A five-minute-a-day habit may save your business.
“I just traded out of it”. This was the response to a question I asked an office furniture manufacturer when he shared his story about when his largest customer canceled their account. Overnight he lost 60% of his business; I was intrigued as to how he survived such a blow.
He saw it as just getting on with a really, really bad day. When I heard what he did, I saw it as unflagging hard work and yes, applying a healthy dose of creativity.
He had a crippling surplus of stock, an angry customer and employees to pay. He contacted all of his current clients but apart from a minor increase in sales, this brought no salvation. He admitted to wasting hours staring despairingly at the wall, but then he saw an advert for an auction in the Classifieds. He placed an advert for an auction-for-beginners’ at his factory. He had no idea how to run one, but he contacted an agency and negotiated a discounted fee, based on the potential for future business.
He emailed copies of the advert to office managers within a 15km radius and offered free drinks and snacks. He sold enough stock to survive, some of it at a loss, but at least there was cash in the bank and most importantly, he developed relationships with new end-user customers. He had also started to trade his way out of a disaster.
“Creative” is a characteristic that few small business owners would use to describe themselves, but it seems to me that the mere acts of starting a business, finding customers and solutions to their problems, handling employee conflict and developing new product offerings are extremely creative. Unfortunately, what tends to happen as the day-to-day stresses of running a business take their toll, is we stop thinking in terms of “what if?” defaulting instead to “what now!”
This three-step process may help to develop a habit of “what if?” thinking so that when the proverbial rainy day arrives, we can tap into our innate creativity more easily:
1) What do I see? (Build a picture in your mind)
For instance, I see a productive factory full of happy and motivated employees.
2) What do I think? (What is your mindset?)
It’s not possible to achieve this without money and with the current tough labour laws
3) What if? (Open yourself to possibilities)
I wonder what it would be like; I wonder what we would have done to achieve it; I wonder how long it would take; I wonder how we built such a positive team; I wonder…
It is human nature to stop at the second step. There are always reasons why it’s not possible, but the exciting opportunities are only accessible once we allow ourselves to play in the “what if?” space. I use the word ‘play’ deliberately because this is when we free ourselves up and let our creativity out. There is no such thing as a wrong or unrealistic answer. As children, we saw dragons in cloud formations and that was so cool! The aim of this process is not about coming up with solutions to problems but rather about developing the habit of thinking differently, thinking creatively.
What if? What if we land that big client? What if I have happy and productive staff? What if I can afford that family holiday? What if we can develop a better delivery solution?
Key take out: Developing a habit of creativity may help unfreeze our thinking at a time of crisis or simply solve an irritating operations glitch. Either way, the daily five-minute time investment is worth it
Author: Janet Askew
Janet is a trainer, coach, speaker and writer who is passionate about promoting women in business and SMME development. In addition to her consulting work, she is a director of Essentially Natural and serves on the board of the Wot-If? Trust.