Creative Solutions for Your Business: Part 1

Business Side

By Daryl Kulak

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, June/July 2006.

Do you have a creative friend? Someone who can come up with a unique idea in any situation? Were they born with an extra creative gene, or is “creativity” something you can learn? When you’re confronted with a problem and you say, “I need to think this through,” what does that mean? What thought processes do you go through?

Edward de Bono is a modern-day philosopher and psychologist who believes creativity is a skill we can all learn. He says if we use high-quality “thought processes,” we can all be more creative in thinking about solutions for our holistic health businesses or anything else in our lives.

Our minds are like engines, teaches de Bono. Some people innately have a faster engine, a stronger mind. However, the way you use that engine can make more difference than what you were born with. If you’re a good “race driver,” you can win races even with a more modest engine.

The skill of driving is your skill in thinking. Even if you think you weren’t born a creative person, you can learn creativity skills that will help you be a better thinker.

In this two-part series of articles, I’d like to share some of the tools I’ve learned from de Bono’s work.

Creativity Tool No. 1

When you want to evaluate an idea, use the Plus-Minus-Interesting tool, or PMI. Should you start a new marketing campaign? Should you bring in a new subcontractor? Use the PMI.

Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns and get a timer. Start by thinking of the pluses, the advantages, if you go ahead with this idea. What would be the good things that could come out of it? Think about these positive points and write them down. Limit your time to two minutes. The timing is important. Make sure you quit writing down pluses at the two-minute mark.

Then, quickly move on to the minuses. What are the negative points of moving forward? Give yourself a strict two-minute time limit here too.

Stop after two minutes and move on to the “I” category—interesting. What things can you think of that are neither positive nor negative, but are simply worth considering? Often, for me, these come in the form of questions. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how that subcontractor would help with the marketing—will she be good at it or not?

Think through the interesting points for only one minute. Then stop.
The value of what you have when you’ve completed this exercise is much more than three lists. You will often have a much clearer picture of your situation than you previously had. The decision might be more obvious.

Please don’t oversimplify the process. It’s not as simple as just saying, “If the pluses outnumber the minuses—do it!” Not at all. Look at this as a way to think through your issue.

I often find the “interesting” points to be the most salient. Since I’m not trying to think strictly negatively or positively, I come up with some really valid aspects of my situation that may require more thinking. Don’t skip the “interesting” part of this exercise—it is probably the most valuable.

You’ll notice that it’s tough to start with the positive side of things. But do it anyway. Science has found that it’s easier to change from positive to negative than the other way around. It’s a function of the way the chemicals in our brains work.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re trying to decide whether to speak at a Rotary Club in your town. You sit down and do a PMI.

Plus (two minutes)
-Might get some leads from business people.
-Might lead to more speaking engagements.
-More people would learn about my modality.
-Would be good experience for my speaking skills.
-Would be great to get out and meet people.

Minus (two minutes)
-I might look ridiculous—knees knocking or voice wavering.
-It may be scary.
-There might be someone I know.
-They might not take me seriously.

Interesting (one minute)
-How many people will be there?
-How will I feel after it’s all over?
-What will the room look like?
-What would it be like if it goes well?
-Will there be a microphone?

Creativity Tool No. 2

A big part of any decision or idea is other people. How will they help or hinder you? What will they think of this idea? Is there someone whose interests are aligned with your own who would happily supply something you need to get this done?

For a decision or to generate a new idea, try using the Other People’s Views (OPV) exercise, a tool created by de Bono to allow us to try to get into other people’s heads and imagine what they might think about our decision or idea.

To do an OPV, write down a list of the people who might be involved or affected, even indirectly, by your idea. Include business coworkers, family members, friends, clients, prospects and instructors.

Then go through the list and think about what that person will think and feel if you go through with the decision/idea. Try to get beyond the “happy” or “sad” characterizations, and go a little deeper into their thinking and feeling.

