If you ask Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., generating creative ideas for your business isn't about making long lists or outlines or wracking your brain.
According to Goldsmith, a business and leadership consultant, the real winners will bubble into your consciousness when you least expect it.
"They come when you're not looking for them, when you're about to fall asleep, or even in the shower," said Goldsmith, who led a seminar titled, "Thinking Outside the Box" at the International Pizza Expo, March 25-27 in Las Vegas. "They come when you're relaxed and not even thinking about what comes to mind."
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D.
The trick, Goldsmith said, is to record ideas that come seemingly from nowhere. Those are the gems -- though often in an unpolished state -- that revolutionize businesses, improve marriages and deepen a person's character.
"Always carry a pen and paper, or get one of those digital recorders," he said. "If your ideas come in the shower, then get one of those scuba diver's pads that you can write on when wet."
People who not only capture those creative thoughts but do what it takes to produce more of them are operators whose businesses don't stagnate, Goldsmith said. Those operators' have dynamic and innovative menus, clever and contemporary marketing programs and contemporary and growing customer counts.
Problem is, generating those ideas doesn't always come naturally. Goldsmith said many times what works best to bring creative ideas to the forefront are uncomfortable situations. He said that's the essence of getting outside of the box: getting out of your comfort zone and forcing yourself to see things differently. Those new perspectives yield ideas that generate positive change.
"How do you create change? You get out of that comfort zone," said Goldsmith.
Inside the box, people can plan their lives more carefully, they know what to expect and work to avoid unsettling circumstances. But outside the box's walls, he said lie joy, success, change and growth.
"To change you must put your whole being outside the box and into what I call that No Way In Hell Zone," he said.
For him, that was bungee jumping. For a shy operator, it might be forcing himself to network at a chamber of commerce meeting. Whatever you do, he said, know that a new understanding of your situation lies beyond the borders of what you're used to, and that which keeps you complacent and non-creative.
Seek mentors, seek advice
What's good about business owners, Goldsmith said, is that they typically are leaders possessed by a positive vision for their companies.
The bad news is that they're
"Focus on being innovative, not inventive. Adopt proven ideas and adapt them to your operation. Make things better instead of making things up."
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D.
Goldsmith suggested pizzeria operators develop a "mastermind group" of people who aren't in this business, but who are wise about life and business in general. Allow them to share their outsiders' perspectives about what they believe is right and wrong with your business.
"You could assemble what I call a Tiger Team: a group of about three people who you let tear your business apart," he said. "These people see your business as you don't see it; they see it as the customer sees it."
Goldsmith also advised operators to seek mentors from whom they can get regular advice. Relying only on yourself for new ideas and solutions to problems is like living inside vacuum.
Working with a mentor who is a friend also provides valuable intangible insight into problems and situations that transcend the mere tactical dos and don'ts of the pizza business.
"That kind of abstract knowledge is something we get from those role models, and sometimes those are the most valuable lessons we ever receive."
Great ideas also come from employees, Goldsmith added. And suggestions from the troops in the trenches many times can have the most profound impact on an operation.
Those ideas won't come, however, if an operator is a domineering know-it-all who won't listen to his charges' opinions.
"Your company has to be a place where new ideas are encouraged," Goldsmith said. "A good way to get some of those ideas is to have your employees evaluate your operation. You might be surprised at what they say."
As important as outsiders' suggestions are, Goldsmith said, operators should limit what they'll take to heart. All input stops when negativity starts.
"If you have a negative person in your company, you have two choices: isolate them or get rid of them," he said. "Don't allow them to become saboteurs."
Cultivating new ideas
Rarely, said Goldsmith, are new and positive ideas born amid the grind of a Friday night rush. Nearly always, they come when a person is at play.
"You need to create an idea zone, a place where you can play or relax and not think about your problems," he said. "My idea zone has a pool table and a pinball machine."
Others, he added, "play" in gardens or on the driving range, hitting balls aimlessly rather than golfing and keeping score.
To generate fresh ideas ...
* Don't try so hard. Step away and let the ideas come to you.
* Find a void and fill it.
* Seek input from trusted advisers.
* Listen to and satisfy customers' needs; it equals innovation.
* Stay away from negative people and the internal critic.
Idea generators, he stressed, are always those things that are relaxing, such as reading, driving alone with the radio off, or just standing in the shower thinking.
And when time doesn't allow such an escape, let your mind take you away, Goldsmith said.
"I'm a big believer in the One Minute Vacation," he said. He then instructed the audience to envision themselves at a beautiful beach, to feel the warm sun and wind and smell the salt air. Hold such relaxing thoughts, he said, for at least 60 seconds to instantly reduce stress and break the dam holding back creative thoughts.
"When you're struggling with something, it helps to go away for awhile and come back," he said. "And doing the One Minute Vacation often can reduce mounds of stress."