One definition of creativity states that creative people look at the same thing everyone else does, yet they see something no one else does.
But even creative people (which includes all of you, of course) can run into roadblocks every now and then. Sometimes it’s not possible to see something different. Sometimes you’ve just been staring at a problem for so long it’s now impossible to look at it in any other way.
So what do you do in these situations?
Why not try changing your perspective?
Consider this: A friend of mind who does needlepoint has a design that’s mostly black. Rather than simply stitching the design on white canvas with black thread, she’s using a black canvas and is stitching the negative aspects of the design instead of the positive.
She changed the way she viewed the problem. And now she has a really cool-looking needlepoint design that’s different from most other ones out there.
Or what about this: An art teacher has her students turn a photograph or object upside down and paint what they see — not a picture but an arrangement of shapes.
By changing your perspective, you’re changing what you see. And when you change what you see, you’re more likely to create something completely different.
But — I can hear you all saying right now — that’s art. That won’t help me with my business problem.
Okay, so here’s another story from the book “Thinkertoys” by Michael Michalko. Back in the 1950s, experts proclaimed the ocean freighter industry was dying. Costs were skyrocketing and delivery times kept getting pushed back later and later.
Executives at the shipping companies kept focusing on ways to cut costs while ships were sailing. They developed ships that went faster and needed fewer crew members to run.
It didn’t work. Costs continued to spiral out of control and it still took too long to get the merchandise shipped.
Then one day, a consultant changed the perspective. Rather than ask the question: ” In what ways might we make ships more economical while at sea?” executives asked: “In what ways can we reduce costs?”
Ships are big money-sucking machines when they aren’t at sea actually doing their job — shipping merchandise. And when aren’t they working? When they’re sitting in port being loaded and unloaded.
So, the industry came up with way to preload merchandise on land. Now a ship comes in, the container carrying the cargo rolls off, a new container already loaded with cargo rolls on, and the ship heads back to sea.
That one innovation saved an entire industry. And it happened because shipping executives changed the way they viewed their problem.
Exercise — Change your perspective
So, how can you change your perspective and solve your business/marketing problems?
Try what the shipping industry did and change the question.
Instead of looking at a narrow part of the problem (“In what ways can we make ships more economical while at sea?”) broaden the question (“In what ways can we reduce costs in general?”)
Here’s another example.
Maybe your question is “how can I land more clients?” What if you started broadening the question like so:
How can I land more clients?
How can I grow my business?
How can I make more money from my business?
How can I make more money period?
How can I be happier in my life? (I know, I know, money doesn’t buy happiness. But it’s certainly nice to have.)
Maybe one of those questions is a better place to look for a solution. Because maybe one of those questions is the “real” question you want to solve, but since you never took a step back to look at the big picture, you’ve never discovered the right question to ask.
And if you don’t ask the right question, your muse will never give you an answer that actually solves your problem.