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Craig Steffen
Strategic Marketing & Licensing Guru
Dayton, Ohio
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Get Out of the Office to Get Out of the Box

Imagination and RE-imagination are the keys to innovation and understanding.
Written Dec 30, 2008, read 1301 times since then.


Every now and then a timeless nugget of truth comes to my attention. Back in the early 1900’s Alice Foote MacDougall was the proprietor of a chain of coffee houses in New York. As a business woman and single mom, she found a way to provide for her family with grit and imagination. When commenting on her own business success, she observed:

"Imagination is a valuable asset in business and she has a sister, Understanding, who also serves. Together they make a splendid team and business problems dissolve and the impossible is accomplished by their ministrations."

Timeless indeed. One of the great forgotten assets of any business is imagination. It is as if we structure and operate our businesses in accordance with a manual, chiseled in stone, that we value as if it were Holy Scripture. We dare not stray from its rigid precepts lest the market gods punish us for our deviation from its “sacred” path.

Yet, imagination has never been more crucial than in today’s markets replete with duplicate stores on every corner and options galore. Want a burger? Chances are you can find a dozen variations within a few miles of your present location. Need an aspirin? You can get one (or 10,000) within a stones throw of virtually any busy intersection.

Business is desperately in need of serious help from Imagination and her sister. But where can these beautiful siblings be found?

If you expect to find imagination in the trenches of your day-to-day business operations, you’ll be searching in vain. She doesn’t spend her valuable time there. Rather, she’s found during walks in the woods, retreats and quiet ponderings over any beverage designed to be sipped slowly. You are not likely to find these sisters amongst the usual suspects around the conference table, but may discover them when you invite persons with fresh perspectives to join your discussions. You won’t find them while you pour over financial statements, but can get to know them as you ponder a good book or enjoy a thoughtful film.

Get yourself alone in one of these quite, thoughtful venues. B&Bs, parks, retreat centers, nature centers and some faith-based organizations can meet your need. When you and/or your team arrive -- relax, laugh, play a non-competitive game and break out of your driven business paradigm. Your objective should be less about solving problems and more about creating or inventing something completely different.

Only after everyone is in a completely different state of mind then they are in the workplace, brainstorm (far, far out of the box) about ways to re-invent your venture. You may settle on only a few changes at a time, but beware; if you do this right it can be contagious.

One of the business people I meet with nearly every week has put this concept into practice. He and his partners routinely get away together to re-invent their business. Though already amongst the leaders in their industry and the subject of research and articles in trade journals, they’re never satisfied. Their industry tries to emulate their strategies, but is always two steps behind. Few things about their business -- the way they treat their customers, the way they look at competition, the way they reward employees – are “mainstream.”

Your challenge, and mine, is to use our own imagination and the imagination of myriad of others to make our business something unique, different and desirable. Slow it down, get away, break from your routine and dare to let imaginations flow through every aspect of the way you do business (or family or faith). Your life, and the lives of us who come in contact with you, will be far more interesting and fulfilling.

"It is not easy to create calm in the turmoil of an electrically driven city - and we run so fast toward our commercial goal that we do not even glimpse the beauty by the way."

~ Alice Foote MacDougall, 1928

Learn more about the author, Craig Steffen.

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