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15 Tips for Awakening Creativity and Innovation

It’s not easy being creative.

Whether it be overcoming writer’s block, designing a new website, or attracting new clients, figuring out the best way to be creative is a challenge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at the wall, hoping the next big thing will pop into my head.

So, instead of waiting for your “Eureka!” moment to come to you, be proactive. Awaken creativity from within to get ideas flowing. There are more way to do this than you might think.

Here are the Top 15 Tips for Awakening Creativity and Innovation:

1. Expand Your Schemata

In psychology, a schema is a mental structure that represents some aspect of the world. Within that structure, you have pre-conceived ideas of what belongs and what doesn’t. Take an office for example. You would expect to see certain things: desks, chairs, telephones, people…but seeing a giant clown in the room would violate that schema.

That’s a pretty extreme example, but here’s the point: think outside the box. If no one expanded their schemata, there would be no innovation. Before, a schema of an office would have included landline phones and typewriters. Now, offices have fax machines, computers, and cordless phones. Someone had to think of new possibilities instead of just accepting their existing schemata for these innovations to occur.

2. Attack from a Different Angle

If you think you’ve exhausted all your options, you’re wrong. There is more than one angle when it comes to anything, so challenge yourself to think differently. For example, if you’re given a bunch of tasks due by the end of the week, instead of thinking “How will I get all this done in 5 days?” think “How can I best divide these next 5 days to finish what needs to be done?”

The 80/20 rule is key here. 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In business, the rule of thumb is that 80% of the sales come from 20% of the clients. Focusing on the highest-leverage tasks at hand will help you attack from a different angle.

3. Dig Deeper 

This one piggy-backs off Tip #2. Don’t ask “what,” ask ‘why.” When you ask yourself why, you are forced to think about what you’re doing on a deeper level. If you’re writing a book and are trying to figure out who your main antagonist will be, don’t ask “what will this character be like?” Ask, “why will this character act like she does?”

4. Either/Or

We don’t often realize that we are stuck in this mode of thinking. This is a simplistic example, but let’s say you have two clients for your business, and you only have time to do the job for one. If you are stuck in the either/or mode, you would pick the highest paying one and that’s that. The solution is simple if you think about it – take on both clients and sub-contract one out. You’ll get less money for the subcontracted work, but it’s better than nothing.

5. Turn It Around

Stating your problem in the opposite can give you new ideas. “How can I make Billy buy my product?” can be turned into “How can Billy make me sell my product?”

Now that’s a different perspective! Instead of wondering how Billy can give you money to buy your product, it puts the ball in your court.

6. Walk in Their Shoes

This one is great for every business, as well as life in general. Empathy…it’s something we all need and give. Put yourself in Billy’s shoes. Why doesn’t he want to buy your product? He might have a valid reason, so ease his doubts and understand everything from his point of view. A lot of salespeople completely miss this, and that means a lost customer.

By relating to somebody and understanding their needs, wants, desires, and fears, you establish trust AND make better sales.

7. A Silver Lining

It sounds cliche, but there really is a silver lining in every cloud. Recognize that failure will happen, and it doesn’t mean there is no way up. As long as you fail smart (and cheap), you can be more successful than you think. Also, learning from your mistakes is crucial. Didn’t get that marketing job in New York City? Hey, you gained interviewing skills. Didn’t reach your sales goals for the quarter? At least you have the opportunity to evaluate the sales process and optimize it.

8. Don’t Re-Invent the Wheel

There is no need to create something new if there is already something that exists (but can be optimized). Starting from scratch usually results in throwing in the towel. Too much time is spent researching the market trends, testing the idea, creating it, and then figuring out how to make people buy it. If you don’t need to re-invent the wheel, don’t.

The most successful innovations are just that–innovations. Improving and optimizing an already-existing idea.

9. Spork It

The spork is an ingenious innovation in itself…it is the combination of a spoon AND a fork! How can you modify a bunch of different solutions to make a unique one? Spork it!  This also puts you in the “and” mentality compared to the “either/or” mentality.

10. Fresh Perspectives

It always helps to have a pair of fresh eyes take a look at what you’re doing. A fresh perspective can tell you what you’re doing wrong and how to change it. Seem to be at a dead-end with the project you’re doing? Ask a coworker, friend, or family member your problem and chances are they can offer a new perspective you never thought of.

