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Jumpstarting Creativity For Business Success
By Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.
© 1999, Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.

In today's highly competitive business climate, creativity can no longer be limited to artists and inventors. The marketplace is changing rapidly, and in the words of Intel CEO, Andrew Grove, companies must "Adapt or Die!" Every organization needs people who can bring new ideas to the table. People who can come up with new uses for old products... new techniques to close sales... new methods for increasing productivity... or, in this era of downsizing, new ways to do more with less!

The good news is that ingenuity is not a gift, but a skill that can be cultivated. The trick is getting those creative juices flowing. But, how do you go about doing that?

Nobel Prize winner, Albert Giorgi, the man who discovered vitamin C, offered this answer, "Discovery consists in looking at the same things as everyone else, but thinking something different."

But, how do we go from looking at the same things to thinking something different?

The key to creativity is looking at things in different ways -- that is getting a another perspective. But that only answers part of the question. The rest of the answer comes from understanding the essence of creativity: Problem Solving or Satisfying A Need. It's as simple as the old saying: "Necessity is the mother of invention."

And, that old saying also tells us when we are most likely to be creative? When we're forced into it!

You are also likely to be creative when something is annoying you. Is there something you hate to do, but simply can't avoid? That's an indicator of a situation in need of improvement. At home or at work, whether it's a squeaky door hinge or sluggish sales, you will be most creative -- and most likely to come up with a solution -- when you are truly irritated.

So... How can you become more creative? One way is to observe creative people and emulate their characteristics. All creative thinkers have three primary traits. Of those, first and foremost, is the belief they are creative. Ninety percent of being creative is thinking you are and with that comes the confidence that you'll come up with the right answer when the need arises.

The second characterisitic of innovative people is that they are flexible in their thinking even when they don't have to be. They readily abandon traditional ways of viewing things and go off in new directions. Try it yourself; select any item off of your desk and think of another use for it. Can't decide which item choose -- start with an easy one -- try a paperclip. You'll be surprised how many you can come up with.

Next select two objects and try to come up with a new product. One definition of creativity is the combination of two or more existing ideas into a new one. In fact, some R&D departments employ people to sit around and do just that. (Which might explain where those bizarre inventions as the Salad Shooter and the Hot Topper came from.)

The third and most important trait of creative thinkers is they expose themselves to new experiences and different viewpoints. By opening their minds to new stimuli, they literally lay down new neural pathways in their brains -- opening new channels of thought. Then, when they are confronted by problems, they have all that extra brain-power ready to assist them.

Sometimes, however we have to force ourselves to try something new. Why is it that we'll exercise our muscles, but let our brains languish? That's because most of us have worked hard to learn and establish the comfortable patterns of life we follow. For example, can you imagine reinventing your morning routine everyday? No way, we'd never get anything done. Many of these patterns are shortcuts that reflect previous efforts of creativity on our parts. But, there could still be an even better way just waiting to be discovered.

Baseball great, Branch Rickey said, "To succeed, preparation has to meet opportunity." Will you be ready when opportunity knocks? You can be if you're expanding your brain power by experiencing as many new things as possible.

Here are two easy ways you can expose yourself to new stimuli. First, simply read more. Read a variety of magazines -- not just the ones you like -- ones you wouldn't ordinarily read. Second is to listen a broad mix of radio stations. Select a different one each week, and again, don't choose what you already enjoy. Force yourself to acquire new tastes.

Living a creative lifestyle is great, but occasionally you need answers NOW, yet nothing is forthcoming from your brain. Here's a simple technique that will help jumpstart your creativity: Put It In Writing! Write down everything you know about the problem; every aspect and everything it affects. Pretend you're writing a term paper or a report for a third party who knows nothing about it, but needs to know everything. The very process of writing in such detail forces you to look at the issue from many angles or to get a different perspective -- and this is the key that often stimulates a workable idea.

When you have a number of people to work with, a fun way to generate ideas is to use Brainstorming. This is when a group gets together and everyone throws out ideas until a workable one is found. However, in order for Brainstorming to work, a few rules must be followed:


1. All ideas are valid. This encourages people to take risks and offer outrageous ideas.
2. All participants are equal, and no one is allowed to critique or evaluate anyone's idea.
3. Go for as many ideas as possible -- quantity over quality -- then sort for best one later.
4. Branch out and expand upon ideas as they are offered. Build on it or morph it to take the
Brainstorming process to a new level.

Developing your ability to think creatively prepares you to handle difficult situations as they arise, and think faster on your feet. You'll also find that you're getting more out of life. Because your mind is open to new stimuli, you'll be discovering exciting new things to do. So, start taking the less obvious choices you're offered and see what you new thoughts you begin to have. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Robert Wilson is an advertising consultant and speaker, contact him at www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.

SUGGESTED READING


Thinkertoys: A Handbook Of Business Creativity For The 90s
by Michael Michalko

A Whack On The Side Of The Head; How You Can Be More Creative
by Roger von Oech

Creative Priority
by Jerry Hirschberg

The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress
by Virginia Postrel

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