‘Innovate or die’ is the new norm in this day and age – which means creative thinking exercises are crucial to new ideas and the success of your business.
If you want to be better than your competition and if you want to be remarkable to spread the word of mouth about your company, then this article is for you.
If you are someone who reads a lot but never actually takes the time to do something for them self, then this is not for you!
Often, when people read a blog or a book they’ll feel inspired to do something about it, but never do.
Do not be that person!
We’re here to help you change your mindset and give you the tools, as well as some tasks and challenges to ensure that you do do something about your business and take a step up.
You need to keep the momentum going.
Businesses that schedule time to step away from their business to see the bigger picture and take time to think of some new creative ideas to push their business forward are the ones who have momentum and stand out against the crowd.
Those who find time to be creative, find time to be awesome.
Creative Thinking Exercises: 4 Things you Need to Have in Place
A place to capture slow hunches
History has a way of defining huge breakthroughs in single momentous ‘Eureka’ moments – it just makes for a better story. Archimedes sitting in a bath and coming up with the theory of displacement, an apple falling on Newton’s head and coming up with the theory of gravity, history is full of these moments.
The problem is that they are just stories. In reality these miraculous discoveries are actually ideas that Archimedes and Newton had been working on for some time. Years in fact.
If they hadn’t had these ideas fixed in their subconscious mind already, and hadn’t spent years trying to work it out, and if they hadn’t dedicated their lives already to science, they wouldn’t have come up with their idea in their eureka moment.
It’s the same for you. A brilliant idea or breakthrough moment usually starts off as a small idea, niggling away until one day you crack it!
But how many ideas have you had and just discarded?
Maybe you thought they were a bit too ‘out there’ or just wouldn’t work, or were too ambitious.
But what if they were actually life changing, amazing ideas that just needed a slight tweak?
What if they just needed a bit of time to develop?
This is called a slow hunch.
One of the best things we ever did was start to capture all our ideas whenever we had them. In this day and age our attention span is tiny and ideas are easily forgotten. Once written down, we can come back to them and develop them to see if they are actually worth pursuing. This has paid off for us massively! In fact all of our big achievements have come about like this, starting off as just ideas worthy of dismissing, but instead we wrote them down and thought about them subconsciously and consciously till they developed into something workable.
Imagine if the one thing that could dramatically change your life and your business was just an idea that you dismissed and forgot about. Scary right?
So step one is to write all your ideas down! The good, the bad, and the ugly. How you do this is up to you, some people prefer to carry around a notepad especially for ideas, or maybe you use something like Evernote, or maybe you just simply use an app on your phone like ‘Reminders’. You could even use the voice recorder on your phone with a short description as the title.
Whatever you choose, from here on in make it a habit to write down ideas that come to you – no matter where you are! Oftentimes our best ideas come to us when we are not at work. Don’t use that as an excuse, still capture those ideas. Use Siri if you have to: “Hey Siri, add to reminders…”
Challenge: We challenge you to write down at least five ideas that will help your business each day for the next month, just to get you going and into the habit.
Remember when it comes to ideas, quantity leads to quality.
You will have heard the phrase, the fastest way to succeed is to fail more than anyone else. Well it’s the same with ideas, and to Stand Out you need to be thinking creatively and come up with lots of ideas that help to make you better or remarkable.
Even if you don’t think of yourself as particularly creative, everyone has the ability to get creative and think a bit differently. So don’t worry or use that as an excuse, just get capturing ideas.
But what turns random ideas into great eureka moments?
Turning wacky ideas into great ideas sometimes takes an outside perspective. This happens all the time for us, one of us will come up with an idea, and the other will put their own perspective into it to make it work. Sometimes all it takes is another person’s viewpoint. More on this later. You can gain another perspective by having life experiences also, that’s why we always to try new things and immerse ourselves in other cultures. By looking at problems with your ideas from another angle, you will usually find the breakthrough you need.
Other times you just need to work through the idea to make it work. We often discuss ideas in the car on the way to work or sit down and brainstorm out the idea to come to a conclusion of whether it is worth taking forward or dropping.
Slow hunches can often come about when you’re inspired by other’s work. Which leads us to Swipe Files. A swipe file is where you capture or ‘swipe’ something that has inspired you and put it away in a folder for later use. So it could be a particularly striking graphic that took your attention, or a well written piece of copy, something that made you buy something, or some Stand Out Marketing Idea that blew you away. Either way, capture it, because when you are trying to think of some creative ideas down the line, this swipe file is going to help you out massively.
