Turn It On

Steps To Creativity

There are still more concrete ways to maximize creativity in your workplace, and USC professor Kathleen R. Allen has plenty of experience in spelling out little steps that, when diligently applied, can result in great ideas.


  • Carry a notebook. "You never know when an idea will occur to you--an idea for a new business or a better way of doing what you're presently doing. As you drive, watch TV, eat lunch, ideas pop into your head. Unless you write them down, you will not remember them," says Allen.


  • Think opportunistically. "Wherever you go, really pay attention," Allen advises. "Most of us navigate through our world on autopilot, but when we start paying attention--when we start questioning what we are seeing and why--good ideas can occur to us."


  • Network. "So many ideas come up when you meet new people. Somebody will say `I wish a company did this,' and, bingo, an idea for a business comes to you," says Allen.


  • Think in opposites. "Everybody says recessions are bad--but haven't they been good for some businesses? The past recession gave birth to a huge outsourcing industry, for instance," says Allen. "For every idea--for every sacred cow--there is an opposite idea, and, sometimes, exploring the opposite is where entrepreneurs will find the best ideas."


  • Reinvent the wheel. "Ask yourself how you can put a new twist on an old product or service. Think about the addition of baking soda to toothpaste, for instance," Allen says. Take any product, and come up with 50 unexpected uses for it. "Keep in mind that sometimes the most creative uses [involve] literally smashing the product and coming up with something entirely new," says Allen. Can you list 50 uses for a Styrofoam cup? An ashtray? Don't quit until you complete the list because, frequently, persistent elaboration of an idea is what finally yields a commercial creative success.


  • Challenge your ruts. "We do the same things, the same way, every day. This is a primary barrier to creativity," Allen warns. "Often we need to feel a little uncomfortable--we need to experience new things--to get creative sparks." If every day you lunch at a burger place, start mixing in stops at Vietnamese or Italian eateries. If you always drink a beer with Friday's dinner, drink a glass of wine. If you only listen to country music, on tonight's drive home, tune in to a rock station. Alone, none of these steps may trigger creative ideas, says Allen, but taken together, "anything we do that forces us out of our normal environment will let us see things in new, different ways."

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This article was originally published in the November 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Turn It On.

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