From the July 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

A big challenge in building a creative company is learning how to bring fresh input into your daily business life. Finding ways to continually broaden your perspective and find inspiration is one of the most basic creative skills.

Seeking new input is too important to leave to chance encounters. To help you step out of status-quo thinking, you must do the following:

1.Commit to the importance of a continual flow of new input.

2.Cultivate a curious mind that continually asks "I wonder what would happen if . . . ?"

3.Find new sources of input.

Once you accomplish the first two, almost any environment or conversation can spark new thoughts. These simple ideas can get you started:

  • Go to events where you'll meet people outside your usual sphere-people from different industries or from other countries, or people who have interests different from yours. Unlike a networking event, you are prospecting for new ideas, not new contacts. Of course, you might also leave with some promising business cards.
  • Go to places you don't usually go. If you're looking for innovative ideas for a store display, check out places that sell something you don't and that have a completely different customer demographic.

How one store sells sports equipment may give you an idea about how you should sell your bakery goods. Trying the unconventional is a proven way to get your customers' attention.

  • Read a book or magazine that introduces you to a new industry, hobby, place or interest. For example, if you have a contracting or interior design business, looking at a book on animal habitats may be the catalyst for an innovative solution. Specialty catalogs, coffee-table books and even greeting cards are rich in images and words that may inspire you-often, the more unusual, the better.
  • Seek input from people within your company who don't usually get a chance to share their ideas.
  • Let yourself follow a hunch or whimsy, and see what it teaches you. Remember, inspiration is not tied to the practical or feasible. You may want to begin carrying a small notebook or create a file in your PDA to record any new ideas or creative thoughts. Once you're in the habit of being open to receiving ideas, they'll start flooding in anytime and at anyplace.

Juanita Weaver is a creativity coach and consultant. She'd like to hear how your company sparks creativity. Contact her at juanita@juanitaweaver.com.