Seven ways to stimulate creative thinking…

The people who are most successful in business are often the ones who come up with novel products or services, or who find different approaches to solving problems.

As part of my MBA, we had a session on how to come up with new ideas. The list below is what the class came up with, along with a few additional items that my friends and I have since discussed:

Approaches to developing new ideas:

Spend time doing things that are completely outside your normal activities
If you’re a business person, spend time with people who aren’t; if you usually listen to rock music, try classical; if you always take the same path to work, try an alternate route…

Structure time for creative thought
It is very easy to get caught up in the hectic pace of day to day life. Set aside time just to daydream.

Read literature from multiple genres; especially Fantasy and Science Fiction
Stories in the Fantasy and Science Fiction genres transport readers to worlds where the rules of physics don’t apply. You may find that this enables you to view our world through another lens.

Deliberately see possibilities; not immediate results
It is rare that people are able to create perfection on their first attempt. When viewing the work of yourself and others, visualize the possibilities of what can be achieved and never judge the results of the first attempt.

I have found that inspiration sometimes strikes when I’m recovering from exercise. As is probably obviously, there is an indescribable connection between mind and body.

Engage in creative endeavors
Write stories, play music, paint, draw, write a blog, learn a language …

This is distinct from daydreaming, in that the objective in daydreaming is to let the mind wander; whereas the objective in meditation is to quiet the mind.

As I mentioned in my first blog post, action trumps everything. If you feel that you would benefit from anything in the above list, I encourage you to incorporate it into your weekly routine. 

The only way to network successfully…

The only way to network successfully is to build and maintain genuine relationships; and the first step is to consider how you can provide value to the other person!

On the first day of an undergraduate degree students are often told “networking is vital to future success”. It is the same thing on the first day of any corporate graduate program and it’s most definitely, the same thing on the first day of an MBA.

The message that is not always conveyed is the right way to network. Both parties in a business relationship should get value from it… else the relationship doesn’t exist. Please note, I do not mean that the relationship needs to be equally beneficial; in fact that’s rarely the case. More often than not, one person will be more senior than the other, and will likely have more connections and more experience.

You may be wondering “But I’m only just beginning my career; what can I offer a senior leader?”. Well, the first thing you can offer is ‘genuine interest in what they do for a living and what they have to say’.

Once you have made initial connections, you should continue to look for ways that you can help your contacts. As only one example, the next time you read any business articles, think about which of your contacts might appreciate them and consider sending along an extract with a link. A word of caution, share articles in the right way (i.e. only share a few relevant articles: it’s about quality not quantity).

If you keep an open mind, I’m sure that you’ll find many ways you can help the people in your network…and trust me; your efforts will be rewarded.

There are two paths to the top, but which is better?

There are traditionally two paths to the top in business and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. I put together the following chart (click for larger version) from my experience and observations.

I encourage to you assess where you are currently in your career and which path you’d like to take to achieve your goals. For I warn you, while it’s possible to switch from one path to the other, there are many obstacles to overcome!

Everyone is responsible for success and failure (including you)

Discovering the role you played in any success or failure is fundamental to career development.

Consider the last time something when wrong at work. Did you automatically search for someone else to blame? It may be that you believed that it was entirely someone else’s fault; or perhaps you convinced yourself that was the case in order to avoid any potential fallout.

In either event, there is a fundamental flaw in the above approach, which is that you miss out on a key opportunity to learn.

The next time something goes wrong, stop and consider what you could have done to prevent it, or to lessen the impacts. Please note, I’m not suggesting that you publicly take the blame for the actions of others. What I am suggesting however, is that you take a moment to assess how you contributed to the situation and what you would do differently were a similar situation to occur again.

Even if complete responsibility for a task is given to another person, as depicted by the larger circle in the above diagram, there are always things you can do to reduce the likelihood of disaster. Purely as an example, perhaps you could offer to provide guidance, or even just take the time to ask the right questions.

In reading the above, you may have noticed that I have used this blog entry to focus on failures. What I hope you'll find obvious, is that this advice also holds true for successes. With a little reflection you will be able to identify the role you played in delivering great results, which will most certainly increase your chances of future success.