Think Creatively to Make an Impact

Posted by on Dec 5, 2011 | 4 Comments

What seems like a lifetime ago, in the summer of 2001, I got one of those crazy ideas. For those of you who know me, you know that this is not terribly unusual.

I was in Seattle, running my corporate events company, Impression Events, and I found this breathtaking spot at the foot of Mt. Si for a 700 person picnic. The problem was, there were no picnic tables.

Now a sane person would say: (a) rent the tables, or (b) find a different spot – but as we’ve already established I’m known to doing things a little differently. I like to think of it as “creative” thinking.

Anyway, the gorgeous site was owned by the City of Snoqualmie. They occasionally had concerts there – as the site was situated on a gentle sloping hill – but most of the time (since it was table-free) it was just one of those hidden gems that taxpayers had the privilege maintaining, but not using.

But it was so beautiful! It was perfect! I had to have my Graceland-themed picnic there! Yes, imagine…Elvis and Priscilla making their grand entrance via golf cart down to the stage…

I tend to not only think outside-a-normal-box, but I’m also stubborn (since I’m outing foibles), and I just had to figure out a way to make it happen. That’s when it struck me! What if… rather than renting normal tables that would stick into the grass and look out of place in the middle of paradise, we were to use the same amount of money and instead build gorgeous picnic tables to donate to the City of Snoqualmie??? Hmmmm…..

So of course, that’s what we did. I sweet-talked my brilliant-former-engineer-husband into designing picnic-table-blue-prints, helping me order all the materials, and oh, also heading up the construction assembly-line (we were newly-weds at the time). I pulled together a team of extraordinary volunteers, we brought in Krispy Kremes and lunch, had the materials delivered, and we had an absolute blast spending a day in paradise building 100 gorgeous picnic tables that the City of Snoqualmie now owns.

I’m sure you won’t find this kind of thing in your normal business play-book.

So why the trip down memory-lane this holiday season? Well I just finished reading Blake Mycoskie’s, Start Something That Matters, and I’m completely inspired. He’s reminded me of the impact we all can make when we think creatively. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Blake, he’s the guy who founded TOMS. TOMS shoes breaks all the normal rules of business. They are a for-profit company that has making-a-difference woven into the fabric of their organization. For every pair of shoes they sell, they provide a pair of shoes to a child in need. They have given more than 1,000,000 shoes away – and are making quite a nice business out of doing so in the process. And people who work for TOMS aren’t simply “employees”, they’re part of the TOMS ”movement”.

So how’s that for engagement?!

Now I don’t want to pretend that making picnic tables and giving shoes away to children in need are the same on the awesomeness-scale – they’re not. But they both do the same thing: they turn normal-thinking on its ear to make an impact. I was just trying to plan a company picnic – but discovered a way to contribute in the process. Blake had simply taken a trip to Argentina to lose himself in the culture, when he found a creative way to solve the real effects of being shoeless – on a big scale.

But you don’t have to be in the position of owning your own business to make an impact. Anyone can do it. Especially this time of year.

1. Define the impact you want to have. One of the things we help leaders do is to define the impact that they want to have outside themselves. What is the purpose of what you’re doing? Ask yourself: Why do you care? For the sake of what?

2. Get creative around the “how”. Once you have some clarity around the impact you want to have, explore all the different tactics you could employ to achieve the impact you want to have. Pay attention to your intuition. It’s those wild-hair-ideas that lead to something cool. Or as poet Anne Sexton once said, “Put your ear down next to your soul and listen hard.” When Blake first thought about getting shoes for children in need, he first considered turning to friends and family, then he explored starting a non-profit – but both of those solutions would rely too heavily on donations, and what if those dried up? It wasn’t until he started thinking creatively that he realized he could use his entrepreneurial -know-how to create a new kind of for-profit business that could guarantee a flow of shoes.

3. Focus on action! We can spend a lifetime analyzing the pros and cons, the costs and the benefits, and find that we’ve not made one iota of an impact. Impact comes through action, not thinking about action. Yes, do your “due diligence”, give yourself a deadline, and take action.

4. Fully commit. In the theatre world we don’t accept the word “try”. “Trying” allows for less than 100% commitment, which guarantees a bad performance. Actors have to be all-in, or can’t be on the stage – it’s just that simple. Now, committing to the action does not of course guarantee you will succeed, but it puts you on an active path to have access to achievement. No commitment, no achievement.

This holiday season will be filled with big and little opportunities for you to make an impact. As a leader, how can you take the kind of creative action to inspire and engage your employees? Forgo the standard gift-card and really think about the impact you want to have on the individuals you lead. What is the impact you want to have on your friends and family this year? On your community? And no, it’s not too off the wall to even say, the world. Buy a pair of TOMS shoes for someone? Get them a copy of Blake’s inspiring book (which, by the way, provides a new book to a child in need)? Help a family in need?  Spend some quality time with someone?  Write a thoughtful handwritten note to let them know what a difference they’ve made this year? Send them to OnStage Leadership! (I couldn’t help myself). There’s a lot of things you can do. Get creative! That’s where the real impact lies.

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that thinking normal is way over-rated.

©OnStage Leadership, 2011

If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share.  It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too.  My sincere thanks.  Kimberly


  1. Jennifer Null
    December 6, 2011

    Great post! Love the picnic tale idea! You go, girl!

  2. Ellen Z
    December 6, 2011

    Inspiring story that I will carry with me for a long time. I love and embrace the break the rules, turn things on their ear, do it differently that this story embodies! To borrow the line from Nike, Just Do It!

  3. Ed McCamey
    December 9, 2011

    Oh my, you’re telling me there are supposed rules? No wonder that I’ve not seen any boxes to think outside of. Now the thinking part, that’s where I’ve gotten into problems. Keep the inspiration flowing!

  4. Paul Shultz
    February 20, 2012

    Putting great ideas into action takes commitment and a wise heart I believe.

    and as someone said before “amateurs practice to get it right; pro’s practice to not get it wrong”.

    And to me “practice” is taking those risks to really commit.

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