Those involved with any business, whether as/ salon owner or nail technician, share common goals; respect from one’s peers and the pursuit for profits are only two of the most obvious.

Behind those goals lies a drive, a desire to succeed, and a desire to stay ahead of the competition. This drive and ultimate success is fuelled by the ability to think creatively, to grasp opportunities, to expand ones capabilities and horizons.

Often, many of us miss these opportunities because they fail to use a common sense approach to creative thinking. Others feel that creative thinking is beyond them.

“That’s for writers and artists,” one may say or “I’m no thinker. I just do what I do and I’m good at it.”

Still others try, but get discouraged. “Every time I think I have a good idea, I find out that someone else is already doing it.”

The trick here is to understand that you can teach yourself to use a common sense approach to creative thinking. There is nothing too terribly difficult about it, and the fact that you are already in business indicates that you possess four of the necessary traits: alertness, curiosity, adaptive skills and constructive dissatisfaction.

The steps toward more creative thinking are equally basic:

  1. Being receptive to new ideas.
  2. Keeping your information “reservoir” full.
  3. Training yourself to capture stray thoughts.
  4. Thinking an idea through in concrete terms.

By pushing yourself to think more creatively about your business and life, you will be more in tune with the opportunities that may improve both.

The Four Key Traits

A closer look at the kinds of people who come up with new concepts can help you to understand what’s involved. Usually those who produce new ideas have certain traits that help them develop these thoughts.

Alertness: One trait that most creative thinkers have in common is alertness. They are alert to what’s going on and to what it might mean to them.

Some people say that the discoverer of lithography, a playwright, stumbled on this principle of printing when he wrote a shopping list with a crayon on a piece of sandstone. “Stumbled” in a sense, perhaps, but it was his alertness that made him think of future applications when he accidentally printed a duplicate list from the stone. Later he refined this method and used it to reproduce copies of his plays. Today, the same principle is used in offset printing.

Curiosity: Another trait common to men and women who develop creative thoughts is curiosity. This means the mental approach of looking below the obvious surface details. It means wanting to dig down to get the “why’s’’ of events and activities.

Adaptive skill: A third trait common to people who create new ideas is their skill at making adaptations; they fit and tailor what they see, read and hear to their own situations.

One example of adaptive skill is that of a sales manager of a wholesale company that specialized in raincoats. Business had dried up. Retail stores were overstocked because of a succession of droughts and dust storms. No one needed raincoats. Yet he found a way to sell his.

First, he listed the good qualities of his coats. In addition to being rainproof, they looked like a topcoat. They were also coldproof, windproof and dustproof. He began to advertise them as all-weather topcoats ... a new concept in those days. In a few months people were wondering, “How do they sell so many raincoats in such dry weather?”

The answer: by applying adaptivity to creative thought.

Constructive dissatisfaction: A fourth trait common in creative people is the desire for something better. It has been called “constructive dissatisfaction” and is closely related to curiosity. It has two results. One is increased range of knowledge. The other is objectivity ... keeping an open mind.

One retailer described how he applied constructive dissatisfaction to the problem of distribution.

“I criticize my suppliers,” he says. “I list everything they are doing that I don’t like. I list things I would change if I could. Then I try to come up with ideas my supplier could use to put those changes into effect.”

He keeps on open mind on his own operations by examining the way he treats his customers. “What am I doing that they don’t like?” he asks. “Can I remove these sources of irritation? How?”

Teaching Yourself

You can teach yourself to develop a creative line of thought. There is no magic to it. By and large it is a commonsense approach, and a simple four step procedure.

  1. Be receptive to new ideas.

Listen to your suppliers; your sources of information. Attend trade shows and talk with other salon owners or nail technicians. Find out what is new and what seems to be working well. And most important, listen to people, including your clientele.

  1. Keep your information reservoir full.

Stocking your information reservoir is an essential step in a commonsense approach to creative thinking. It means putting useful knowledge, facts, figures and opinions, into your mind. You do this by looking, listening and reading.

All three are important, but reading is perhaps the best way of stocking your mind. The amount of information you can cover is limited only by your reading speed and the amount of time available for reading. As one writer says, “If you know how to read, you have the power to enlarge yourself and multiply the ways in which you exist.”

  1. Train yourself to capture stray thoughts.

“Thoughts often get away from me,” some may say. “Usually I forget the idea before I get time to do anything about it.”

