Being an entrepreneur means that I have to constantly think about innovative and creative solutions to challenges I or my clients are facing. With time, this can be draining.
This is why whenever I face a mental block, I leave the project in hand, engage in a completely different activity and speak to people who work in a different industry. What I thought was a nice distraction from work, actually helped me to come up with innovative solutions whenever I was stuck.
I incorporated that routine into my company culture. Whenever we are stuck with a challenge, we would organise a brainstorming session with people outside our industry or engage in a different activity such as going for a run or exploring a new location.
For example, when we faced a challenge with a disgruntled employee, a woman provided us with a solution inspired by her experience of handling five children.
Throughout history, founders and entrepreneurs found innovative solutions outside their industries.
Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, realised that to produce affordable cars, he needed to find an efficient way to produce more units to lower their prices. That meant improving the speed and flow of work at the factory and minimising the time employees spent moving about to assemble car parts.
He found an innovative solution to his problem in the meat-packing houses of Chicago and a grain mill conveyor belt. Mr Ford realised that if work was brought to the workers in an assembly line, there would be less time wasted moving around between stations.
Each employee would focus on one step of manufacturing the car instead of working on different stations. As a result, Ford was able to manufacture cars at a record speed, lower costs and make them more affordable.
Steve Jobs was inspired by Buddhist ideas of simplicity and purpose. That is reflected in the look and function of Apple’s products.
Other entrepreneurs are turning to nature for sustainable business solutions. Architect Mick Pearce worked with engineers at Arup Associates to design Eastgate, an office complex in Zimbabwe inspired by the structure of termite mounds. The building uses 90 per cent less energy for ventilation than conventional buildings.
Corals offer sustainable solutions to the fashion industry where textile dyes contribute to 20 per cent of wastewater. Werewool, a fashion-biotech start-up, is developing a platform to create biodegradable fibres with inherent colours, thus preventing pollution caused by dyes.
How do you search for innovative solutions to problems in your organisation? Look beyond your organisation. The further the better, just like how architects are looking at sustainability solutions in termite mounds.
You need to strip down your problem to its essence and research how entrepreneurs, nature or people in other industries such as science have dealt with a similar challenge.
For example, if you are looking for a solution to offer a fast and efficient delivery service to residents in a city, then look at the flow of matter. This is where engineers, haematologists, civil engineers and nature can help you come up with an innovative solution.
We’ve always been told to seek advice from others working in our industry or experienced in it. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But I found that the most innovative solutions are found in different industries and come from people who have nothing to do with your field.
Once you strip down your challenge to its core, you realise that solutions can be found in places you would have never thought of.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai