Has your creativity taken a nosedive? Are you running out of new ideas to keep your business above water? In today’s faltering economy, you’re not alone. But don’t lose heart – there are lots of things you can do to turn things around.
If you run your own business then you know how worn out you can get from time to time. Without inspiration, it’s easy to feel at a loss for what to do to attract new customers, build on your product range, or solve those tricky and intractable problems. Instead of turning to the latest management craze or letting yourself flounder in an economy that’s stacked against you, try some simple creativity boosters instead.
The following are eight strategies taken from my book ‘GRASP The Solution: How to find the best answers to everyday challenges’ to keep your creativity – and your business – freshly charged. Try them out – you’ll soon rediscover your buzz!
1 ) Define your problem clearly and correctly
Einstein once said that if he had one hour to save the world he would “spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.”
If you want to find the best ideas for your business, you have to clearly define your problem first. This might sound obvious but you’d be surprised how many people get it wrong. Often entrepreneurs and staff in organisations spend hours looking for solutions to problems that aren’t important or don’t even exist! If you can understand your problem at the outset, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy.
So how can you do this?
Use the Five Wives and One Husband technique! All you need to do is ask questions about your problem or challenge using these prompts: What? Why? Where? Who? When? and How?
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the fact is this is a very useful way of gathering all the relevant and important information about your problem and getting rid of the superfluous data that might distract you from it. So next time you have a problem, just ask: “What are the facts? Where can I resolve it? When do I need a solution ready?” etc. Remember, only when you really know your problem can you find a creative solution to it.
2 ) Get your team involved with an effective brainstorming strategy
We’re all familiar with group brainstorming as a technique for generating ideas. It’s been part and parcel of business problem solving and decision making for many years now. As the saying goes, “two heads are better than one,” so what better way than to get lots of different people together?
That’s all well and good – but there are pitfalls.
The pressure of being in a group situation can put some people off. You’ve probably noticed yourself that groups are often dominated by a few individuals, while others tend to stay quiet and uninvolved. Some may feel embarrassed to share their crazier ideas. Others may feel their ideas aren’t of much value. And many simply struggle to get their ideas out while waiting for others to finish speaking.
The key to effective brainstorming is to make it proactive by using a strategy. Try getting your team to brainstorm individually in preparation for the group stage. Then place them in small groups to share their ideas with one another, before bringing the whole team together to gather all their thoughts. You’ll find that this way everyone’s willing to take part, helping you get the most out of brainstorming.
3 ) Reframe your problem (again and again)
This might seem an odd one to you. If you’ve already taken the time to define your problem, why spend even more trying to reframe it? Having a single definition of the problem sounds much more sensible. But if you think about it, it can also limit you in how you view potential solutions and ideas. If you can look at your challenge in a new light, you might just discover solutions that would otherwise remain hidden.
So how can you reframe your problem? And how many times should you do it? I’d suggest taking your current phrasing of the problem and reforming it at least 5 times. Change the verbs and nouns and look at it from different angles. Maybe try changing your problem into a question – “we don’t have enough budget” could become “how might we increase our budget?” This approach invites you to look for answers and solutions. So would using ‘how to . . .’ phrasing: “How to increase your budget.” Or it could be as simple as changing the word ‘increase’ to ‘attract’ or ‘develop’, to find new ways of looking at the problem.
You’ll be surprised at how useful this technique is for finding the less obvious (and less boring!) solutions you crave.
4 ) Master the metaphor
“Life is a rollercoaster . . . All the world’s a stage . . . Time is money . . .”
We’re all familiar with metaphors – we use them in our everyday speech, often without thinking about it. Metaphors hold a lot of power in that they can help you think differently to how you usually do. By using a metaphor for your problem you can picture it in a different light, which can inspire all sorts of original ideas.
You can be flexible in how you use metaphors as well. If your challenge is a difficult one to get your head around, you can use a metaphor to reframe it so that it’s easier to understand, i.e. you can make the strange seem more familiar. On the other hand, if you want a new and creative solution to a familiar problem, a metaphor gives you the opportunity to see it from a different angle, i.e. it makes the familiar strange.
