Tim Richardson, an inspirational speaker who challenges traditional thinking on success and richness, held up an 8-track tape - The Captain and Tenille, to be exact. "These were popular in the 70s," he said. "How did you recruit drivers back then? Some people are still recruiting in the same way they did in the 70s." Like the way we listen to music, he was saying, the way the industry recruits and retains drivers needs to change, as well.
The problem with being innovative is we aren't taught to think creatively, Richardson explained.
If anything, he said, it's the opposite, starting with teaching children to color inside the lines. "I remember my first job out of collage," he said. "If I tried to do something differently from how it was done, I got in trouble."
Another stumbling block is that being innovative involves risk. "Every entrepreneur, every business who has achieved something new and different and creative has probably had a lot of failure. But you and I, most of us inside have a great fear of failure."
In fact, something else I read recently pointed out that some of our most famous inventors had plenty of failures. Thomas Edison is a prime example. There's a story that says it took thousands of attempts for Edison to perfect the light bulb. When asked about his failures, Edison reportedly said they were not failures, for with each attempt, something was learned about what would NOT work.
It's important to get different points of view involved in the innovation process, Richardson said. "One of the ways you innovate is you go to someone who looks least like you and ask them for their thoughts."
If employees are going to participate in being innovative, they need to understand the business beyond their own narrow areas of responsibility, Richardson said - something he called "business literacy."
Richardson said it's important to use both sides of your brain. Some people, he said, are "jud," or judgment thinkers - logical, with ideas driven through facts and figures. The other side is what he called "gen," or idea "generator." These types of thinkers are visual in their thinking and develop ideas through unrelated connections. He gave the example of the inventor of Velcro, who was inspired by the burrs on his socks while taking his dog for a walk.
He also offered some tips on brainstorming. Here he compared jud and gen thinking with a sharp shooter vs. the skeet "puller." "The gen throws the idea up, the jud blows it up, saying 'That won't work.' How many times are you going to get your skeet blown out of the sky before you give up? If you're a jud person, you may say to yourself, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. But keep that thought to yourself and ask them three questions, any questions, to give yourself time to think what might be good about what seems like a crazy idea."
There are several ways to brainstorm, including mind mapping and storyboarding, but whatever format you use, Richardson said to keep it light-hearted, and not to try to figure out why an idea WON'T work.
There's more than one right answer. As an example, Richardson says he does an exercise in idea-generating. He asked participants to come up with as many answers as they could for the question, "What is half of eight?" Some of the answers included math-based answers such as 2+2, foreign-language answers such as quattro, visual-based answer such as zero or a circle (based on the numeral 8), and plays on words such as 7:30 and "still hungry."
Don't be shy
You have to encourage ideas that seem at first to be ridiculous. Think about it - if someone had said they were going to make a successful TV show about a bunch of giant turtles that live in the sewer and eat pizza, wouldn't you have thought they were crazy? One of my favorites is Chick-Fil-A's use of a cow as a mascot for a chicken restaurant.
In another exercise, Richardson asked the audience to come up with the most crazy-sounding ideas for recruiting drivers. Then each team was asked to choose one of the three craziest ones and find a way it could work.
Take, "Recruiting in a cemetery." Now how crazy is that? Recruiting dead people? But one team (not mine) came up with some almost-workable ideas: Have special funeral services for truckers/former truckers, including a special truck hearse; sponsor headstones for less fortunate families; sponsor an annual service commemorating former CDL holders who have left this world; recruiting from the groundskeeping staff; and sponsoring half-price flowers for CDL holders. That group generated applause.
Richardson said you don't have to be the top executive to start doing more innovative things at your company. "If your company's innovation is about at the level of the postal service, it doesn't mean you can't be the one to champion something different. It starts with thinking differently, thinking innovatively and thinking about ways you can do something differently."
Tim Richardson is the author of "Jump Starts: Wit and Wisdom to Super Charge Your Day," and co-author of "Transformation Thinking: Tools and Techniques That Open the Door to Powerful New Thinking."