There’s no hard rule that says if you find out while using the OPV that some people might be offended or unhappy with your decision, that you might not still go through with it. But now you have more information. Can you do anything to change their attitudes? What if they knew about it ahead of time? Could you make them your allies by getting them involved earlier?

Many bad decisions we make are often simply the result of forgetting to think about what someone’s reaction might be to our new initiative.

As an example, a bodyworker is thinking about putting a significant amount of money into a new marketing campaign. She does an OPV exercise to better understand what might happen.

Other People’s Views Exercise

-Advertising rep. Overjoyed he got the deal, encouraging me that this is a good idea.
-Boyfriend. Supportive, hoping that this will work to benefit my bodywork business.
-Existing clients. “Hey, look at this ad. That’s my therapist!”
-Mother. She’s thinking, “Here she goes again, spending more money for no good reason!”

Creativity Tool No. 3

Attribute analysis is a fun tool. Take the situation you’re thinking about and write down its attributes. Attributes are qualities or characteristics of something that you’re thinking about.
For instance, if you’re thinking about getting some accounting software for your business, think about the attributes of the software.

Accounting Software Attribute Analysis

-Costs $200.
-Is hard to learn.
-Keeps my financial details private.
-Keeps track of my expenses and revenue.
-Makes me ready for tax time.

After you’ve jotted down the attributes, start playing around with them, trying to change each to something else.

For instance, look at the last attribute—keeping your financials private is a big concern, right? Hmm. Maybe not. There is a way of doing financials called open book accounting. It is where owners share all the bookkeeping numbers with their employees. Maybe you have a business with multiple subcontractors sharing your space. After doing your attribute analysis, you decide to try open book accounting. It might be just what is needed.

Creativity Tool No. 4

Here’s another tool for you to try. It’s called Consider All Factors (CAF).

Take a situation you have, maybe a problem or a decision. List the factors affecting it in any way—positive, negative, or unknown.
That’s it. Just list the factors that are affecting things. This simple exercise will help you begin to consider what you need to do. It’s a way to get more information about what you’re facing.
If you can’t attract enough clients into your practice, you have a problem. So, you decide to do a CAF.

Consider All Factors

-My attitude.
-My training as a bodyworker.
-The focus of my practice (the problem I solve for my clients).
-The marketing I do (or don’t do).
-The music I play during appointments.
-The other practitioners who share my space.
-The way I treat my clients during an appointment.

A big part of creativity is just getting more information about the situation. And a lot of the information that is not part of your idea process may be things you already know, but you’re just not focusing on right now.

Creativity Tool No. 5

Here’s a tool to help you with decision making. It’s called Alternatives-Possibilities-Choices (APC).

When it’s time to make a decision, get a sheet of paper and write down your choices. What are the various options you have available to you? Have you thought of everything possible?

For instance, as a reiki master, you need to think about what you can do for office space. You’ve outgrown your home-based practice, so now you need to venture out and find something.

What are your alternatives, possibilities, and choices?


-Rent a booth at a mall.
-Rent a room in an existing holistic clinic.
-Rent an office in an office building.
-Rent space at a massage school.
-Rent space at a spa.
-Start my own holistic clinic (where would I get the money?).
-Share space with a non-holistic practitioner (doctor, dentist, psychologist, etc.).
-Work in a community center.
-Work in a corporate fitness center.
-Work in a fitness center.
-Work in a hospital.
-Work on the actors in a movie studio between scenes.
-Work on people in a manufacturing plant.

A big factor in your brainstorming activities is that you don’t censor yourself. Let your ideas run free. Keep them going, even if they sound ridiculous. Often, a ridiculous idea will help lead you to a good idea. The not-so-good idea can be a stepping stone to a better idea.

Creativity is a set of skills. Use these tools when you come to a point where an idea is needed. It will feel odd at first, but eventually you’ll find yourself using them often, and naturally. Other people might start asking, “How did you think of such a creative idea? You must have been born that way!” But you’ll know—it’s just a skill.