One of the most valuable assets that any company can have is a deep well of creative people generating worthwhile ideas from which to develop services, products, and even new businesses.
Because every business—from the smallest mom-and-pop to the largest multinational—begins with a “good” idea, you might think that good ideas flow like a mighty river in every business. Sadly, this is not at all the case. Ideas that hold the potential for success and advancement are surprisingly sparse—not only in business, but also in general.
Encouraging your employees—or yourself—to have the mindset to generate good business ideas is much like raising crops. It takes directed effort to not only execute on good ideas when they arise, but to also lay the groundwork to encourage good ideas in the first place. Never fear: Following these three easy tips to fostering creative thinking will remove the hesitation and fear that surrounds the topic.
1. Be Open. Good ideas are seldom, if ever, created in a vacuum. Ideas are birthed from our interactions with our world. Alfred Hitchcock was quoted as saying, “Ideas come from everything!” Whether you call it “encouragement,” “influence,” or “inspiration,” it is a must to expose yourself to the thoughts and ideas of others. Only by observing your environment will you find the spark to create the ideas that will change your environment.
Practice It: Finding the inspiration to have your next great idea can be as close as the nearest book, MP3 player, or Internet connection. Whatever your area of interest, you can find books and articles written on the matter, podcasts dedicated to it, or videos covering various aspects of it. But do not stop there! Try attending topic-based group meetings, going to exhibitions, and meeting new people at conventions to get your idea machine cranking!
2. Fit Square Pegs into Round Holes. “Stay on topic” is a common phrase used in project meetings where we often come together to share ideas and progress. However, this can be some of the worst advice ever when you are searching for a new idea. Instead, try searching for the solution to the matter in unrelated topics. Very often we either find that our problem is not as unrelated as first believed or we find inspiration from the slight distraction of intense problem solving.
Practice It: The next time you find yourself stone-walled and left wanting for that elusive answer, try considering the exact opposite of your current train of thought. If you are looking to add features to a product, take a moment to consider what can be removed. Look for answers in the animal world to a mechanical problem, or try taking a moment to consider form instead of function. A group of designers once working on a phone design took a moment to consider removing the keypad instead of making it better, and the iPhone was born!
3. Have 1,000 Dumb Ideas. By far the best way to encourage ideas is to get used to having ideas. Having ideas requires practice in much the same way that a baseball pitcher practices throwing the ball. The pitcher has to throw an enormous number of balls to get a few perfect pitches and gain the muscle memory necessary to keep pitching better. Similarly, in order to have great ideas, you will have to have bad ideas—and lots of them! This is productive and will give your creative mind the muscle memory to generate more ideas faster and with a higher percentage of success. So never fear having bad ideas!
Practice It: The most common barrier to bad ideas is fear of criticism. Practice your bad ideas in private until you are ready to go public. Sit at your desk or in your car and start blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. Write it down and don’t stop to dwell on it, but rather move on to the next bad idea. Eventually you will find that good ideas are creeping into your list of bad ideas, and that this process becomes increasingly less shameful!
Every year it becomes more and more important to foster the creative processes that drive innovation in our world economy. Gone are the days when “all you need is one good idea.” Taking the necessary steps to foster creative thinking in yourself and your staff is a sound and worthwhile investment that every company or entrepreneur must make.