Craving Zen and Inspiration

I have this nifty little zen sandbox on my desk. It’s about 3 inches wide and about 9
inches long, has a little rake, 7 stones and about 6 tablespoons of sand, if that. Sounds like an insignificant little desk decoration, doesn’t it? Ah, but in its simplicity lies extraordinary gifts.

A recent study by Basex, a New York research firm, found that office distractions ate up 2.1 hours a day for the average worker. Another study found that employees devoted an average of 11 minutes to a project before being distracted. Researchers Gloria Mark and Victor Gonsalez of the University of California, Irvine, found that once interrupted, it takes workers 25 minutes to return to the original task, if they return at all. “People switch activities, such as making a call, speaking with someone in their cubicle or working on a document, every three minutes on average,” Mark was quoted as saying.

So, how many times a day do you wander away either physically, mentally or both for lack of focus or worse, for lack of creative inspiration?

As many jobs in the United States move further away from the old factory style, process driven work that used to be prevalent, and move into a more skills and ingenuity based model, the most successful companies are increasingly becoming the most creative ones. Out is the old mind numbing, repetition based work, and in is the new and ever changing creative and inventive, idea based work.

So how to spark that creative enthusiasm at the office when you have to tackle some project that you are perhaps not so passionate about? How can you build a creative palace inside the same old work cubicle that you are so familiar with? Here are a few tips.

Want Something New for Yourself

The most important step in the process begins inside of you. You have to want to add something, life or a spark or a new perspective, to your work. Often, if they can get away with either pummelling through a task on automatic pilot or attacking it with zest and excitement, many people will choose the former simply because it’s less work. It’s hard to fire up those creative juices, and all the best tips in the world will not help you one bit unless you really, in your heart, want to find inspiration.

Change it Up a Bit

Sometimes being in the same space with the same layout day after day after year can be a major contributor to brain fry. Try moving around the furniture a bit to get your creative juices flowing. Put the desk over by the other window. Change a few of the pictures around or buy a new painting or print for the wall. Experiment with different flowers in fun, colorful vases. If you keep doing the same thing you can expect much of the same results. Sometimes just switching around a few basic things in your workspace can give your mind an entirely new and fresh perspective on life.

Write it Down!

Your mind is like a continual idea factory always pumping out ideas. Granted, many of these are illogical, unusable, or even unrelated. Ask yourself this: If I have to write down a hundred lame or unrelated ideas to get to one jewel, is it still worth it for me? If your answer is "damn straight! Yes", then grab a Post-It and a pen or your cell phone and get into the habit of writing down practically everything that comes to mind. Develop some kind of a system to mine through those ideas at a later date in order to sort out the bad from the good from the brilliant.

Take Breaks!

An essential step for the most creative minds, stopping and thinking about something else every once in a while can be one of the most crucial parts of your creative work day. It's all about stepping back and looking at the big picture, but sometimes it’s more about stepping away and looking at a different picture for a while. Hence, my little desktop Zen sandbox. Schedule five minute breaks throughout your day and use these to go somewhere else and do something completely unrelated to your tasks. Go outside, stand in a patch of grass, and look at the sky. Find some carpeting and do a couple of stretches. Close your eyes and meditate on all the wonderful things in your life. When you get back to work, you will find your brain to be much more amenable, and your inspiration levels will soar.

The People Mill!

Running your good ideas through other people can often turn them into great ideas. There’s simply nothing like collaboration if you want to do something really great. Find some like-minded people and use them to bounce your ideas off of. They will often open your eyes to new aspects of an idea that you might not have thought of before. Make sure to also give them feedback on their ideas as well. Honesty is important in a process like this and there is no room for negativity. Make it a rule that all ideas will be considered.

Brainstorming is Key!

Besides all the wonderful tips above which can do wonders for indirectly or directly stimulating creativity, it’s also important to set aside a specific time to actually be creative. Dedicate a portion of your day to turning everything else off and focusing on pulling down that new inspiration. Better than a time limit, an idea goal will help get you started on the right foot. Keep with this brainstorming process until you have come up with a lucky number of seven to ten fresh ideas. They don’t all have to be good ideas either, just whatever comes to mind. Later you can sort them out and see if you’ve come up with anything truly genius.

