Oct 11

Creative Problem Solving: Creative Thinking II

This posting is the second in my Creative Thinking Series and follows “Sane People with Insane Ideas: Creative Thinking I”. In the first post, I discussed having the courage to allow yourself to think creatively. Thinking creatively requires you to imagine an alternative path; a third path besides the two Frost wrote about diverging in a yellow wood. Its not about the road less traveled by, its about the road not even conceptualized yet. The road Frost didn’t even think about. Choosing either of Frost’s paths just lead to ordinary ends. To be extraordinary you must create your own path. In this post you will read about the importance of creative problem solving and its implications.

Thinking photo via Flickr by Victor Perez. Creative Commons License

Being creative takes practice. In fact you should practice creativity regularly. Pick something you like to do and do it daily. If you like writing, write daily. If you like painting, paint daily. Play a video game that allows you to create something from scratch. You use it or lose it. One of the most “interesting” blogs I read, Altucher Confidential by James Altucher as recently compiled some advice on this front.  Check out his “Nine Ways To Light Your Creativity ON FIRE.”

Its very important to have this tool ready to innovate or create when needed.  I say “needed” because life doesn’t throw you softballs for you to just stand around and blast out of the park. Life throws curve balls and damn good major-league-type curve balls at that. When you don’t get curve balls, you get 95 mph fastballs. You have to have the ability to develop creative solutions at a moments notice. Your ability to innovate will be the most important tool in your arsenal to solve your life’s problems and business problems.

Creativity is prevalent in successful businesses. Henry Ford developed the assembly line and reinvented the way automobiles were built. Mass production changed the world and is still the standard method of producing anything. Apple Computer, which I have written about the post “Steve Jobs – Evil, Genius or Evil Genius?”, is constantly creating new and exciting products that work together as a system.  More on Apple later. It is well written that most successful products solve a problem that no one else has solved yet.

Outhouse in the Woods photo via Flickr by Anthony van Dyck Creative Commons License

The first and most vital step in creative problem solving is recognizing the problem. Before the invention of the flushing toilet, people thought they had solved this smelly problem by simply moving the throne to a separate building called the outhouse. In winter new problems were encountered as people needed to suit up just to read the newspaper… or anything else they wanted to do in the outhouse. People just accepted this as normal and this uncomfortable element of life continued on. Until one day, one guy said “hey, I am sick and tired of having to go out in the cold and dirty outhouse every time nature called.” and then the most important: “there has to be a better way.” And there was a better way. Now people all over the world can read their newspapers in the warmth of their own homes and they never have to use an out building again (unless they want to, I am not judging).

Every entrepreneur is in the creative problem-solving business first and foremost. Without this tool in their toolbox they would have no product or no product people would need. As a creative problem solver, you identify problems and then they move on to the next step, identifying the need. The need is the solution to the customer’s problem as defined by the companies product or solution. Its the sell. “You need my product because it solves this problem.” A need is vital and much more important than just a solution.  There could be many solutions to a problem but unless a company can “own” the solution, literally and figuratively there is no way to monetize it. Thus, a company must own a own a particular solution before it can sell the need to its customers.

Which brings me back to Apple. In the past I have compared Apple to drug dealers and now I make a new comparison. Apple is great because they do business like the mob. These outfits run a similar operation in that not only do they sell the “need” to the customer, they also have to sell the “problem they they invent” to the customer. This method is like creativity on steroids, here’s how it works.

Two thugs bust in to a convenience store and rough up the proprietor with a few punches and take the cash. Before the cops are called a couple of mob associates show up and tell the owner how bad the neighborhood is.  They tell him that if he paid the mob a small “protection fee” they would make all his troubles go away.  Then the mob pays off the first two thugs they hired and on to the next one. The mob makes their money by selling a solution to a problem that they created! Genius!

Apple operates in the same way. No they don’t hire thugs to rough up PC users when the new MAC is coming out, but what they do is create solutions to problems that they create. For example, Apple sold Ipods as a solution to the problem of a world without the ability to carry every song they own with they at all times. Back in the 90’s everyone was perfectly happy and content with their CD Walkman and the 3 CD’s we could manage to lug around with us. I have to admit it is pretty cool carrying 2000 songs with me as I go for a run though. Sometimes I can’t make up my mind between Dave Matthews or Metallica. Thank you Apple for not making me choose!

Excercise your creative muscle daily. You will need it when you least expect it just in your regular life let alone business. As an entrepreneur you are in the creative problem solving business. Try and develop solutions to problems that no one else labels as “problem” yet. Create a need that you can sell your customers by owning the solutions to those problems through patents or other means.

Always ask yourself if there is a better way!


Jul 11

Sane People with Insane Ideas: Creative Thinking I

Humans cannot fly. Its an inarguable fact. In the present, its easy to name a few machines that can get us off the ground though. Can you imagine life in 1900? No Airplanes. No Helicopters. What was going on in the minds of the wives of Wilber and Orville Wright?

My husband is nuts?

We have three screaming babies and my husband is out tinkering in the barn again?

My mother was right, I should have married farmer John because he is practical and knows how to make a living?

I am sure they thought that their husband’s quest to allow a human being to fly was an insane idea. Our world has been shaped by sane people with insane ideas.

Everyone has the ability to be creative. Little children spend all day in fantasy land dreaming of growing up or of hitting home runs in the major league. Dolls are implements that foster creativity of young girls. They dream about being a mom and playing house. Little boys want to be sports heroes or truck drivers. They spend all day driving their trucks around and if they could move some real dirt around it makes their fantasy 1000 times more real.