Again, use what you feel most comfortable with to capture and organise: Evernote for example is especially good for this. Pinterest is another way to do it; it’s possible to set up a private board for your own use, and add interesting things to it. You can then even share it with graphic designers at a later date so they can see what your interests are.
When we’re stuck and need some inspiration for ideas, we look back at our swipe file and immediately it helps the creative juices flow.
The reason why it works is because they’re ideas that have worked on you, thus they are proven.
One of the hardest parts of coming up with good ideas is actually knowing whether it is indeed a good idea, and if it will work.
A great way to combat that is to see what’s worked for others and do the same yourself – except doing it in your own way.
There’s a caveat here: Don’t put in your swipe file swipes from your own industry. That’s simply copying. We can admire what other people in our industry have done, but we would never directly copy, or you are just ‘following the leader’ once again. Taking inspirations from other industries and applying it to your own business is the way to do it.
Scheduling time to get creative
It’s important to schedule time to work ‘on’ your business, not just ‘in’ your business. By spending time working on your business, you allow yourself to come up with ideas to help with the the business and how to improve it and make it more effective, so that you don’t need to work so hard. In fact, the more you work on your business, you’ll find the less you have to work in the business. Sounds good right?!
It’s also in this time when Stand Out ideas can be brainstormed and put into place. As with anything in this life, if you don’t make time for it, it won’t happen.
When people say, “I don’t have time” what they actually mean is, “I don’t value this” above another task. If taking time to get creative will help you to become remarkable, Stand Out and help get your business out there in a way you can’t imagine with anything else, then yes, taking time to get creative and brainstorm new ideas should be valued and time should be made for it!
Make time in your busy schedule each week (if not each day) to work on your business, get creative, and brainstorm ideas to help make you Stand Out.
Make time and it will happen.
But which time?
You can only be creative if you’re in a good mood, that’s why organising time is so important.
Being creative and getting yourself out there should be fun, but organisation comes first.
One of the biggest and most commons reasons why you’re not in a good mood is because your mind is clogged up with all the things you have to do and whether you’re behind on work, and all these other ideas that you want to look into stay in your head.
If you actually schedule the time when you’re most productive (for us, this is first thing in the morning, never in the afternoon) then make that the time to be creative. If it’s in the morning, don’t check your emails and your social media accounts and then start, because you’ll have 100 thoughts and conversations in your head distracting you.
You might have a flare of inspiration, but if you’re being good and trying to be efficient, don’t take time out to dabble with the idea, stick with what you’re doing and get it done, because that’s what will make you productive.
We would recommend however, writing it down to come back to later.
If you can get it all down you’ll feel much better, because you can take charge of what you’re doing.
One thing that we have done in the past, and what multiple business experts have also suggested is to schedule in a much longer-term break than just a few hours or days, but actually take a full week off. No distractions, no meetings, no calls, just you stepping back away from your business to see the bigger picture.
At the time we had got to a point where business was coming in regularly and we were just doing work when it came in. But it wasn’t what we always wanted to do, and if we carried on that way then we wouldn’t have reached our ambitions and dreams.
In short…We had gotten comfortable, and that’s the arch enemy of ambition. We needed to get out of this comfort rut.
Are you stuck in a comfort rut?
So we took a week out.
Let us tell you it was phenomenal. It allowed us to see where we were heading, compared to where we wanted to be, it allowed us to focus in on what was making us money and what was wasting our time, it allowed us to make plans to get to where we wanted to be and achieve rather than just hoping things would happen.
After this time, we realised we needed to step up our game and work hard to achieve what we wanted. At the end of the week we had come out with an idea to really Stand Out in our market, we worked on becoming ‘better’ and had some ‘remarkable’ ways of Standing Out.
So we would highly recommend it. You will feel reinvigorated by it. And at the end you and your business will be in a much better place. You can’t just force creativity or Stand Out Marketing ideas, you need to time to breathe, reflect and mull over. Giving yourself time will help that process.
Some experts just say, go home now and book a week’s holiday somewhere abroad. Now for us, that’s not realistic or practical! Looking at our schedule we had to book out a week period six weeks in advance. This allowed us to finish off and work around any paid work, projects, deadlines and meetings. It was tough and scary to do this because there’s no guaranteed results at the end, but trust us – this is so worth doing at least once a year, if not every six months.
Brainstorming: Mastermind groups
For many small businesses and entrepreneurs it can be hard to brainstorm and get creative all by yourself. So don’t do it all by yourself, get involved in a mastermind group. Either join an existing one or set one up. There are paid ones and free ones but essentially the concept is the same. If you want to create a mastermind group, just download the graduation pack for everything you need including: email invite drafts, how to structure a Mastermind Group, and how to set appropriate guidelines to ensure everyone benefits from it.