Inspiration can be found in even the most mundane of places. We just need to learn how to spark our own inspirational fire by changing the typical way we view our work and responsibilities. Make interacting with creative others a normal part of your routine, and find time to break up the monotony of your daily schedule. Seek inspiration when you might usually zone-out and go on autopilot, and always look for an opportunity to grow.

If you are interested in owning your own Zen Sandbox, please let me know. I know the manufacturer directly and have them available for purchase for $5 + S+H.

Online or Offline, that is the Question...

I’m told that many business owners feel like they have two businesses; the one they started in brick in mortar and the one they launched as the power of the internet took hold. I’ve been asked repeatedly by clients lately, how do I integrate my existing brands and company awareness with that of the one the internet seems to be creating for me?

My first response is that the branding of your products and services does not have to differ between marketing or information venues. Moreover, it is the nurturing of the relationship with your customer that is always the key to your success so it is THAT element that must be reflective of the venue. So, if you start from that basic premise supported by your unparalleled customer service and attention to detail, you back into how you provide that continuity of support in an online environment.

Online businesses as extensions to brick and mortar businesses offer unlimited ability to reach your potential customers when it is convenient for them, rather than when the doors of your office suite or retail shop are open to the sunshine. Remembering as you expand your online footprint that your customer base is more global, may not know you or your products and may be coming to you with preconceived notions about what you are offering or what their needs are is imperative.

Your online presence is an extension of your existing business if you so position it, however, you must remember that a global audience has probably never heard of you before and is often comparing you to others. If you consciously begin offering other products and services through your portal to the world, however, you begin to recreate yourself and indeed, will find yourself running two separate and distinct operations unless you then import your new direction into your brick and mortar business.

Running An Offline Business vs. An Online Business

Running a company as an "offline" business is very different than running a business online. While the goal of selling a product or service may be the same, the means used to actually achieve those sales can be very different.

Offline enterprise companies will often have an extended outside sales force that will travel to potential customer locations and demo the products or meet with the potential customer to explain the services. Traditional companies will also run seminars or training sessions from time to time or offer other support mechanisms to maintain a close, supportive relationship. Some of these techniques have been adopted for online companies, with some online companies scheduling online demos or holding webinars (website-based seminars), but it really isn't standard fare for the typical "online" company. It is far more common that an online company will offer promotions including sampling, free trials, and online specific promotions with very little overhead and marketing cost to the company itself.

Running an Offline Business in combination with your Online Business

It is important to provide continuity in branding, philosophy, and policy whether you are marketing on or offline. Consider your online presence simply as an extension of your offline business, and use the same principles online as you would offline. Continuity should exist within the brand. In other words, the image portrayed online should be consistent with any existing offline branding. Use the same color schemes, logos, tag lines, and company philosophy online as the ones that exist offline.

Online Shelf Space Is Free

Unlike retail stores, the "shelf space" online is essentially free and unlimited. That doesn't mean that you should clutter your website with excessive materials; it simply means that you can choose what to promote, as well as the amount of exposure the promoted items receive, and all at a relatively low cost.

Loyalty among your Current and Prospective, both Online and Offline Customers

A traditional retail business, with face-to-face customer interaction, can be very different from a virtual business, where customer contact is limited to phone, email, and interactive forums. It is more difficult to use these online channels to build customer loyalty.

It is important that online companies encourage communication with customers. Online companies can use website forums, blogs, RSS feeds, social networks, email, or even work to build an online "community" around their product or service. Strong communication is important to building customer loyalty. It takes more work to build loyalty online than offline. Online companies should provide communication in a variety of formats, so that customers and potential customers can choose how they want to receive information or updates.

Expanding Your Audience

The Internet is global. It is not uncommon for online companies to routinely sell into foreign markets. Offline companies, on the other hand, are often somewhat limited by geographical borders. Take the opportunity to pursue foreign markets at very low costs with an online presence.

An online business can be a lucrative extension of an offline business. Having an online presence is no longer simply a nice addition to an offline company -- it really is a necessity in this day and age. Consider this: if your company does not have an online presence, chances are good that your competition does, and they are taking business that could be yours.