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How to think creatively

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The latest episode of The Apprentice saw two contestants crash and burn on the back of a "good" idea (EveryDog, anyone?). The cracks were apparent from the outset, when team members gathered round a whiteboard frantically brainstorming for that golden dog food concept - urged on by Vincent and his omnipresent moustache.

Though entertaining, it's a situation that's all too familiar in real-life; small businesses and sole traders are under constant pressure to come up with fantastic ideas at the drop of a hat - but creativity is hard to contrive, especially when you're racing the clock.

With that in mind, Stylist spoke to Lief Schneider, director of Schneider Bartosch Communications, which specialises in advising small businesses and entrepreneurs. She shared the following tips on how to get creativity flowing in the workplace:

Brainstorm for killer ideas

Identify your target audience and draw them into a brainstorming session to throw around ideas. Groups of around five to ten people work best (big enough to get good ideas but not too large so people feel self-conscious) - and you will probably need to bribe them to attend, offering free champagne or food. Submerse yourself in the environment of your target audience - for instance, if you're launching a high-end hairdressing service, head for an upmarket area of town and draw in people off the street. Make sure your brainstorm is held in a casual, non-corporate setting - an office feel tends to quash creativity. Encourage people to think as big and ridiculous as they like; no-one's ideas should be rubbished. It's easy to tone down zany ideas to something more manageable and realistic but very hard to grow something creative out of everyday, safe ideas.

Change the pattern

It's easy to get stuck in a rut, especially if you are a small business - people tend to adopt accepted ways of thinking that are hard to break. Changing the way in which your business runs for a day or two has the effect of freeing up people psychologically to think in a different way or igniting a different part of their imagination that has previously lain dormant. You can do this by something as little as changing seats for the day, starting work at a different time or hanging a new piece of art up in the office. Other ideas include doing a group workout first thing in the morning to freshen up peoples' minds or holding a meeting outdoors on a sunny day - you'd be amazed by the difference it make to break a routine and change peoples' outlook. One idea that has worked well with some companies if for all employees to wear red for a week - it's a vibrant, go-getting colour that really makes people think differently.

Say no to status

Workplace status and hierarchies act as a stalemate in the context of brainstorming ideas. As far as you are concerned, everyone in your business - from the CEO to the office cleaner - has the potential to bring you the huge idea that makes you a millionaire. If you want opinions, stop and ask everyone what they think. You've got nothing to lose and it will bring you a multitude of different opinions and perspectives. When Richard Branson first started out, he held huge parties for all his staff and quizzed them for their views (the idea for individual TVs in the back of plane seats came from a stewardess at one of these events). Similarly, Marcus Sieff of Marks & Spencer used to tread the shop floors, asking his shop assistants and sellers for their opinion.

Allow yourself to "think silly"

When James Dyson first came up with the concept of a brightly-coloured vacuum cleaner that showed the dirt it collected, the idea seemed far-fetched and not a little ridiculous; cleaners were for hiding muck, not showing it up. But a billion dollars later, and he is the one laughing. Many of the most unworkable or extreme-seeming ideas turn out to be the best - which is why it's crucial to think big and not be restricted in your thinking. Negativity is an especially British problem. We're preoccupied with saying, "That'll never work because... " Think where would you really like to be with your product or service, obstacles notwithstanding. Then devise a plan to get there. That way you will stumble across your great Avatar moment of a truly fantastic idea.

Don't be afraid to fail

The more you do, the more likely you are to come across failure; it's a statistical concept. So instead of letting this fear of failure paralyze what you do, accept that some parts of your business idea won't work at some point. As with anything in life, it's not the failing that matters - but how you deal with it. The most important thing is to believe in your idea. Survival of the fittest is not based on strength, but adaptability. If you don't try it, you'll never know. But if one thing isn't working, you need to be flexible enough to adapt your marketing programme. All successful people have a string of failures behind them at some point in their lives. Brush yourself down, and carry on.

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