The concept of Mastermind Groups was originally introduced by the author of “Think and Grow Rich,” Napoleon Hill. A man who interviewed all the richest and most successful people in the world. He states that a Mastermind Group is: “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”
How they usually work is that around four mutually benefitting people meet up once every two weeks or monthly, each person gets an equal amount of time (e.g. 30mins each) to discuss their business and any ideas, problems or opportunities they have. Others in the group chip in, help and offer their perspective, before moving onto the next person. Each person also has to set goals to achieve before the next meet up and everyone holds each other to account.
They are great because you can bring up some of those slow hunches and brainstorm them together. This is invaluable if you work alone or in a small team. We would highly recommend setting one up with some business friends that you know.
In the same vein as a mastermind group, a [good] mentor will help you in a similar way.
A mentor will ask you questions and share stories from their own experience, to help you find the answers within yourself.
In this sense then a mentor is highly recommended – especially if you are a one man band or a small team. They can bring a different perspective and help you to think in a new way. What’s more is that when you have ‘remarkable’ ideas you can run them past your mentor to see if they think it is a good idea or not.
You can pay for a mentor or you may be lucky enough to find a businessman or businesswoman to help you out of kindness and generosity. In general most people want to help others if they can, and especially successful people – they want to give something back.
You cannot just presume this however, most successful people are too busy to just give away their time to a stranger. In that vein then it is most definitely worth asking someone you know or reaching out to someone in a nice way to build the relationship first.
Also consider, rather than asking someone if they will mentor you for free, why not ask instead if just once a month you could buy them a coffee and ‘pick their brains’ (awful phrase but we’re going with it) for twenty minutes? It sounds much nicer and makes it a much more acceptable proposition than “Can you spend over an hour a week to come and mentor me please”. Despite asking for only twenty minutes they’ll probably give you longer.
When choosing a mentor pick someone who you think you will get on with, someone who you admire, and someone who has done what you want to achieve (or at least on the way there).
Brainstorming: No Wrong Answer Game
A tip for brainstorming is to use the ‘No Wrong Answer’ game, that we often play in the office. It’s based on the idea that quantity leads to quality and that often a wacky off the cuff idea might actually form the basis of a great idea.
Typically when brainstorming you start by coming up with lots of ideas – everyone shouting out stuff to the person writing it all down. It is crucial at this point to keep everyone’s spirits up and the creative juices flowing. If at any point somebody suggests something and then is immediately shot down or sniggered at, they won’t want to shout out another idea again as they feel a certain amount of negativity. Negativity stifles creativity. The more bonkers ideas the better sometimes.
Essentially how the game works is that at this initial idea generation stage there are no wrong answers. Anyone who says ‘no’ or anything negative gets a yellow card (you can have actual yellow cards or just tot them up on a piece of paper), and the person with the least amount of yellow cards wins!
Of course this isn’t just an excuse to shout out lots of silly ideas, it is however a more fun way of brainstorming and cutting out the negative ninnies!
Brainstorming: Fill in the Holes Game
After the initial ideas generation stage you will want to drill down further.
Go through each of the ideas and pick out the ones that excite you most and expand on them.
This is where we play the ‘Fill in the Holes’ game. Some ideas will be awesome, some ideas will have hidden potential but just need to be tweaked, and others need to be dismissed. But again let’s not have any of the negative stigma attached to having your idea dismissed.
Go through each idea and ask the person whose idea it was to say whether the idea is still relevant to the aim of the brainstorm. If ‘no’ then strike through and move on.
There will come a point where the silly ideas have gone and the good ideas and questionable ideas are still there. At this point we get to put on the black hat – that is to express concerns. This is a chance for whoever had the idea to defend it. Everyone can ask questions about it and the person can answer them until it is decided whether or not the idea is worthy of even further consideration.
Anyone can chip in to fill in the holes too, it doesn’t just have to be the person whose idea it was, you should be thinking on the lines of ‘OK, if we had to implement this idea, how do we make it work?’
This way, each idea has a fair chance and each idea gets to be checked for holes/flaws in them. If you can answer all the concerns about an idea then go for it! Even if the answers are more like, “I’m not sure how that will work right now but I’m sure we can figure it out.”
With some ideas, they may seem too ambitious or too risky, but so long as you think the reward is greater than the risk, and it’s aligned with your brand, then sure enough you can make it work with some extra hustle.
We hope these creative thinking exercises have helped you to think of some new ideas and make your business awesome!
Let us know how you get on!