Try it out for yourself. Convert your problem into a metaphor – if you can solve the metaphor then that could be the key to solving the original challenge.
5 ) Dream up an idea
How often do you set aside time during the working day to put your feet up and daydream? I’ll take a wild guess your answer is “never!”
Most people think of daydreaming as a waste of time: something you might do during those lazy moments when you’re supposed to be working. But despite it being overlooked and disparaged, I find that daydreaming is one of the most effective tools around for creative problem solving. And I’m not alone. Some of the world’s greatest minds – Einstein, Edison and Newton to name a few – have achieved moments of brilliance through the act of daydreaming; and there’s no reason you can’t too.
Now you might ask: “If daydreaming is so effective, why aren’t I coming up with brilliant ideas all the time?” The secret is to make your daydreaming focused. Prepare yourself for a daydreaming session by going over all the information related to your problem and explore all the options you can think of. Then, simply let your mind wander . . . You might find this works better in certain situations, like while taking a walk or travelling by train. Find what works for you. With luck, your mind will come up with creative ideas and insights you might never have entertained otherwise.
6 ) Challenge your old assumptions
When you’re faced with a familiar problem, how do you tend to react to it? Like most people, I’m guessing you use the same formulas that have worked in the past. This is a very practical approach, but it can be damaging to your creativity and your business in the long run, and is far from the best way to respond to the issue. After all, innovation comes from doing things differently. Sometimes you just have to try and challenge your deep-set beliefs, as well as those of society.
You may have heard about the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus who challenged the belief that the ‘heavenly bodies’ move around the Earth by declaring that the Earth actually revolves around the sun. He was right. This same idea of challenging widely held beliefs can be seen in the business world too. Some of the most successful global businesses – like McDonald’s, Ford and Apple – have gone against the grain to make their tremendous breakthroughs. For instance, Apple decided that computers could be more than just functional and made their products sleek and aesthetically pleasing as a result. This is the kind of unconventional thinking you’ll need to make your own huge leap forward.
Next time you’re faced with a problem, take the time to look at all the assumptions you, or others in general, may have about it. Then try challenging each one to see if they still stick under close scrutiny. If they don’t, free yourself of their burden and let your creativity take over!
7 ) Change your point of reference
We all have a unique point of reference. It’s created from the moment we’re born and evolves as we learn new information and gain experiences. So when we’re faced with an issue or challenge we need to solve, naturally we look at it only from our own individual standpoint. But this inevitably limits our perspective of the issue and our ability to think about it expansively.
Take a challenge you’ve recently had to face. What are your thoughts about it? Now imagine what your co-workers or employees would think about it. Would their view be any different to yours? How would other people unrelated to your business view the problem – say, your father, or a doctor, or even Bill Gates?
I admit this approach can seem a little bizarre on the surface, but it’s actually an excellent way to explore your problem from another point of view. You can use any person – whether real or fictional – and imagine how they would describe the challenge you’re facing. These fresh perspectives could be the key to unlocking new insights, and may just give you some wild and unusual ideas to boot!
8 ) Reverse the challenge
This technique is as simple as it sounds – you take u as simple as it sounds. your original problem statement and use the opposite as a springboard to create new and different solutions. Easy, right? But don’t let that fool you: this is a very effective way to change the angle from which you look at the problem and to get you exploring new, more exciting options.
Are you looking to get more customers? Then ask yourself how you can lose customers. Need to increase sales? Think about how you could decrease them. Take the time to consider all these ‘anti-solutions’ to your problem.
I’d suggest brainstorming in groups if possible – this humorous and playful approach can lead to some very lively sessions to say the least! Then, when you have a list of ‘anti-solutions’, simply reverse them to find ways of solving your original problem. If it’s radical and unusual ideas you’re after, I think this approach might just do the trick!
Coming up with that fresh angle or a series of novel ideas can mean all the difference between a business that dawdles along and one that generates spectacular results. Visit www.GraspTheSolution.com for more information.
How do you recharge when your creativity has lost its power? Please share your thoughts and ideas on the best ways to generate new ideas that can bring a business back on track.