This month, I'm focusing on how you can shake up your thinking. When you know too much about a topic it's hard to be open to new ideas. So how can you forget what you know? Let's look at three methods:
1: Assume the opposite is true
Write down the half dozen or so core assumptions you make about a challenge you're facing. Then write their opposites. Brainstorm what you could do if the opposites were true. Your logical mind may resist, but treat it as a game.
Example: The usual assumption is that the way to make money from books, whether traditionally or self- published, is from royalties. The opposite: You are not allowed to make money from royalties.
The brainstorm: What alternatives could there be? Attach the books to another product as a bonus. Provide them on a rental basis. Get people to fund them before you write them. Find a patron who will give you a flat rate for writing the book. Charge for giving talks and include the books in the price.
ACTION: Try this with a challenge of yours. Consider how, when, where, and why things are usually done, and then the opposite of each of those and see where it leads you.
2: Ask a child
The ideal age of the child to ask about what you should do probably is around five. Of course their answers will sound magical or impossible but treat them seriously and see what new ideas they might spark.
Example: You ask, "I need to find more people to buy things from me. What do you think I should do?" The child says, "You should find out where they're hiding!"
The brainstorm: Hmm, where ARE your potential customers hiding? In other words, where does the conventional wisdom say they are not? Could they be there, but not obvious? Or is there a segment to which your product would appeal?
For instance, maybe it's old-fashioned and doesn't seem to appeal to students. What about students at very conservative colleges? Or could you get parents to buy it for students?
ACTION: If you don't have a child the right age, probably a friend or relative has one you could ask. Be sure to let the child know how much you appreciate his or her advice.
3: Identify the main obstacle and turn it into an advantage
What's the main obstacle you face in solving a problem that's bothering you? Consider how it could be turned into an advantage. Again, your logical mind probably will be inclined to snap shut, but play with the concept.
Example: You have to finish a presentation in the next 48 hours but that's not enough time. Brainstorm: People who don't have much time need to be concise, or to move fast, or they have to get help.
Concise: Can you use a different method of presentation that would be faster to produce—like mind maps? Your audience might appreciate a fresh delivery method.
Move Fast: Could you use an existing set of materials and riff off those—e.g., here's how this used to be done, let me contrast it with how we do things now.
Collaborate: Can you get somebody else to do part of it? Or how about making the audience do part of the work?
ACTION: Pinpoint your major obstacle and brainstorm how it could be your friend rather than your enemy.
4: Do you need to reinvent yourself?
A lot of free-lancers are finding that the world has changed while they weren't looking. I met a travel writer the other day who used to get great perks because hotels, airlines and others pampered people who wrote for the big travel magazines. These days, she says, the best-known bloggers get all the goodies and the traditional travel writers are left out in the cold.
Maybe it's not such a new phenomenon; after all what Darwin really said was not that the fittest survive, but the most adaptable. Reinvention doesn't have to mean a total change, it can be just a shift. Here are three things you can change:
The customer for what you do. For instance, for the travel writer hotels and other travel-related businesses might be interested in having her write for their websites.
The format of what you do. Obviously the travel writer could set up her own blog, but she could also create mini-travel guides with a unique perspective, to publish and market herself.
The way you apply your expertise. A good writer is a good writer, regardless of the topic. The travel writer could present private non-fiction writing workshops or teach for a college.
ACTION: The best time to change is before you're forced to. Do the changes in your field suggest it might be wise to make some adjustments in what you do or how you do it? If so, the three elements above can be a good starting point.
5: Do a bit of hero worship
June 1 is My Hero Day. OK, I just made that up, but why not? Is there somebody in your life whom you admire - not necessarily everything about them, but one thing? Maybe it's somebody who works long hours to make sure their kids are provided for, or somebody who volunteers to keep the local library going, or just someone who always has a smile for you when they serve you at your favorite store or restaurant. Why not let them know?
If you're too shy to say it, do it anonymously. Buy a blank card or make a card that says something like, "Somebody has noticed how hard you work and thinks you're great." Or "You work so hard for your kids—don't worry, someday they'll realize the sacrifices you made."
ACTION: We're surrounded by heroes who don't know that's what they are. Make their day, they deserve it.
6: And a quote to consider:
"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained." – Marie Curie