Creative Thinking and Making 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 at the time, running my corporate events company, 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 prefer to look at it as “creative” thinking).
The gorgeous site was owned by the City of Snoqualmie, a beautiful hamlet about 30 – 40 minutes outside of Seattle. They occasionally held 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 perfect! My clients would love it! 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-recovering-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, so he was an easy target). 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 presumably still owns.
I’m sure you won’t find this kind of thing in your normal business play-book.
So why, when my event-days are far behind me, do I find myself tripping down memory-lane? Well during the holiday season, I like to read business books that inspire me, and one of my favorites this time of year is Blake Mycoskie’s, Start Something That Matters. He reminds 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. While they started with a one-for-one model, focused on shoes (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) they’ve expanded to provide sight, water, safe birth, and bullying prevention to those in need – and are making quite a nice business out of doing so in the process. Yes, and the people who work for TOMS? They’re not 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? You do what you do 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” but give yourself a deadline, and take action.
Impact comes through action, not thinking about 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 gain access to achievement. No commitment, no achievement.
Commitment puts you on an active path to gain 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? 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 normal-thinking is way over-rated.
©OnStage Leadership, 2015
Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying! If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, Presentation Skills, or being BRAVE at work, we’d love to hear from you!
If you haven’t had a chance, check out my recent Tedx talk or my interview with Alise Cortez on Voice of America’s Working on Purpose Channel: Bringing Our True and Best Selves to Work: Cultivating Authentic Leadership with Kimberly Davis.