Recently, traipsing around Chelsea Markets in New York (as you do), I was reminded how essential a change in perspective is to creating energy in the thinking process and sparking new ideas or thoughts.
Successful brands, campaigns and businesses are those that are not afraid to challenge the existing status quo and their own assumptions or sacred cows to grow and thrive. They are businesses that are led by innovative thinkers and it is this fresh thinking – creative thinking - that allows them to seek out, explore and capitalise on new opportunities.
Innovative thinking, however, requires inspiration. It is very hard, if not impossible, to come up with new solutions or opportunities to grow businesses and solve problems within the boundaries and constraints of that business.
Or, as Albert Einstein, supposedly said: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."
This may be because we humans naturally think in patterns. These patterns allow us to process vast amounts of information and they create short cuts to solutions. The help us quickly evaluate things. They are absolutely important in decision making (and survival). But, those patterns also mean it is difficult to see alternative outcomes with the same inputs. Whilst work processes and procedures might well drive efficiencies, they are toxic to fresh thinking.
Henry Ford: "If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got."
Inspiration is the fodder for creativity - for ideas. Inspiration is what allows your mind to jump the well worn thought pathways entrenched in the way you think, and see new opportunities, approaches or strategies that can transform your business.
Of course, it is impractical to jet off to a foreign land every time you feel the need to shake up the idea machine in your head. So, here are five different ways you can kick-start your creative thinking juices right here at home.
Assume a different perspective
Looking at your business or problem through the eyes of someone else prompts you to think about things you might not normally consider. Using the different characteristics of well known people gives you permission to stretch your thinking into new areas which you may not be comfortable with, or able to do, within your existing company cultural constraints.
Use the characteristics of well known people to lend a new lens to your problem. What would Steve Jobs or Walt Disney do if walked into your office today? If you look at your business through the entrepreneurial eyes of Richard Branson, what ideas can be identified?
Take time to identify those characteristics your want to explore. And then apply them to your situation. What new ideas emerge?
Learn from others
Learning from the experiences of other people provides a great deal of inspiration in tackling your own problems.
From Dietrich Mateschitz (Red Bull) to Elon Musk (Tesla), from Kotex to Avis, there are countless examples of entrepreneurs and businesses that have successfully navigated difficult situations to win and bring about change.
Review what they did. What happens if you apply that same thinking to your business? Start building yourself a library of case studies and learn from the experiences of others.
Connect with real people.
Get out from behind the spread sheets and the one way mirrors and have direct contact with people in your target market. How do end-users talk about your categories and brands? What needs are not being met out there by you or your competition? Strike up conversations in store, at coffee shops or while waiting for the bus. Set up consumer connections in interesting and unusual places. (There is nothing interesting about a group room). Observe how your products work in the real world, and the differences between what people say and what they do.
The task is not to talk too much, but to listen, and more importantly to observe. Observation, after all, unlocks insight. And insight is the foundation for ideas.
Visit the Fringe
Particularly useful for mass marketers, take time to learn from the fringes of the category. What are the early adopters buying? What trends are nibbling away at the edges of your category? New ideas are already bubbling up on the edges of your market. Your category is no doubt already full of niche products that may offer exciting ideas for future development. There are interesting products in your categories that are being sold in different ways at farmers markets, in delis, at health food stores, online.
Immerse yourself in an alternative view of your category and see what you can learn. How can you apply those learnings to your business problem?
Do something seemingly completely unrelated.
Do you know Steve Jobs apparently took a calligraphy course when he was trying to explore how to apply aesthetics and beauty to the clunky world of computers?
When we explore a completely unrelated world with our problem in mind, our brains forge new pathways and connections which allow new ideas to emerge. What can you learn from doing something quite unrelated?
Of course, there is a skill (and ironically, a process) to turning inspiration into ideas,and initial idea sparks into solid, investigable concepts or strategies. Whether it is for a specific project or to drive cultural change, imbedding an immersion programme and turning that inspiration into insight takes effort and planning. Utilising a skilled facilitator will help unlock the creative power in your organisation and help you unleash ideas that might just put you ahead of the pack.