Unfortunately, in my role as a business advisor, I still find too many owners who fall into the rut of rejecting creativity to minimize change and keep costs down. They don't realize that it may be keeping revenues down as well.
Every business I know needs to be on a constant lookout for new ideas, both in what they offer to customers and in their internal operations, to stay competitive. Fortunately, there are ways to nurture the creation and capture of new ideas. I recently saw some excellent guidance on this in a new version of the classic book Why Didn't I Think of That, by Roger L. Firestien.
Firestien outlines 10 basic rules for enhancing your business creativity process, which I support and paraphrase here, adding my own insights.
1. Record new ideas immediately or you will lose many.
Sometimes great ideas come when we aren't looking for them, but they can slip away just as fast. Just make a note to follow up later, as required, to discuss it with other team members or relevant experts. Believe me, it's no fun to see a competitor implement a good idea that slipped your mind.
2. Openly ask for new ideas from your team and others.
Remember that communication is body language and listening, as well as the words you use. You need to be the model for the right mindset, rather than a perennial critic, or someone who takes all the credit for the insights and successes of others. Always give credit where credit is due.
3. Redefine every problem from multiple perspectives.
Creative ideas are most often generated in the context of a specific problem, rather than occurring at random. Thus it behooves all of us to tackle every problem from every relevant perspective. In business, this means taking a customer view, vendor view, as well as your internal process view.
4. Look for problem connections to other disciplines.
It is amazing to me how often a problem gets solved in one environment, but years go by before the implications are recognized in other disciplines. For example, winemakers long ago learned to personalize their brand for added value, while other products still suffer as a commodity.
5. Develop habits that increase creativity.
A key habit to develop is one of asking multiple questions that push the limits of your thinking, rather than taking the first idea that comes to mind and running with it. Another is consistently trying new things, and overcoming your fear of failure. Finally, be sure to reward yourself and celebrate all your successes.
6. Separate imaginative thinking from judgmental thinking.
That means stop being so immediately critical of yours and other peoples' ideas. Collect a range of ideas first, before trying to evaluate any of them. All ideas have some positive and some not-so-positive elements. The key is to build on the positive elements to make the idea stronger.
7. Evaluate ideas for pluses, potential, and concerns (PPC).
Save the concerns until last, and then strive to address your concerns with a creative question. This way, your mind will immediately begin to look for ways to overcome the concerns, instead of killing the entire idea. We never want to discourage team members from sharing ideas with us.
8. To solve a problem, set a target of at least 40 ideas.
To get new ideas, you have to stretch beyond the first seemingly obvious solution to a question or issue. The more ways you can find to accomplish your goal, the greater your chances of doing it with creativity and innovation. Be sure to look for solutions from others, as well as yourself.
9. Accept that creativity, like any skill, requires practice.
Don't give up quickly if your creative skills seem awkward or contrived at first. This is a normal human reaction the first few times any person plays the piano, or throws a baseball. In fact, we are all inherently creative in different and valuable ways. Encourage team practice as well.
10. Strive to see new problems as new opportunities.
Every new problem is just the sign of a gap from where you are to where you need to be. That is a good thing in business, since it leads to the creativity that is necessary for continued and future success. Also, by keeping you positive, it reduces the burden of stress that usually accompanies problems.
In my experience, the best changes in business are brought about by people who believe in and practice creativity. They hone their skills daily to envision the future, not just in an abstract daydreaming way, but with the interest and capability to achieve it. You too can join that team.