You may not have noticed but I fell off the blogging grid for a while. A little over a month ago when my last blog was due, my dad passed away unexpectedly. It has been very hard for me. I became inwardly focused and it totally sapped my creative energy. Ironically, over the last month I listened to a book called “Imagine” by John Lehrer which is all about creativity – the thing I was lacking. It’s a great book and I would highly recommend it.

The book covers many aspects of how and why creativity happens: how the brain actually works related to creative thinking, and how new experiences and ideas spark creative thinking. An example I liked was how you can derive creative benefits when traveling, by not just being in a foreign land, but immersing yourself in the foreign culture. The “strangeness” of the new experiences open up your mind to new possibilities.

The book also talks about how a physical environment also influences creativity. An interesting fact is the multiplier effect on the number of patents that come from the increasing size of a city, because living in a larger city and interacting with a lot of different people, often from different cultures, spurs new and evolving ideas. Similarly, a physical work environment with centralized space (like lunchrooms, bathrooms, mailrooms, or specific collaboration space) can provide opportunities to bump into and interact with different people from different disciplines, thus enhancing creative thought and collaboration.

If you think about your company and its network of clients, vendors and other business partners, you may have an opportunity to benefit from this concept. For example, one of the enlightening things about the commercial banking business is we have the chance to interact with a lot of different businesses and business people. This creates the opportunity to be exposed to different ways of thinking and operating across a variety of industries. Even back in our formative years in the early 90’s, we were able to pick up sales strategies from an insurance industry client that allowed us to be an early adopter of a contact management system (ACT! if you are old enough to remember that) and ideas on how to automate the scheduling of routes for our courier service from a vending company prospect. This ability to learn from others has been a huge advantage in gathering best practices and new ideas then bringing them back and applying them to our business.

Your company may also have or be able to put in place practices that feed creativity.  Our company, like many others, believes in community involvement, and we encourage our employees to volunteer with local nonprofit agencies, and when possible, also serve on nonprofit boards. I personally benefited from this philosophy, as it has enabled me to interact with other people who are applying their knowledge and experience to accomplish a variety of goals. I have witnessed how this exposure to new people and new ideas greatly enhances one’s ability to grow and practice new concepts in the work world.

So as you look at creatively improving your business, look outside your walls.  If your business is thinking of a new software tool for CRM, don’t just look at what others in your industry use, look outside your industry to see what the best sales organizations use. If you are looking for gain efficiency and improve your processes and workflow, you may find the best insights from manufacturers who use techniques like LEAN and Six Sigma.

As an individual, I encourage you to get involved in organizations outside of your current employer.  Serving on a Board of Directors or Advisors for any kind of organization creates this opportunity (and even more so if it’s outside your industry). You get exposed to new ideas from that organization and also from the other directors who bring their diverse knowledge and viewpoints.

To spur your creative juices and grow, break out of your shell and expose yourself to new experiences, ideas, and people.