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Deborah Jane Willimott

Deborah Jane Willimott

January 20, 2015

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Be an Idea Machine

The boss needs solutions—NOW. You, however, need a brain transplant because yours has been sucked dry by all the strategy sessions this month. Luckily, we’re here to aid your ailing resources with these tips to instantly fire creativity.

Nourish your noggin. Drink plenty of water (dehydration prevents you from thinking clearly) and eat lightly before the meeting. Digestion starves the brain of blood, which stops it from working at full capacity. Keep blood sugar high with regular complex-carb snacks. And veto the elevator—according to a U.K. study, after a 30-second sprint, the mind is fatigued and can reset itself, significantly lowering confusion and tension for the next 75 minutes.

Break the rules. Businesses often shut down ideas because of countless unspoken rules and habits about how solutions should be reached. “So ask yourself, ‘What rules restrict my solution or ideas and what would happen if I broke them?’” says Dan Heasman, head of the learning team at ?WhatIf!, an NYC-based business innovations company. “Just because the company has never done something doesn’t mean you can’t imagine what could happen if they did. You may find a new route that is workable simply by mentally crossing boundaries. Remember: Imagining doesn’t damage business.”

Change your vocabulary. “Business vocabulary stifles inspiration,” says Heasman. “So consider what you can liken your problematic scenario to. We assisted a beverage company who’d lost consumers to a younger brand. So we considered the parallels, hitting upon the idea that their competitors were ‘seducing’ away their clients—not a word regularly bandied around a beverage meeting room! But this new vocab expanded company thinking outside their usual solution boundaries, inspiring fresh approaches.”

Call in the experts. “We were working with an under-performing sales team whose problem was bravery when approaching new clients,” recalls Heasman. “So we asked, ‘Who has to deal with bravery daily?’ And we thought, soldiers! So we interviewed one about how he helps his squadron cultivate bravery. We accessed the roots of confidence and applied these strategies to the sales team.”

Enlist your inner alpha. “Daily, your brain is operating in a beta state, which is practical but not creative,” says Heasman. “The creative—or alpha—state is when you’re slightly more in your subconscious, and that’s when ideas flow. You can access alpha brain simply by taking three deep breaths, laughing, or changing your environment.” (Ask to swap desks with a colleague for 20 minutes.) “Unusual stimuli are also great for alpha. So rather than take the usual business documents into your meeting, take a picture or a toy—anything weird—and try and generate your first idea from there.”