Inspiration is a tricky thing. It often strikes when you least expect it—in the shower, in the middle of the night—and goes missing when you need it most.
When you started your business, you were likely brimming with it. But after a few years of putting your nose to the grindstone, it gets difficult to come up with new, fresh ideas.
It’s such a common problem that I decided to dig a little deeper to see how it might be solved. How can you get that steady stream of ideas back? How do you look at a business you’ve been working on for so long with a fresh eye? For the answers, I talked to Mike Collins, the founder and CEO of Big Idea Group and the author of The Million-Dollar Idea in Everyone: Easy New Ways to Make Money From Your Interests, Insights and Inventions. Here is what he shared with me:
- Take time for yourself. It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it’s actually not, says Collins. “Business owners get so hung up in the day to day problem solving—the fire fighting—that they can get a little stagnant, and it’s really important to find ways to get some thinking and creativity flowing.” Try scheduling one day a month when you don’t go into the office, don’t have your phone on and don’t check e-mail. Instead, spend your time doing something that relaxes you—hang out with family, read a book, watch your favorite movie. It’s a good way to recharge your batteries and face the following days with a clear head.
- Turn off the noise. What’s the first thing you do when you get to the office? Check e-mail, I bet, quickly followed by voicemail, Facebook, LinkedIn, maybe even Twitter. In fact, for many, that’s the first thing on the agenda when they wake up, before they even get out of bed. You feel like you’re being productive, but in fact, you might be overwhelming your brain. “You have to exercise the nonlinear side of your brain, and to do that, you need to turn off e-mail, the Web, the tweeting, Facebook and all of that other stuff that’s always coming at us. When you turn that off, you create a little space,” says Collins. You’re giving yourself room to think, and that’s when inspiration is more likely to strike.
- Look outside yourself. If you’ve really hit a wall, it’s time to get out of your head. Have conversations with friends who are inspirational to you: fellow business owners, people in your community, etc. Read trade publications, magazines or newspapers you don’t normally read. Go to a lecture by someone who interests you, see a movie, visit an art museum. Anything that might get your gears turning is worth a shot. Collins suggests TED, where you can watch videos of talks on nearly any topic, as a great resource.
- Talk to your audience. And by that, I mean your customers and clients. Sometimes finding inspiration can be as simple as asking them what they want from your business. Your employees are likely also to be a wealth of information.
- Recognize when you get your best ideas. Researchers say that we often have our best insights when we least expect it—when we’re not completely focused on the task at hand, but instead slightly distracted by something repetitive. That’s why we get good ideas in the shower, or on our commute home from work, or right before we fall asleep at night. I often get hit with a bolt of inspiration while out on a run. Recognizing your personal pattern is key because you can be ready when opportunity strikes. That might mean keeping a notebook by your bed or running with a smart phone that allows you to jot down notes when necessary.
Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and author of "Money 911: Your Most Pressing Money Questions Answered, Your Money Emergencies Solved." She recently launched the Jean Chatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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