The Pen and Paper Trick

I just downloaded Brin. It’s a new app and I have no idea what it really does yet. It wants to talk to me, and provide me with a whole host of info. Everyday there is a host of new apps to explore and discover. Another accounting software, platforms that integrate with a whole lot of others, or the category of super popularity – productivity apps! As soon as you get to grips with Snapchat, Instagram pulls out a competitive platform, and the dance is never ending.

Innovation in technology is everywhere around us, and it is moving forward at an expediential rate. It is exciting, a little scary, and sometimes exhausting.

When I speak of innovation with people, the tech version is what people immediately think of for the above reasons. However, innovation to me comes in the form of a good chat, or even just a piece of paper and a pen. Allow me to explain.

My interpretation of innovation is to do things in a new way. A way which we haven’t thought of doing before or have implemented previously. The most confronting aspect of my work is that a majority of people go about their business the way they always have because that is how it has always been done. It can often be very restricting for an entity’s ability to grow or work itself out of a tight spot.

Before I get on my high-horse about this it is important to point out that there are good reasons why a lack of innovation takes place:

Short Term’ism – an everyday battle. Trying to achieve today’s target often means that overall values and long term goals need to be comprised. It is a fact of life and a part of the human condition. This is the easiest of traps to fall into for all of us.

Time – innovation requires an investment in time. To think creatively to build a strategy ready for communication and implementation will use time. Who has spare time? None of us, or at least we don’t if we do not see the value in creative thinking and prioritise this as a necessary task.

Cost – almost 100% of the time implementing new ways of working will take an investment of cash. New materials, equipment, people… etc. This is all that leaders can see when faced with the prospect of change.

Risk – all of the above all have a level of risk. Put them all together and add the fact that your new innovative plans will never come with guarantees. Now you have every excuse to remain where you are and keep doing things the way you always have.

The bad news about using all of these reasons (or excuses) to not start getting innovative is that it is extremely rare (I cannot overstate this) that your competitors, and ones that do not even exist yet will take your business away from you. This may not happen now, or in the next year, but it will happen. It has been proven on many occasions that businesses rely on good timing in regard to the market as the most critical factor for their success. Take seven minutes to watch the insightful Ted Talk by Bill Gross on Start Up Success. Bill uses examples in the sharing economy such as Airbnb & Uber to illustrate his findings. These business models simply did not work five or ten years previously. People tried and failed. The technology was not right, but most importantly the market did not relate to it with the result being that no one brought the concept. The lesson – move with the times, listen to the consumer market with detailed attention, and constantly innovate.

There is a good trick I use to install innovation and creativity into a person and their business. It requires paper. Preferably, A1 or A2 size. A pen, or preferably some coloured markers (however some napkins and a pen at a bar works well too). Then identify a particular problem that needs to be solved. Make it as specific as you possibly can and write it down. You can do this by yourself or with a small group. Either works well depending on the topic.

Step 1 – Brainstorm two or three solutions. At this point stop.

Step 2 – Take one clean sheet of paper and write/draw a picture or mind map of that idea and explore it as much as you can. Think of every which way it would work and how the idea could be activated until it has been developed as much as you can.

Step 3 – repeat for your other initial ideas.

Step 4 – by this point you have probably opened up a few other ideas in areas that you never would have thought of. Take a moment to explore them if you have the energy or time. If not, schedule yourself a time to re-convene and bang out the process again.

Step 5­ – Sleep on it. Allowing your mind space and time so that your sub-conscious can work on the ideas by itself. This is hugely beneficial as the analytical conscious mind finds many reasons/excuses (as stated above) to rule out great ideas. Sleep, exercise, playing games/sport, gardening, or general procrastinating can be useful for this step. Yes, procrastinating can be productive!

Step 6 – Conviction. You need to muster up the guts, the balls, the courage to go for it. This is easier if you grab a piece of paper and pen and write out the process of implementation. I use a quote that works well for me “writing is doing”. Getting thoughts out on paper makes it real and ensures good ideas don’t just bounce around in our brain resulting in never turning into actions.

I have used this method with many clients. In my previous roles with corporate businesses, and with franchisee’s. I use it often myself when I have a specific challenge to deal with, and it is extremely helpful when creating new marketing campaigns and sales strategies. I call it a trick because the process makes seemingly complex and paralysing situations simple and easier to find solutions for.

Maybe I will use it right now to solve my app problem starting with how to use this new app Brin, and figure out how it can be of use for me and my business.