11. Fresh Stimulation

This one is pretty straightforward. Feel like you’re in a deadlock? Take a walk outside and get some fresh air. Do something else and then come back to it. Stimulate your senses and you’ll be rejuvenated.

12. Give It a Break

Similar to the previous one, take a break from what you’re doing and work on something else. Walk away from a brainstorming session and wait a couple days to let it sink in. If you try to hash out a project in 8 hours straight, chances are you’ll miss something and there will be errors along the way.

13. Get on My Level

If you are trying to get in the head of someone, ask someone similar for their solution. Get on their level. If you’re marketing a product to teenagers, actually ask teenagers what they want, what they like, what makes them do the things they do. It’s always important to develop a “customer avatar.” Actually create an avatar that would be the image of your customer. Give him a name, a job, who he lives with, what his tastes are, what he likes to do for fun. By knowing this, you can effectively develop a product out of an idea.

14. Always a Higher Mountain

After getting through all the creativity stuff here, it’s tempting to just sit back and enjoy. Sometimes you have to, if you’re a designer working under deadlines. But what if you are coming up with ideas for your business or your life’s work, you don’t ever have to stop. Ideas can constantly be improved on. There is always something that can be improved. That’s why the most successful companies don’t stop at just one product…they expand.

15. Record It for the Ages

Ever heard of writing your dreams in a diary the moment you wake up…or else you forget? The same goes for ideas. If you ever get a spark of imagination, write it down. That way, you won’t forget it. How many times have you said to yourself, “I’ll write it down later?” I bet you never write it down.

Carry around a notepad or a voice recorder. This may seem like a hassle, but losing a million dollar idea is far worse.

Now get to thinking and ideating!

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Taking One Giant Leap Forward By Taking a Step Back

Schools Support “Back to Scratch” Movement with Fresh Cooking in the Cafeteria

In the wake of the obesity epidemic, the idea of making school lunches healthier has gained momentum, but not every child has had a chance to enjoy this concept. School districts with money and involved parents moved ahead, while struggling schools with less money did not.

According to The New York Times, this isn’t the case in Greeley, Colorado. 60% of the 19,500 students qualify for the government’s free or reduced lunch program, but schools here are taking a great leap forward, while also taking a step back. Ironically, they are moving backward to something that was commonplace 25 years ago–making meals in the cafeteria from scratch.

Most schools across the country don’t have made-from-scratch food being served in their cafeteria. Factory food took over, replacing home-cooked meals with frozen chicken nuggets, cheese sticks, and pre-prepped everything. It’s not a coincidence obesity rates have skyrocketed since a generation ago.

Now, real ingredients and spices — and in a modern twist, fiber-laden carrots snuck in where children do not expect them, like pasta sauce — are making their return to the cafeteria tray.

To prep for this massive change, Greeley schools provided cooks with a weeklong kitchen bootcamp. There, they brushed up on ingredient multiplication (i.e. knowing how to take a recipe and create 300 pans out of it) and safe cooking practices.

“Colorado, which has been the least obese state in the nation since federal health measurements of American girth began, is a leader in the back-to-scratch movement. Of the 100 or so districts nationally that have worked with Cook for America, a group that trains school cooks in healthier lunch-ways and ran Greeley’s boot camp, more than half are in Colorado, including schools in the largest districts in Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder” wrote Kirk Johnson of The New York Times.

Although the back to scratch movement is heating up, nutrition experts say that many school systems around the nation have been profoundly distracted by years of budget cuts and constriction. Many face structural problems, too. Some newer schools have tiny kitchens designed for only reheating premade meals, while some older schools have outdated electrical wiring that cannot handle modern equipment.

However, cooking from scratch actually SAVES schools money. Consider a factory-made burrito with 35 ingredients, including preservatives added to it. Now, take a fresh burrito with 12 ingredients. Less money needs to be spent on ingredients.

“The biggest myth is that it costs more money,” said Kate Adamick, a food consultant based in New York and co-founder of Cook for America. “Federal reimbursement rules could actually give poorer school systems some advantages in shifting back to scratch, especially for meat, which many districts buy with deep discounts.”

Greeley is setting a great example for schools across the nation, no matter what resources are available. Greeley schools will start out by cooking 75% of meals from scratch, and plan to cook 100% of its meals from scratch by this time next year. Along with healthy vending, serving students made from scratch meals offers them the best and healthiest choices, day in and day out.

Do you know any other schools involved in the back to scratch movement? Let us know!

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