The key to being on top in business today is not riding the latest wave, coming up with a gimmick or making the most noise about your latest product. The key is creativity. It is recognizing new connections, creating your own ``windows of opportunity,'' and-most of all-stirring the pot so that new ideas keep bubbling to the surface.
Here are 11 ways to get new ideas flowing in order to create opportunities, open doors and stimulate added business:
1) Take a look at your office. That's right. Just stand at the door and look around the room. What's been changed in the last five years? Is this an interesting place? Do other people enjoy being here? What statement does your office make about you? What story does it tell about the person who sits behind the desk?
Of course, it is possible to be creative in just about any surrounding. But a dynamic environment gets the ideas flowing. Make some changes in your office and you'll develop new ideas.
2) Change your reading. If you're only reading periodicals pertaining to your industry, you can be certain that you're doing a considerable amount of ``cookie cutter'' thinking-it's the same as everyone else's in the business!
When you're able to distance yourself from your specific field, that's when the mind gets up and starts percolating.
3) Begin talking about ideas. Listen to yourself. What do you hear? What do you talk about with co-workers, employees and business associates? If you're honest, you're probably bored with all the unimportant trivialities.
Consciously search out people who may want to share ideas. What you'll discover is that many of the new things you're discussing had been right under the surface of your mind for a long time.
4) Put your thoughts on paper. Thoughts become concrete when you force yourself either to take pen in hand or hit the keys of the computer that sits on your desk but is never used! Get the picture?
5) Get excited about something. Dull, plodding organizations are the lengthened shadow of dull, plodding presidents and managers who stopped enjoying work about 20 years ago. In order to get the imagination moving, something exciting must happen. In fact, it's the atmosphere that's important here. Once there's a little excitement and enthusiasm, the creativity flows!
6) Find one new place a month to have lunch. Of necessity, we are all creatures of habit. Doing things over and over again, the same way, makes life a lot easier. And this is very much the problem. Routines are both comfortable and uncomfortable. The discomforts come from a gnawing sense of boredom.
So, ignore the old haunts where you regularly had lunch. Find at least one new place a month for lunch. The results will be amazing.
7) Think about how many times you say ``no.'' Make an effort to become completely conscious of how many times you say ``yes'' each day, and how often you end it all with a firm ``no.''
Chances are, a lot of ``no'' replies indicate a desire to keep everything the same, to avoid change and to avoid ``problems.'' Nothing new can happen in such circumstances. Saying ``yes'' more than ``no'' will unleash creative forces in the company.
8) Get someone to interview you. It doesn't have to be a reporter, either. Just create the situation for someone to get you to verbalize your thoughts, your views about the business and what your vision of the future is. Then, ask the person to give the interview back to you in writing. This is an important exercise because it is the only way to hold a mirror up to your mind.
9) What do you want to accomplish next? There are certainly times when just getting to Friday can be a monumental achievement. Nevertheless, dreaming is important today. Hard headed and hard nosed are interesting characteristics. But today, they are only a small part of what it takes to make it happen. People with dreams seem to be more creative and innovative.
10) Make three changes in the operation of your business. They don't need to be drastic ones. What they are isn't too important, either. Frankly, just about any change you can think of will do a good job of upsetting the equilibrium. And that's the goal because it will get people thinking, asking questions, and wondering what's going to happen next. Now, you're on the way!
11) Run some new ideas up the old flagpole. Daring? You'd better believe it. As they say, this is where rubber meets the road. To have an innovative, creative organization, the pace must be set from the top. Ask questions. ``Why are we doing it this way?'' ``Well, that's how you wanted it 10 years ago.'' Ask more questions. ``I know, but is it working now?'' Then, keep on asking.
What do these keys to discovering new ideas indicate? Being creative and open to making improvements doesn't require a certain personality.
Becoming an innovative individual, however, does demand a certain frame of mind. For the most part, that means being stimulated by deliberately putting yourself in circumstances that challenge the mind, upset the balance, antagonize the prejudices and make you feel that what comes next may be the best yet.
Mr. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass.