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Creative thinking critical to business success

As I See It

A recent survey of small business owners found that we “talk the talk” but don’t tend to “walk the walk” when it comes to practicing creative thinking in our

businesses.

Seventy-five percent of the survey group acknowledged that creative thinking is “very important” to the success of their businesses. However, only 24% make room

for it on their calendars.

The survey was conducted by American Express Small Business Services, and it included nearly 300 small business owners.

Of the group who allot time for creative thinking, 20% wedge in one hour or less a week, 23% devote an hour a day and 17% commit at least one day a week to the

creative thinking process.

Everyone is busy, busy, busy. The economy is humming, unemployment is at a record low and the status quo isn’t half bad. Without a conscious effort on our part, it is

easy to slip into a good-times mentality and enjoy the ride. Long term, this could be a big mistake.

One unfailing characteristic of the free market economy is that highs are always followed by lows. The Russians tried to eliminate this inconvenience with their five-year

production plans. They didn’t work.

Now is the time to begin preparing for tough times. How can we fit one more thing into our crowded schedules? Obviously, by eliminating something else.

The examined, well-lived life is a history of prioritizing one’s activities so that the most important things get done. Financial planners tell us that success comes with

paying ourselves first, i.e., put funds into investments first before our paycheck is gobbled up by lesser priorities. In the same way, we find time for an activity by

calendar-izing it before lesser priorities consume the week.

In “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Steven Covey recites an example of a manager efficiently guiding his workers through a swamp. He sees to it that

the machetes are sharp and that work is rotated fairly among all workers. The leader, as opposed to the manager, climbs a tree and from that vantage point proclaims

that they are in the wrong swamp.

A major part of our job as small business owners is to be sure that we are in the right swamp. For me, this type of analysis only happens in time of reflective solitude,

apart from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. Questions like “where is the business going?” and “what does the future likely hold?” can’t be effectively handled

between telephone calls. Employees are busily engaged in doing whatever they are supposed to be doing to accomplish the leader’s vision for the organization.

Nobody but the leader can develop the vision that drives the company.

Block out Friday afternoon? A weekend retreat to the beach? The “where” of creative thinking is less important than getting it done somewhere. By its nature, creative

thinking is not the kind of action that anyone is going to remind us to do or chastise us for not doing. It requires self-discipline.

I try not to schedule anything “fixed” for Friday afternoons. This is my time of looking back over the week to see what went right and what went wrong. It is also the

time that I reflect on my values, priorities and goals and make plans for the next week. I don’t limit myself to just business concerns, but use the same process to

consider my personal goals and aspirations.

I have found that the structure inherent in the FranklinCovey system is very helpful in prioritizing my plans. For others, this system might be too structured. However,

faithfully pursued, FranklinCovey will force priorities to the surface to either be acted upon or consciously ignored. No one can do more than that for us.

Thought for the Moment

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams

rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

– Matthew 7:24

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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