Our seven-year-old granddaughter claims she has a twin sister named Stardust . . . except that Stardust is older than our granddaughter. Stardust supposedly lives in the attic of our granddaughter’s home . . . even though there is no attic. Stardust is apparently homeschooled though our daughter says she’s never shown up for class. What’s most amazing is how I can ask a multitude of questions about Stardust and my granddaughter always has an answer for every one – instantly. The creative mind of this little girl is truly incredible, hilarious, and heartwarming.
There’s an entrepreneurial lesson here beyond the sharing of a proud grandpa story. How many of us have been able to preserve and expand upon the child’s imagination that many of us enjoyed when we were seven? How many of us have settled for the “reality” of life as we have become consumed with adulthood? Are we listening to the whispers that tell us to stay in our lane and color within the lines?
Imagination is inspiring. And inspiration propels us to elevate our game and do great things. Over the years, I’ve heard many entrepreneurs lament that they just aren’t creative. And I acknowledge that much of creativity is innate. But not all of it. Every entrepreneur can learn to be more creative, but it takes effort, intentionality, and practice. From time to time, I used a technique to test the creativity of a prospective team member during an interview – often for a sales position. After talking for a while and helping the prospect become comfortable, I tossed him or her a paper clip and asked the prospect to sell it to me. Often, the prospect would make a valiant effort to sell me on the “reality” of the paper clip. The virtues of the shape, strength, color, and utility would be extolled. It was an exciting moment when someone saw something other than a paper clip. I was asked need determination questions and to share my pain points. And then amazingly, the paper clip was transformed into something that removed that pain. The paper clip as a prop was re-imagined into a solution.
The whole point is that a few people were able to look at the paper clip differently. And that’s the moral of this story. We can improve our creative spirit by learning to look at something differently. Maybe it’s a system or process. Perhaps it’s a product or even a market. The process of looking at something differently can be enhanced by bringing others into a brainstorming session who are innately creative. A great entrepreneur will constantly challenge himself/herself to look differently at as many things as possible.
The sustainability of an organization must go beyond mastery. That is, we can develop the gold standard for a product or service and excel for an extended period of time. But if that’s all we do, our organization will eventually die. Why? Because someone else will come along and see the paper clip differently. They will improve upon it or change it completely and eventually our loyal customers will value that difference more highly and leave.
Seeing things differently and acting accordingly can be scary and chaotic. Change can ruffle many feathers and there’s no doubt that an organization that “flits” from one idea to the next can be at risk. But there’s no question that some level of mastery is needed – otherwise continual change can cause whiplash! Finding the right balance between creative explosion and basic inertia is obviously critical. We’ve been fine tuning this balance in our family of companies for more than 50 years. The good news is that our team has embraced both aspects of looking at things differently and successfully mastering the changes that are made.
It’s my hope that Stardust will visit you someday soon and help you realize your unlimited potential that comes through your power of imagination.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.