In a rapidly changing digital world, innovation is not a luxury. Products and processes must be continuously improved to remain above the competition, and creativity is what drives that innovation. Managing the daily to-dos can often make finding inspiration impossible. The challenge then is developing and nurturing a playful mind, one that will continuously come up with new ideas.
I’ve been searching for mediums that trigger ideas for me. As I continue to explore more and more, I have found some practices and sources that have helped me nurture my creativity.
Books are the primary resource I use for finding inspiring new ideas. They immerse me in new worlds that produce a cascade of new concepts that apply to my company, Celaque. Sometimes the plans are ready for implementation, and I can then find ways to place them into action directly. Other times, I do not immediately implement anything from a book but discover that ideas I have come up with are linked to a concept I read about in a book years before.
There are a few books that have changed the way I look at the company and from which I have harvested dozens of ideas. Two such books are How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg and Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio. For more on these two books and some of the most impactful ideas I found in them, please read my blog posts: Valuable Ideas from Google for Growth and Innovation and Ray Dalio on His Powerful Principles.
Books have been such a potent source of knowledge and ideas that whenever I need inspiration on a particular topic, I always refer to books first.
Articles are also excellent resources. Since their length is much shorter, they don’t require such a substantial investment of time. Taking 5 to 10 minutes to read an article is all it takes to find out about a company in a similar industry or about a newly developed technology. These articles may lead you to a whole new concept that was previously unknown.
Sharing information and discussing the concepts as a group also triggers creativity. I often forward great articles to the rest of my team, as I have found that reading the same material with others will amplify the value of the ideas we can brainstorm.
Another fantastic source of inspiration is the team itself. The people within the company know the work we do better than anyone else externally and are on the frontlines of everything we do. Whenever we have a complicated problem or are looking for ways we can improve, we sit down together to brainstorm our ideas. For instance, we have a weekly sales meeting every Wednesday. We usually analyze the market and often take the opportunity to brainstorm new ideas that will improve sales.
Consistent feedback and iteration make all the difference. We uncover great ideas just in that process of going back and forth within the group. Other times, we experiment with those new ideas and go back to tweak them further and learn from them, as many heads are always better than one.
Learning about how other companies resolve issues also helps us tap into new ideas. As an example, I am currently trying to find a solution to our real estate financial models. We have been working with Microsoft Excel, but I am not the biggest fan of this program. [Please read my post on my thoughts on Excel here.] I want a Cloud-based solution that is made for real estate developers and within my budget.
My overall approach here is research. During this phase of exploration, every couple of days, I go online and search for solutions that other companies are using. Though I haven’t been successful in this particular project yet (please let me know if you have excellent modeling software!), researching this topic has already broadened my knowledge about how others in my industry have solved this common problem. Ironically, it has also helped me feel better about continuing to use Excel because it is still one of the primary tools used for modeling.
When I need to come up with a creative solution to a specific problem, and I am stuck after having researched, read, and spoken with others, I find that mental and physical rest is the best option. Sometimes merely removing yourself from your surroundings can help clear your mind. Therefore, I will leave something I am working on and not think about it for a couple of days.
This situation happened to me recently when we were in the final stages of designing the façade of our next office building. Our architects sent the final render of the building, and while everything was beautiful, I wasn’t happy with the front. We were running out of time, so further iterations were going to be problematic. Luckily, there were two happy coincidences: I received the designs on a Friday, so I had the weekend to think, and additionally my husband and I were in Chicago for that weekend. My mind wanted to examine the problem and solve it, but I forced myself to think about other things, which I found wasn’t hard given the beautiful city we were in.
On Sunday while we were in Chicago, we took an architectural boat tour around the city in the middle of the day. When we got to the end of the tour, I knew that we needed to modify the front of the building. The way to do it, how to assemble the team and iterate, just dawned on me, and I no longer felt stuck. As soon as I got back into the office, we put together a team, made a few more iterations, and found a combination that we all loved. Taking time off was incredibly helpful so that I could clarify what needed to change.
These practices all interact with and augment the others. Often, a combination of three or four methods is the best way to solve problems and come up with new points of view. The ideas feed on each other and can drive innovation at work.