By Ted Pollock, Management Consultant

For a manager, too regular a routine can be counterproductive. Why? Because the rewards and satisfactions of real innovation come to those who open their minds the widest to fresh ideas.

There are three ways to expose yourself to fresh thinking:

  • Talk to new people-both in your company and outside.
  • Read with an unfocused mind from time to time, and without any definite objective.
  • Most important, get out of your office, out to another part of the city (or country, if possible), out where you’ll run into the unknown or unexpected.

These are intentionally broad suggestions, for none of them will do you much good if you talk, read or travel with too firm a plan in view. This would keep your mind in the same old rut.

If we hold on to our own preset notions, everything we hear, read or see is sifted and filtered to sort out just those points that fit nicely into our own thought patterns-which is exactly what we don’t want.

Take the small town department store owner who made a radical decision designed to force himself to innovate: He would have no office of his own.

Walking about the store, talking with managers, clerks, and customers, he found that he could get a feel of what was wrong with various departments, what changes he would want to see if he were in the shopper’s place. From this personal identification and his love of travel, he began to bring touches of Fifth Avenue and Paris to his small town store.

He replaced lunch counters with a gourmet restaurant. He introduced high fashions from top European designers, put art objects in the aisles and crystal chandeliers overhead. In short, he made his store an attractive place for shoppers to visit, a place where they found themselves in a buying mood.

When you read-whether it is the daily paper or business magazines-try reading just for enjoyment, letting the material wash over you without looking for a specific link to your own problems. Not always, but now and then, an idea will suddenly pop into your head.

It may be linked to your business after all, but in a way that you had not thought about before. This will be something new and fresh-not necessarily workable, but from a number of such ideas something readily worthwhile will develop.

Most of all, get away from your desk and familiar sights. As near as your city’s suburbs there are probably new developments going on that may have a bearing on your company. Reading about them is one thing; wandering past to see and hear them is something else. At the very least, it will send you back to work with a more elastic mind. But there will be times when it will contribute something immediately useful.

An auto parts company executive says he and his staff find that haphazard chats with people across the country are more productive than carefully planned brainstorming sessions aimed at making sales and markets grow.

At one conference, a man seated next to him at dinner asked, “Say, why is it that your parts catalog is so hard to use? Why doesn’t it stay open like the others do?

“Your catalog cover is made to close unless it’s held open with both hands,” his neighbor added. He said his clerks found it such a bother to use when they were talking on the phone that they usually selected a competitive company’s parts instead.

“From this tiny remark, it dawned on us that a catalog should fight to stay open, not closed. And we’ve made a change that may mean a big increase in our sales,” says the executive. “But the idea had to come from outside. And it almost had to come accidentally. The fact that we had been ignorant of the problem all these years meant that it couldn’t be found on anybody’s prepared list of questions to ask.”

New places, new people, new experiences-all can contribute to new and better ideas, providing you keep your mind open to them.

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