler Warning: This post will ruin The Usual Suspects for you. I actually don’t like the movie that much so I won’t implore you to run out and see it. However, it is one of those things that’s good to have watched if you want to participate in conversations with people in modern day America—like knowing something about football or having an opinion about American Idol judges.

And now, the post:

Your brain is fried. You’re out of ideas. You’ve gone through every note, every book, every bit of research— but you still don’t know how to solve the problem. So you start to Keyser Söze (yeah, I’m verbing it).

Keyser Söze, verb: To draw inspiration from objects in your immediate vicinity.

I’m taking it from the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects. The character Roger “Verbal” Kint is being interrogated about an incident involving legendary criminal mastermind Keyser Söze. Unfortunately for Verbal, he is Keyser Söze. Aaawkward. You don’t get to be a legendary criminal mastermind by simply spilling the beans. Verbal spins a yarn to get himself out of trouble, taking cues for character names, events and plot points from objects in the detective’s office. Granted, it would probably make more sense to call this “Verbal-ing” or “Roger Kint-ing” but…meh.

Now, most of us have not been on the receiving end of a police investigation after blowing up a boat, but everybody Keyser Söze’s sometimes. You’ll see it when folks in a brainstorming meeting are running out of ideas. (We could uh…we could sell markers?—looks at marker in hand, shrugs.) It happens to me a lot when I’m struggling for blog post ideas. (Diet Coke…what marketing insights do I have about Diet Coke?) Want to crack one of my passwords? Start by digging up whatever barcodes or product numbers were visible on my desk that day.

I don’t think that Keyser Sözeing is inherently good or bad, but it is a behavior to be aware of. Here are three things to think about:

  1. Keyser Sözeing is often a warning sign that you’re stuck. If it starts happening in a meeting, your team is probably running out of steam. “What do we name this thing?” meetings are the worst.
  2. If you or your team Keyser Söze a lot you should either A) Fill your work environment with creative and inspirational objects and artwork (my vote), or B) Maintain a very clean, uncluttered environment to try and break the habit. Both can work. I know very creative people whose ideal work environment resembles a medical quarantine, and I know very creative people who have to shove a pile of toys and comic books aside to find that coffee-stained post-it note from three weeks back. The important thing is to choose one and stick with it.
  3. Recognize the truly unique objects and moments in your day and make an effort to draw inspiration from them. A slip of the tongue, a spilled paint can, a detuned radio, or an interesting looking coffee stain might be just the thing you need. Open minds that keep moving forward can capitalize on happy accidents and timely coincidences with ease.

When’s the last time Keyser Sözeing worked for you? Do you find inspiration from clutter or order? Let me know in the comments!

4 comments

Scott Kubie

About the author: Scott is BitMethod’s “Chief Nerd Translator”, filling project management and copywriting roles on most projects. He is passionate about media and has worked in radio, film and event planning. When he grows up he wants to be a Ghostbuster.

Reach out to Scott Kubie at scott@bitmethod.com