Have you ever seen a child playing? She doesn’t care who sees her or what they think. Its her fantasy anyway. Somewhere along the line, we start caring what others thing of us. We want acceptance and support. Instead of surrounding ourselves with accepting and supportive people we change our thinking to what we think the people already around us want to hear. We are not true to ourselves and we lose our creativity over time.

It takes courage and conviction to be creative and imagine reality differently. We need to let our minds flow with good ideas and bad ones and have the courage to reveal our ideas to the world. Conviction is needed because you will come across people that are not open to thinking differently and knock your idea because it makes them feel uncomfortable. You cannot be discouraged.

For example, you reveal your desire to start a new business. If you’re lucky you will be met with excitement and support when you reveal your ideas to the people you surround yourself with. What you will probably receive and angry grumblings on how you will fail, lose everything and probably cause the end of the world. These people are so uncomfortable with themselves, their own fears about themselves spew out of their mouths. They are not even listening to you, your qualifications or your idea. They are voicing their thoughts about how they would feel about starting their own business.

In business, you have to think creatively. You must dream. You have to dare to believe in these dreams that you and only you understand and have bought in to. Entrepreneurship is a lonely lonely road. Not because you haven’t assembled a team yet, but because in the beginning, it is you and only that believes in the idea. Most importantly, you have to ignore the boo birds that will attempt to pull your dreams back down to their level so they feel comfortable with themselves. This may be your biggest challenge as you are pulled between letting your creative juices flow and conforming to the expectations of those around you.


Jun 11

QR Codes

Have you ever seen those black and white squares that look like some sort of hot new cryptic word game? Maybe you saw one on an ad as you flipped through a magazine or even plastered to a store front right next to the archaic www.somestore.com address? If you have seen one of these squares, you have seen the future of advertising.

Anyone with elementary marketing knowledge knows that “impressions” are the best method to quantify the reach of your ads. Over the years, an advertiser knows that X number of impressions will result in the consumer taking action. The advent of the internet has made measuring ad effectiveness tangible in cyber space. Impressions can be measured and so can actions or “clicks.” On the art vs. science sliding scale, web ads can move much more towards the “science” side than traditional media advertising. A problem still existed with print media where measuring impressions was still standard operating procedure and effective print advertising was still hugging the “art” side of our sliding scale. Enter QR code.QR (quick response) code is a two dimensional version of the familiar bar codes that you see on the box of any product you purchase. QR codes can hold much more data than traditional bar codes. QR codes are written in “open source” code, meaning that the people that developed this technology essentially gave it to the world to create, use and enjoy all for free. You can web search for “QR code generator” and create your own codes for free. I went from not knowing anything to creating the code above for wealthsavant.com in literally 3 seconds at this site. I even tested out to make sure it pointed to my website because it was so easy!

The end user will have to have a QR code reader application downloaded in their phone to experience the QR code. The QR reader views the code through the phone’s camera and then takes off to fetch whatever the code instructed it to grab. With the accelerated adoption of smart phones, QR codes can turn “brand impressions into an interactive exchange in under 10 seconds,” says Patrick Donnelly, Founder and CEO of QR Arts, a strategic branding consulting firm.

I first met Patrick in graduate school as we were both earning our MBAs from The George Washington University School of Business. Patrick’s creative spin always stood out from the rest of the group so it should be of no surprise that his custom QR codes stand out from your typical black and white codes as well.

QR Arts takes the auto-generated QR code from a generator and adds artistic design as suitable for hanging in the Louvre as it is for what it actually is – practical heavy-hitting marketing tool. If you look at a piece of print media in a magazine you will most likely enjoy what you are looking at. The size, shape, font, colors, contrasts, photos are as much a part of the ad as the message written. Companies pay big bucks to graphic designers to create these ads. It is not a stretch then to imagine why they would also pay a company like QR Arts to come in and make their QR code as pleasing to look at as the rest of the ad. Patrick has made the media rounds discussing his innovative approch to QR. See him on CNN here. I’ve included a couple of my favorite QR Arts designs a the bottom of this post.

Donnelly is noticeably excited when describing the possibilities for all businesses when employing this new technology. “How can you afford to not have your calls to action enabled for interactivity and metrics,” the mobile engagement strategist said. He is right. For the first time, an advertiser’s print ads can be mathematically logged, counted and entered into a data analysis program. The resulting output can be used to better target print ads and move the practice towards the “science” side of that previously mentioned continuum. Ultimately, producing results and a better ROI on your company’s advertising dollars.

A practical application for QR codes may be to have one created for your business card detailing all of your contact information. A client can scan and load all of your information into their smart phone without having to navigate and type everything. A user can download a video of your company or product directly from your print ad in less than 10 seconds – effectively bringing your print advertising to life immediately. A customer can be enjoying your product at a restaurant or shopping at a grocery store and scan your QR code to see a commercial for your product instantly. I can see realtors using QR codes at empty houses that are for sale instead of those paper flyers that usually end up on the ground and blowing around the neighborhood.

The possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the advertiser or entrepreneur. QR codes are a technology that every company should be leveraging and using as creatively as they can. Download the reader to your smartphone and head out looking for the little squares. If you have your own company, you need to be employing this technology and doing it now. When you are ready for the next level with your print ads, you need to contact Patrick Donnelly at QR Arts and have him put some style into your ads!  Patrick can be followed through his Twitter feed at @qrarts or through his website: qrarts.com.

From the portfolio of QR Arts:

QR Arts creation

Majic Hat QR Code Designed by QR Arts