And turn those great ideas into reality
By Scott Charlton
Setting time aside regular times to foster and develop new ideas will pay enormous dividends.
How often do you come up with a great idea and yet fail to put it into practice? Or perhaps there’s an article (even a book) which you’d like to write yet never seem to find the opportunity?
More than likely your team could tell you the answer to this question. Over the years they’ve likely become conditioned to you coming back from a conference all fired up with some new ideas. Right now, they’re likely going to think, “Been to another seminar. Wait a few days. It will blow over.”
In this article I’d like to share with you my observations about being creative whilst being in a busy professional practice. More to the point, I’d also like to share some ideas about how you can develop new ideas such that they can actually get developed and incorporated to good effect into your business.
How the normal week stifles creativity
As a practitioner, at any point in time you know that there’s things that you really need to be doing in order to evolve your business and keep moving in the right professional direction. For example –
- develop new services
- come up with new ideas
- write those articles that you promised the Marketing team
- develop that talk you committed to present a while ago which is now looming large on the horizon
- develop systems for others to follow
It’s not as if good ideas are hard to come by
You might even get a great idea today, or later in the week. Perhaps this might be from chatting to a client, sitting in on a webinar or listening to a podcast. The challenge stems from always having a diary full of appointments and a raft of short term commitments that demand your attention and fill your headspace.
The reality is that it’s hard to block out “Be Creative” space in your diary in between client appointments and team meetings.
For starters, people seem to think that because you’re not with a client that what you’re doing isn’t important. As a consequence, there’s an invisible sign outside your door saying that it’s fair enough to interrupt you. And of course, at your desk you are surrounded by lots of things that demand attention and otherwise cause distraction – certainly none of this is helpful in getting creative.
Particularly if you are new to this or if you are under pressure to produce something, you might just feel really quite awkward or worse, suffer brain freeze as you look at an empty screen.
What I’ve noticed about creativity
It’s a strange thing, this creativity, let me share some personal observations.
Seemingly random times stimulate creativity
For starters, it seems to happen in the most unlikely places. For example some of the best ideas for the books I’ve written came when I was –
- On work trips – at airports, on planes, at the hotel, sitting having dinner by myself
- Whilst driving
- When out for a bike ride
- At a conference
In other words, the most creative thoughts most likely occur anywhere but in the office!
On further analysis, the best results for me have resulted from longer bursts of time than a quick car trip across town.
This is a picture of Beefy’s, located half way along the Highway between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. I was returning to the office having visited a client in Maroochydore one day when the ideas were flowing thick and fast. I just had to pull over and jot them down. An hour later, I had a mind map which became the table of contents for my first book, Your Professional Headspace. Thanks for the pie, drink and table to work on, Beefy’s!
Creative time is usually anything but systemised
For me, the only regular time regarding creative output in recent times has been getting up early on Saturday mornings to write an article. Whilst this has been effective and I’ve enjoyed writing the articles, I don’t want to hard wire part of my precious weekends to what is essentially a work activity.
A problem though in not having an outlet set aside is that good ideas left long enough become obsolete or you forget key parts that should have been jotted down whilst the ideas were flowing!
The hardest part is the start
Once you’ve got a first draft together, it’s relatively easy to steer it through to completion thereafter – one can usually delegate document development, slide show creation, formatting of checklists and then review the outcomes. Without doubt, the hardest part is capturing the idea and developing it sufficiently to get this momentum started.
What Creativity entails
Up until now, we’ve traditionally left creativity to chance. Certainly, in most professional practices it’s received low priority and hence the outcomes have been minimal. Consequently we see websites that all look the same and service offerings which never go far beyond just doing the basics.
And let’s face it – you may not be going for a trip for a while so you can’t rely on this activity if there are some new systems or services which really need to be developed.
So the question becomes… How can creativity (formulating ideas+doing the initial documentation/development) be systematically planned in?
That last part (documentation and development) is important Creativity is actually not all about stringing together continuous great ideas. As Albert Einstein observed, “Genius is one per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration”.
So being effective with creativity entails carving out the time to follow through on those good ideas. For me, this entails –
- Writing up the ideas and explanations
- Coming up with first drafts and prototype diagrams
- Undertaking research
- Consulting with experts
- Interviewing colleagues, checking facts and using sounding boards
The dawn of Creative Week
So, it was with all this in mind that I decided it was time to change creativity from being a random, unreliable happening to a much more purposeful activity – hence the instigation of Creative Week.
What Creative Week entails
Once per quarter, I am now scheduling a week where there are no client appointments. Similarly, I will not be attending team meetings during this time. Instead, the purpose of the Week is to think and to turn good ideas into outcomes.
Thus far, I’ve had two Creative Weeks. What I’ve found is that
- The week absolutely flies by! Getting wrapped up in Big Ideas and working them through to logical outcomes is absolutely engrossing. Some days when I am on a roll, it’s lunch at 2.30PM because quite simply I haven’t looked up at the time.
- I’ve found it highly enjoyable and very productive to have long bursts of time on matters which ordinarily I don’t have the opportunity to work on.
- At the same time, I wouldn’t want to do this full time. Whilst it’s an important activity it’s not my main Besides – it’s quite isolated. It’s made me realise how much I like interacting with my colleagues and clients!
So although it’s still early days, I’m determined to make Creative Week a permanent feature of my annual activities.
The point of writing this article is to suggest that you try this yourself? All that’s required is to pick a week far enough in advance that there are currently no commitments in it and rule it out.
10 Tips for having an effective Creative Week
- Rule out the week well in advance. In fact, put it in a different colour. In my case, it’s yellow, a colour which I associate with fresh ideas and optimism. Progressively accumulate a list of ideas to work on during these times.
- Scheduling Creative Week when clients are less likely to call takes the pressure off in terms of responding to their requirements. For example, it can be quieter than usual during school holidays, on Melbourne Cup Day etc.
- Seek the support and understanding of colleagues. Tell them what you expect to be working on and ask for their feedback and suggestions.
- At times, it’s best to turn off the computer – sometimes the ideas flow better with a pen or dictaphone in the hand. Certainly, you don’t want work emails popping up and causing distraction.
- I find mind mapping on A4 pages to be incredibly productive. (If you have a journal book then these mind maps can go onto an adjoining page if necessary.)
- Clear the decks beforehand so you are not concerned with overdue emails and outstanding commitments. Sure, things will build up whilst you are off the airwaves but largely it’s the same as taking a week’s annual leave. Put your out of office message on and/or have someone else checking your emails. The same goes with voicemail.
- Put in your apologies for your usual internal daily and weekly meetings
- Find a suitable location where you’re going to be away from distractions. For me, the study at home is fine but you could even re-create travel conditions – take yourself to a beach house, mountain top, a quiet cafe or just go for a drive.
- Line up interviews in advance if appropriate.
- Give it a go! If it’s successful, then plan to do it more often. In my case, I’ve decided I’m going to do this quarterly.
I hope that this article has caused you to not just to reflect upon being creative but convinced you to become more purposeful in how you approach it.
More than this, I encourage you to act decisively. Set aside a Creative Week to work on those projects which will really benefit your business.
Scott Charlton is a director of Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their potential. A long term business coach to both accountants and financial planners, Scott is also the author of three books regarding professionals in practice. Scott can be contacted by phone 0409 870 330 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org