How Can You Think Creatively to Make an Impact?
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.
It was so beautiful! It was perfect! I had to have my Graceland-themed picnic there! Yes, picture it…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 Starbucks, 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? Well a few years ago, after reading Blake Mycoskie’s, Start Something That Matters, I got completely inspired. Blake 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”. (How’s that for engagement?!)
And in the throes of inspiration, soon after reading Blake’s book, I guess I had recommended it to an OnStage-participant-turned-friend, who has since taken this concept and totally run with it. Yesterday, this friend launched his dream and is on his way to making a big difference in the world, so I thought it apropo to give him a shout-out in today’s blog. Josh White, of soon-to-be joshwhite.tv fame, congratulations for reaching for your dream and thank you for making the difference you are sure to make.
From building picnic tables, to giving shoes away to children in need, to supporting the people who are changing the world like Josh is doing, we can all turn our normal-thinking on its ear to make an impact. I was just trying to plan a company picnic and 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. Josh, was simply applying his talents and passions toward helping the people he loves to help and found a way to infuse giving into his business model.
But you don’t have to be in the position of owning your own business to make an impact. Anyone can do it.
1. Define the impact you want to have. One of the things I get to 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. From my time in the theatre world, I learned not to accept the word “try”. “Trying” allows for less than 100% commitment, which guarantees a bad performance. Like actors, you have to be all-in, or your performance stinks – it’s just that simple. Committing to action does not guarantee success, but it puts you on an active path to have access to achievement. No commitment, no achievement.
Every day is 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 others? Perhaps next time you have a gift to give, forgo the standard gift-card and really think about the impact you want to have on the individuals you lead. What impact can 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 (I offered up the same challenge to Josh and look what happened!).
At your next gift-giving-opportunity, could you buy a pair of TOMS shoes for someone or 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 that doesn’t have the resources? 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! (sorry, 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, 2014 (originally posted in December, 2011)
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Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying!