Avoid Creative Constipation

Competition based on products and services is dead.

Avoid Creative ConstipationFrankly, some gases and welding business owners might benefit from acting their shoe size and not their age.

Our minds have been trained from childhood to think in lockstep and conformity. Our school systems taught us to sit in straight rows, color within the lines and act rationally. We learned conventional systems that ultimately blocked our paths to creative thinking. In a sense, we became creatively constipated.

We have grown comfortable with our routines. We like tradition. We like security. Yet these systems have largely produced a corporate environment of mediocrity. Large companies have lost their agility. Established organizations in stable industries are now facing increased competition from new “byte-sized” challengers. The learning paradigm has switched from knowledge- and experience-based learning to a new frontier which the emerging organizations are successfully embracing…imagination-based thinking!

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest creative minds in history, saw this years ago when he stated, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” The phrase “thinking outside the box” became passé corporate-speak many years ago, yet so few organizations subscribe to its core philosophy of actually thinking and acting creatively. What is a creative idea worth? What is it worth to be visibly different from your competitors? What would your strategic business model look like if you were starting from a blank canvas with limitless possibilities?

As an artist, whenever I sit down to paint, I always start with a blank canvas of endless potential. There are never any preconceived notions on whether I am to paint a still life or an abstract impressionistic painting. Before I lay one stroke of paint across the canvas, I always step back and take time to consciously tap into my imagination. To take what I have been logically trained to see with my eyes and twist it. To look at the ordinary, yet force myself to see the extraordinary.

Organizations that embrace creativity are better equipped for success. We need to differentiate our corporate strategies in ways our competitors have not even imagined was possible. It’s not enough to simply think we are different from our competitors; we must be recognizably and visibly different as perceived by the marketplace.

The Importance of Innovation
I recently had the privilege to deliver a keynote address to the International Association of Foodservice Consultants. These are the companies that deliver marketplace advice for the top restaurants in the world. Given the 80 percent failure rate of new restaurants, I asked a number of the different market leaders the same question: What is the single greatest differentiating factor leading to the success or failure of a restaurant?

The future belongs to those who creatively and imaginatively differentiate.

As they began to share their secret formulas for success, I realized they were all saying the same thing. Competition based on products and services is dead. That is not to say that having good food or good service isn’t important, because it is critically important. But that is merely the ante to enter the game. If you don’t at least have good food, if you don’t at least have good service, you are out of business overnight. Competition in that industry is now based on new and different business designs and how they are strategically differentiating themselves from the competition—not what they say they do differently behind closed doors in management meetings, but rather what their competitors say about them. What do their customers say about them that visibly differentiates them from all the other dining options in the marketplace? It is an experience that transcends the traditional dining experience. It is at this point that their consumers become their best source of marketing. They can’t wait to get home and tell their colleagues, their friends and their families about the extraordinary experience they had at this restaurant. Restaurants that provide traditional eating experiences have become invisible in what has become a very competitive business environment.

In any increasingly competitive marketplace where economic conditions, shrinking margins and globalization are forcing companies to do more with less, it is important to remain on the cutting edge. The future belongs to those who creatively and imaginatively differentiate.

As business owners, we need to look for channels to resist conventional wisdom and flush out our most innovative ideas. I would suggest we need to explore our childlike curiosity in business. We need to schedule time to think unconventionally, challenge prevailing rules, take risks, be artistic, be imaginative and maybe even start asking “why?” again.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Erik Wahl Meet the Author
Erik Wahl is an artist and corporate consultant located in San Diego, California, and on the Web at www.theartofvision.com.