Not being able to see the wood for the trees is a common feature of life. People regularly talk about being busy and overworked – but just how much of this is self inflicted. All too often we engage in activity that brings no value to achieving our highest goals and ambitions. Without reflective time, our decision making becomes blurred and it is common to lose sight of what we want. The result is stale thought with patterns of behaviour that fail to deliver our deepest desires. Successful people have the fortunate ability to think clearly, this is helped by finding the time to take well earned breaks from being “busy”. This cleansing process provides the opportunity to de clutter the mind.
The practice of finding sanctuary helps to remove mental blockages and fosters a sense of balance between work and play. Without regular periods of reflection you will find yourself eventually in a rut – the place you don’t want to be!
You must think of Sanctuary on three levels of “time out”:
- Daily sanctuary to help us to prepare for the day ahead – time with family, exercise, meditation, prayer, reading. Starting each day with 10 minutes of deep reflection, provides a kick start to focused activity and just being aware
- Weekly sanctuary that helps divert our energies into non related activities like pursuing a hobby, sport or spending more time with family and relationships. These activities release you from the week that was – puts you in a good frame for the week ahead
- Sanctuary includes those activities that most people can only fit in two or three times a year. They would typically involve family holiday’s, short breaks or some form or retreat. This level gives you the opportunity to ask the big questions – what is my life all about? What needs to change? Should I go and do something else?
Dedication to the 3 Levels will open your mind to new possibilities and opportunities. Chasing success can be as destructive as it is constructive – practicing the art of Finding Sanctuary will build perspective into your life and help to differentiate between what is and what is not important, what brings fulfilment and what does not – embed these disciplines into your routine and you will experience a profound improvement in clarity of thought – you will see things more clearly, you will make better decisions and life will feel less hectic.
Business incubators have become a common feature of public sector enterprise support in recent years; many of these establishments have proved to be highly effective in nurturing early stage entrepreneurs. They don’t just provide a desk and somewhere to turn up every morning, their added value comprises: a place to network, share ideas and collaborate. The really good ones offer mentoring and coaching, this is often what makes the real difference between success and me too performance. In many UK regions, incubators have become a hot bed of exciting new businesses, the potential employers of graduate talent – Autonomy in Cambridge is a fantastic example.
This concept of incubation needs to feature prominently in the culture and mindset of winning businesses – any ambitious entrepreneurial company should have a “department” or function responsible for building a pipeline of new thinking that delivers potential new revenue streams or adds value to existing customer experiences. I don’t mean a department literally – it’s about having an organisational process that brings together thinkers, doers, sellers and controllers, one that not only develops new ideas but also implements the commercially viable nuggets that emerge from the process of discovery. The concept of incubation delivers a major thrust for gaining an edge in the market place.
It is my opinion that creative intelligence is the ultimate source of competitive advantage – high growth companies tend to be disproportionately more innovative than the rest of the SME population. They explore, embrace diversity, live in their customer’s world, experiment with new possibilities and avoid complacency by making creative thought a habit, not something they do once a fortnight on a Friday afternoon. It must form part of an organisations “soul”.
The term “thinking outside the box” is a constant irritation for me. Easy to say, hard to do – how do you do it? Get to the route cause!
Don’t fall into the trap of routine. Repetitive behaviours will deliver a mindset that lacks vision, imagination and creative spirit. When we do the same things day-in day-out we establish a routine, this state of mind both inhibits and prohibits new possibilities. We find that the same old problems surface and bizarrely we think that by doing the same thing over and over again the results will be different. We must be aware of our habits as they become hard wired into our daily schedule. The manifestation of routine is that we experience a sense of monotony, feeling of being stuck in a rut, poor self-confidence, low energy levels and loss of purpose and direction.
Everyone experiences these feelings at some point, however we can take some simple steps to rewire our thinking. Emphasis must be placed on constantly searching for stimulus – things that will disrupt habitual behaviour, strengthen our creative muscles and deliver a freshness of thought;
Alternative perspectives – constantly look at your challenges from different angles – ask yourself “how would your role model address the issue?”
Remove yourself – from the daily routine and spend one day a month do something completely different.
Connect with nature – spend time in the open air and appreciate the wonder of the countryside. Combine this with regular exercise, it provides a boost to our energy levels. It also helps us to value our existence.
Don’t Think – don’t pre judge the outcome of any situation. Just observe and detach yourself from comment. By not thinking you clear your mind.
Take a look – observe what your peers do and share experiences with them. Wherever possible engage with people from other cultures, religions and regions of the world.
Five simple practices will act the fuel for fresh thinking. Doing away with routine is a liberating experience. It energises us, and keeps us motivated to perform at high levels.
A key challenge I keep coming across at the moment is many SMEs fail to articulate or unlock their uniqueness. Many entrepreneurs find themselves bogged down by the need to keep cutting prices to remain competitive. This strategy in my view is a road to ruin. I always try to reinforce the point that – selling your product or service is far easier when you have a point of difference. Many entrepreneurs tell me that they are in commodity markets and that’s just the way it is.
