While a student at Yale University in the 1960s, Frederick W. Smith came up with the idea to deliver parcels overnight. He submitted a proposal to his business professor, the U.S. Postal Service and United Parcel Service-but all said his idea would never fly. Today, Smith’s creation, Federal Express, is a leader in overnight courier service with around $15.87 billion in sales.
Obviously, Smith wasn’t willing to allow others to squelch his idea. Nor was he afraid to step outside of the boundaries within which most people operate. He proved that the ability to imagine and see beyond the concrete can play a significant role in one’s success.
At first, trying to “think big” may seem strange. “Once we have an idea we think works, it becomes hard for us to consider alternate ideas,” says Michael Michalko, a creativity expert and author of Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius (Ten Speed Press, $24.95). “We tend to develop narrow ideas about what will work or what can be done, and stick with it until proven wrong.”
Nevertheless, it’s not impossible to abandon narrow thought patterns and develop a new way of reasoning. Michalko offers some tips to help you expand your thinking:
- Know how to see. Challenge yourself to look beyond the obvious and consider other perspectives. Take, for example, the question, “What do a dog, cat and fox have in common?” Most people would only answer that they are all animals. True, but consider also that each word has three letters, all have fur, all walk on four legs, all have tails, etc.
- Make your thoughts visible. See what happens when you display your mind’s information visually, not verbally. Use sketches, charts and even graphs to make your thoughts come to life.
- Connect the unconnected. Create links between unrelated things to solve problems and find inspiration. For example, Leonardo da Vinci discovered that sound travels in waves after making a connection between the sound of a bell and a stone hitting water and causing ripples.
Find what you’re not looking for. Even if you don’t think you’ll succeed at a project, go ahead and do it anyway. If you’re perceptive, you’ll probably uncover a fact or two that, had you not undertaken the deed, you wouldn’t have otherwise found.
For more information, read:
The Joy of Thinking Big: Becoming a Genius in No Time Flat by Ernie Zelinski (Ten Speed Press, $14.95)
A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger Von Oech, (Warner Books, $15.99)