Prevent this from happening by capturing new thoughts while they are hot: jot them down as they pop into your head.

Get your ideas down on paper... any kind... as soon as you can. Stop what you are doing and put down whatever is necessary to jog your memory. If one word does it, fine. The goal is to capture the thought before it evaporates.

  1. Think an idea through in concrete terms.

Thinking an idea through involves self-discipline and work. Most people have to make themselves do it. No one can tell you exactly how, but you may want to try this suggestion. Set aside a definite time to review the notes you jotted down as you captured stray thoughts. Pick out a good one. Then begin thinking about it in terms of step-by-step action you could take.

Practice Improves Your Skill

Those who use a common sense approach emphasize one point. Make time for concentrated, directed thinking. It’s hard work, but practice makes results come more easily. The experience of others may be helpful to as your work out your own method. In terms of business, two successful techniques are thinking about what your customers want, and thinking about improvements in your own operations.

What customers want.

For example, maybe you have read of a new housing tract going up in your trade area. Ask yourself what that could mean to your service and business, and what it would take to bring those prospects into your salon.

Also consider other services that your customers may have expressed interest in, or a product that may be new on the market. Ask yourself about your existing clientele. Would later hours bring in an increase in business? Does the salon look neat and appealing?

Operating improvements.

Some practice creative thinking by focusing on ways to improve their own operations. Many ideas come to them as a result of trying to find a solution to a specific problem.

For example a president of a small company had a personnel problem: how to keep from losing several brilliant but restless young assistants.

As he sought a solution to this problem, he came up with a novel expansion idea for his organization. He encouraged and helped his key men to start their own businesses. How? They could, and did, under a franchise or license arrangement. In doing so, they became independent owner-managers.

Try using several employees to help solve problems. Give them the freedom to explore all areas of the firm’s activities. Call them creative workshops on the theory that alert, creative individuals generate profitable ideas even outside their own jobs.

Creative thinking in your own situation might be stimulated by focusing on problems such as those described in a recent study. In the study, more than 250 small businessmen listed six major problems; personnel, financial management, physical facilities, distribution, recordkeeping and public relations.

A springboard session could start with one of these areas. Suppose you decide to concentrate on personnel. First, make a list of your main manpower problems. Next, sort out these problems. Put the most troublesome ones at the top. Then, whenever you can take a few, minutes, give some thought to solutions for those specific problems. Jot down ideas as they come to you.

Later, sit down and review your notes. Put aside ideas that seem impractical ... but don’t throw them away. They might spark other useful thoughts later.

The longer you drill yourself in a systematic process of creative thinking, the clearer one thing should become: You need you own, individual method for coming up with new thoughts that you can adapt to your business.

Acting on Your Thoughts

Whether you act on one of your creative thoughts depends on how strongly you feel about the workability of your idea and on your willingness to risk the necessary money and time.

You’ll need to test each idea before you start acting upon it. A sensible first step is to put it aside for awhile. Let it ripen. Then examine it again. Does it still look sound? If so, test it further with the help of someone you can trust. Criticize it, see how many holes can be punched in it. See if and how you can plug up those holes and then put the proposal aside a second time. Rethink it later on. If it still checks out as sound, see if you can find a way of trying it out on a limited scale to gauge its acceptance by employees and customers. If objections are raised, they should be met squarely and overcome if possible. One caution: do not make the mistake of taking too much time or procrastinating on the idea. If it has merit, then pursue it quickly and fully. But don’t waste your valuable efforts by setting it aside to “ripen” and then forgetting about it. The key is to formulate a plan of action that will get you through these different stages without wasting any time.

Suppose you are satisfied at this point that you have a thought good enough for general application in your firm. Suppose, further, that putting it into effect will cost you money... perhaps $1000. At that point, many individuals drop out of creative thinking. They feel that they can’t risk the money. Their fear of the cost of new things often robs them of the flexibility that is one of the strengths of small business.

So be prepared to spend at least some money if you want to improve your ability for creative thinking. Part of the common sense is being willing to act upon your ability ... upon the thoughts you develop for your firm.

Remember, some ideas will fail even though you test them before putting them into action. Often, however, a creative idea that fails is not a complete loss. In many instances, that experience sparks a highly successful offshoot idea. Therefore, it is wise to look at creative thinking as a long term investment

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