I then go on to use the bizarre example of a notebook to demonstrate differentiation – after all a notebook is a commodity – a 14cm x 10cm notebook in Tesco will cost you around £1. However look at the same size Moleskine in Waterstones – it will cost you £10. If everyone bought notebooks on price they would all go to Tesco. Positioning through innovation is a key route to gaining competitive edge. When you open any Moleskine book there is a small fold away piece of paper titled “The history of a legendary notebook” – it goes on to reference famous people that have used these notebooks. There is a brilliant line that goes… “used for the past two centuries by great artists and thinkers, including Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin. The trusty, pocket sized travel companion held their sketches, notes, stories and ideas before they became famous images or beloved books”. Then go and have a look at their website www.moleskine.com – they have made the business of a notebook a art form. They use storytelling to bring the notebook alive and engage the customer in a truly unique experience.
The lesson is – we can all find a point of difference if we embraced innovation into our business model. The invisible force of creativity, however must be embedded within yours and your teams mindset.
This was the headline of an advert in yesterday’s Financial Times, it was placed by the Qatar Foundation (www.qf.org.qa – unlocking human potential). It summed up wonderfully what I have been recommending to ambitious entrepreneurs on a mission to build a business. All too often individuals fail to create space to think, instead they embark on a crusade of activity with no direction – they fail to think it through. This can be extremely dangerous as chasing around like the proverbial headless chicken quite commonly leads to making decisions later regretted. Here is some fantastic wisdom for those of you running a business (its taken directly from the advert – it’s really powerful and very thought-provoking)
Few things possess more Power than a Thought
Because a Thought has the potential to become something significant. To solve something meaningful. And to inspire us to achieve great things.
What makes a Thought so powerful is that it can be created by anybody. At anytime. From anywhere.
That’s why Thinking should be encouraged and nurtured in all its forms. No matter how small. Or how impossibly grand.
Because wherever Thinking happens, Big ideas follow. Minds become enlightened. Knowledge grows. And people discover new ways to unlock their potential.
So start Thinking
Innovation is driven by the power of creative thought, experience shows that it is in those quite moments of contemplation that breakthroughs occur – a new product idea, new market or solution to an existing problem. It worked for Archimedes when he got in the bath (Eureka) and Isaac Newton when he was sitting beneath an apple tree contemplating the universe.
Thinking is the precursor for strategy development and innovation. Balancing thinking with doing can deliver quantum shifts in performance – it also delivers clarity, one that so many entrepreneurs claim they lack for their business.
How times have changed in the past ten years. Companies I would have viewed as major competitors at the turn of 2000 have now become close allies – we are sharing knowledge, IP, business ideas and revenue streams. It strikes me that collaboration is very much embedded within the mindset of the forward thinking organisations I meet on a day-to-day basis. Those that hold their cards too close to their chest will almost certainly miss out on new business and product opportunities. Collaboration can present itself in many formats:
- Businesses with complementary skills coming together to bid for large contracts – one where the mix of expertise and geographical coverage offers massive benefits to a customer. This can be achieved as a consortium or through what is commonly referred to as a special purpose vehicle (SPV)
- Companies fusing complimentary products and services to create a new offering – WP did this several years ago, we took creative expertise of a University and combined it with coaching techniques to create the highly successful Winning Pitch TV (WPtv) – a great example of HE working with a SME
- Euro Garages one of the North’s most successful companies brought together petrol stations with Starbucks and Subway franchises to build a new experience in filling the tank.
- We see it everyday on the motorways with Starbucks, M & S and other high street chains teaming up with service operators to create a new service station break – this used to be a joke in terms of food quality, now, very different
- Large pharma companies engaging with smaller niche R & D operators. A much nimbler and cost effective route for multi nationals to build their innovation pipeline
Fundamental to collaboration is a win- win attitude, there has to be a common goal, a shared vision, a sense of trust and purpose, fair commercial gain for both parties. Working as I do everyday with high growth companies, its very clear that those entrepreneurs who think partnership are opening themselves up to so many new possibilities. Stay awake, think about who you can collaborate with, the only warning is, be sure why you are doing it and what’s in it for both of you!
I spoke at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference earlier this week. The theme was entrepreneurial learning in organisations. It was an extremely thought provoking session, that brought together fantastic academic minds on the theme of entrepreneurship.
As a keen observer of entrepreneurial learning and improvement, my view is that the UK economy will grow faster if more effective leaders are created and nurtured. Enterprise policy makers must recognise the importance of bigger thinking and greater ambition – a key component of leadership. Academic enterprise research needs to investigate in greater depth the emotional needs of entrepreneurs – the spirit and mindset. Setting up and growing a business can be extremely demanding. For entrepreneurial leaders balancing personal and commercial risk can be a debilitating experience – we must look at developing practical coping strategies to help leaders overcome the fear often associated with the stages of growth.
From my discussions with participants I was encouraged to hear that softer issues do appear to be attracting more academic interest. Topics such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, coping, resilience, mental toughness, personal branding and faith must get on the agenda. These are all essential ingredients for leadership success. Practical tools to help entrepreneurs address these areas would be well received within the community – when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Entrepreneurs are courageous individuals who cope well with the lonely rollercoaster existence, helping them to live with high pressure moments would be a well-received antidote for those wanting to make a difference. I am extremely excited about the work ISBE is undertaking.