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Creativity: Getting Out of the Box

Leadership, especially in times of change, depends increasingly on the ability of managers, professionals and even front line workers to think and do things differently. In other words, to get out of the box!

So, how do we get out of the box especially when most people are comfortable staying with the tried and true rather than exploring and championing new ideas? Here are tips to jolt your mind and start thinking more creatively.

Stretch your brain.
When a group meets to come up with new ideas, it is helpful to begin with a fun activity that starts the participants thinking in new directions and generating innovative ideas.

Example: Challenge your group to redesign panty hose for male consumers. Yes, you read it correctly. Distribute samples of conventional panty hose and ask such question as, "Who is our target market....How should the new product be packaged? What shall we call it?"

Transform your perspective.
A good way to come up with solutions to problems is to look at them from a perspective that you never considered before.

Example: Bank executives were asked to think of outrageous ways to make their customers very angry. One suggested closing down credit lines without informing customers---causing checks to bounce without any warning. (How would you like that to happen to you?) What they realized is that one of the bank's greatest assets is the perception of total reliability by the customer. They then focused on ways to ensure that reliability.

Dump your garbage.
Hanging on to old complaints or grievances prevents you from dealing with today's significant issues. Therefore everyone has to move on and 'get with the program.'

Example: Encourage workers to symbolically dispose of such obstacles by distributing index cards and asking them to write down all their complaints. The cards are torn up and are placed into a large garbage bag which is then thrown out. After this exercise, the workers may find it easier to forget about their old agendas and move forward. I have also seen this done even more dramatically. The torn pieces are put into a large ash tray or wastebasket and lit with a match. Everyone watches as all the complaints go up in smoke and are burned completely.

Ask the right questions.
Many poor decisions can be traced to asking the wrong questions and to inappropriate, incomplete or poorly framed questions. Good questions should be open enough for creative solutions but narrow enough to focus on solving a specific problem.

Example: A consumer products company was testing an idea for a household cleaner specially formulated for washing walls. Focus groups of consumers were asked to compare the new product's cleaning ability to that of general purpose cleaners. All participants agreed that the new product cleaned better. Armed with this information, the company put the new product into production, advertised extensively and waited for the orders to come pouring in. They waited and waited and waited. The product failed.

While the company was asking consumers how well the product cleaned, they did not ask the most important question: How often do you wash your walls? By the time they learned that most people do not spend time washing walls, they had spent millions of dollars.

Lesson: Before making important decisions, spend time thinking about the questions that you need to ask. Good questions lead to good decisions.

Marcia Zidle, the 'people smarts' coach, works with business leaders to quickly solve their people management headaches so they can concentrate on their #1 job to grow and increase profits. She offers free help through Leadership Briefing, a weekly e-newsletter with practical tips on leadership style, employee motivation, recruitment and retention and relationship management. Subscribe by going to and get the bonus report "61 Leadership Time Savers and Life Savers". Marcia is the author of the What Really Works Handbooks resources for managers on the front line and the Power-by-the-Hour programs fast, convenient, real life, affordable courses for leadership and staff development. She is available for media interviews, conference presentations and panel discussions on the hottest issues affecting the workplace today. Contact Marcia at 800-971-7619.

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