Thursday, November 12, 2015

How to Generate More Good Ideas

Methods to Try, Questions to Ask and Apps to Use

Article published on written by Belle Cooper / October 23, 2014

[Find the article here.]

I recently found this great article written last year. I find the content and message to be timeless on the important subject of creativity and generating ideas. We published a previous post on the creative process, and this article expands on this topic. 

Some of the valuable points and quotes from this article include:

  • "Every artist gets asked the question, 'Where do you get your ideas?' The honest artist answers, 'I steal them.'" - Austin Kleon, Author ("Steal Like an Artist")
  • "Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something." - Steve Jobs
  • "You can't have good ideas unless you're willing to generate a lot of bad ones." - Seth Godin
  • "You've got to be free to say any dumb thing, because a lot of times when you say something stupid, a good idea arises from it." - Thomas Schnauz, Breaking Bad (TV Show) Writer
  • "Not everything that goes into the wide end of your idea funnel should be utterly change-the-world-I-have-to-make-this-happen-at-all-costs, yet at some point in that funnel from idea to product someone will have to be personally convicted of the idea and want to fight for it." - Stef Lewandowski, founder of app maker Makeshift

This article highlights some additional thoughts from Steve Jobs on the value of experiences in helping us generate new ideas. Jobs said creative people are able to "connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." In his observation, creative people consistently have "had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people."

I agree wholeheartedly with Jobs' perspective on experiences and how for some people it informs and inspires their creativity. Travel experiences are a perfect example. When I travel I often focus on what I can learn and observe about the people and their environments. The habits they practice, the beautiful things they create, and how they interact with each other and the world around them. These experiences definitely influence and feed my creative abilities, and it's one of the many ways we can continue to develop our ability to generate great ideas.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

To Grow Your Business, Get Organized!

To Grow Your Business, Get Organized!
By Henry Lopez

Is your laptop, monitor or desk covered in sticky notes? Do you use a different notebook or pad of paper each time you take notes at a meeting or on a call? Do you scribble notes and tasks on odd pieces of paper and then keep them in stacks on your desk? If you answered yes (and hopefully cringed) to any of those questions, then I’m going to venture to guess that you are perhaps in desperate need of improving your organizational skills!

Personal organization can have direct impact on your small business’s success. When your important tasks, projects, events and schedule are all managed in a productive way, the result is likely to be that your business is also organized and able to grow. Poor organization skills lead to low productivity, which in turn leads to wasted time and effort. That’s wasted time and effort you simply can’t afford when you are working hard at growing your small business.  

To improve your personal organization skills, it’s important to develop a system that works well for you and your particular environment. An effective organization system is ideally developed over time, and requires consistency and discipline. As I believe the saying goes, “it takes 21 days of repeated action to form a habit.” However many days it really does take, we typically don’t develop our bad habits overnight so we can’t expect to correct them in a day either. 

Your personal organization system does not have to be complex or high-tech for it to be effective. My personal system, for example, includes using a traditional hard-bound notebook where I make all of my notes and maintain my to-do lists. I compliment this paper-based tool with Microsoft Outlook® for scheduling and reminders, and other cloud-based tools to for managing tasks I have delegated. 

To get started on improving your personal productivity skills, I recommend focusing on and improving how you manage your to-do lists and your schedule. 

How do you manage your To-Do list?

For small business owners, a high stress environment with a seemingly endless to-do list is often the norm. Without consistent and thorough organization, the result is lost productivity and endless days of work.

Managing your to-do list is important not just for getting the most important things done on time, but also for what it does for the culture of your business. As the leader of your organization, it is vital that you do what you say you’re going to do when you say you are going to do it. By staying true to your commitments and your word, you reinforce a culture of accountability and responsibility for your leadership team and your staff

To do your to-dos the right way, you must find a means of organization that makes sense for you, your company and your environment. A paper system may work for me, while a technology-based system may work better for you. You need to consider how you work and think best, and where you do that work. Are you mostly at your desk, or are you always on the road? Do you usually participate in meetings over the phone or in person? The answer to these questions can help you determine what tools might work best for you. 

I recommend that you maintain two to-do lists (regardless of the tool you use to maintain them): one for items that require action this week, and another for items that don’t have to be completed this week. On your to-do list for the week (which you ideally create on Sunday evening or first thing Monday morning), prioritize the most important items and the items that you may be able to delegate. Try to avoid the temptation to work on easy things that are not of high priority (tasks that usually don’t add much value), and make it a habit to tackle at least one hard item first each morning (when most of us are usually at our peak mentally and are less likely to be disturbed or sidetracked). Make adjustments to this approach over time, until you have evolved it into a system that works best for you and your situation. 

How do you manage your schedule?

Do you make time commitments without first checking your schedule? Do you have one, and only one, place (tool) where you keep track of your schedule? If you answered yes to the first, and no to the second question, then I am once again going to make an assumption that you may need to improve your organization skills.

During my sales career in the 1990’s when I was traveling constantly, I always carried a DayMinder® with me to manage my schedule. It was a bulky, cumbersome tool that did not support sharing with others, and it was disastrous when I forgot it or much worse when I misplaced it (there was that one time I left it on the roof of the rental car…never to see it again!). But it worked for me at the time and I used it consistently. 

Now that we are always connected, there are a multitude of calendar tools you can use to manage your schedule. I happen to use Outlook (soon migrating to the online version), simply because it’s what I know how to use and it works well for me and the rest of my team. I maintain both my personal and business schedule on this one calendar tool, and I use the reminder capabilities to keep me on schedule.

Regardless of which scheduling tool you select, I do recommend that it should provide some level of integration with Outlook since many of the people you will interact with are likely using that platform. As with the tool you use for your to-do lists, it’s important to select a scheduling tool and stick with it until you find a truly compelling reason to change

Ensuring that your schedule runs according to plan is easier said than done. Once again, it all comes back to doing what you say you are going to do. By having a well-managed schedule, you can keep track of the appointments and events to which you have committed and it’s easier to say no to the things that are not the best use of your time. If you’re often on the go during your workweek, consider tools that work on the different devices you carry with you. Accessibility is one thing that makes it easy to update and check your schedule, thus committing to following your productivity plan through. 

For most small business owners, our personal lives and business lives are endlessly intertwined. Remember to also schedule time for personal commitments, family time and exercise. These commitments are just as, if not more important than most business activities. Striking that ideal balance between the two helps you stay healthy and give you the needed energy and perspective to grow your businesses. 

The key to improving your organizational skills and productivity is to stick with a system for a period of time, until it either becomes a habit that works well for you, or you move on to another system. Once you’ve found a system that works fairly well for you, then you evolve it over time. You make adjustments and fine-tune, picking up new tips and tricks from other highly organized people along the way. If you want to grow your business, start by getting yourself organized, and a great place to start is with your to-do list and your schedule.