Turn Off Auto-Pilot! Turn On Creative Thinking!

by May 3, 2009Outside the Box

Do you sit in the same place everyday? Drive to and from work along the same route? Tackle problems in the same manner?

Habits are easy and they help us get through the day. Do them too often, however, and you end up in a rut. Let the ruts get too deep and it is hard to find a new solution to a problem or challenge. Sometimes drastic measures are needed to break out of the rut.

This is especially true for small business owners looking for ways to take their business in new directions. Sometimes the best thing to do is Break the Habit!

If you need a fresh idea, try a new direction. Consider using a technique called “Random Input.” This technique helps you break away from restrictive thinking patterns. It opens a conversation about new solutions you normally might not associate with the problem.

You can do this anywhere, but my favorite location is an outdoor cafe, with sunshine, a latte, blank sheet of paper, and a pen. To get started select a random noun from the dictionary or any noun which pops into your head. Since it works best if the noun is something you can see or touch like a car or hat, I usually look for something on the street around me as a starting point for my brainstorm.

Next, look for ways to connect the noun to the challenge at hand. As you brainstorm, do not eliminate or evaluate ideas. Let your mind wander. Capture every idea. Yes, you will have some useless ones. Others may lead to valuable insights. And at least one is likely to make a startling, creative leap.

Here is an example of how Random Input can work. Imagine your challenge is to find a new fundraising project for a teen soccer team. You have considered all the conventional solutions, but nothing really exciting comes to mind.

Now is a good time to try random input. You see your favorite plant on your desk and decide to use the word “plants.” Brainstorming may lead to some of these ideas:

  • Plant seeds in the spring, and sell the young trees in the fall.
  • Offer lawn care services instead of the typical car wash.
  • Sell decorative floral arrangements for holidays.
  • Solicit sponsors for the trees around the playing fields.
  • Organize an outing to a local ceramic studio. Have participants create flower pots to be auctioned off as part of a larger team fundraising evening.

You will generate even more ideas if you brainstorm with others. Invite 3 – 5 people to join you for short (20 – 30 minute) sessions. When it comes to brainstorming, two heads are definitely better than one!

The ideas will be sketchy at first. Many may be useless or impractical. Yet, one might be original enough for the basis of an entirely new concept. Try it! Random input is a great new habit to develop.

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