1099 is no longer being updated, but please enjoy our archives.




Columns by Peter Economy

When Hackers Attack

The Occasional Free Lunch


Making Up Is Hard to Do

List all of Peter's columns


Add Feedback

No Problemo

Your clients have problems. Serious problems. Which, after all, is why they hired you in the first place. Whether it's organizing a drawer full of receipts and calculating a business' tax bill for the year, designing the cover of a company's next annual report (which, oh my God!, needs to be proofed and to the printer by noon Friday), or determining how many gigabytes of storage to add to the server that keeps the corporate headquarters computers humming all day and night, IPs are at their best when solving problems for their clients.

Contrary to popular belief, problems are great. They are the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes, the ham and cheese of most IP careers. Why? Because a problem for your client is an opportunity for you -- an opportunity to put your skill and expertise to work, to meet and conquer an interesting new challenge, to have some fun, and to earn a few bucks in the process.

We've all used the tried-and-true ways of solving problems, and often they work just fine. But when we find ourselves really stymied, or groping for an answer to an unusual situation -- and it does happen to even the best of us -- it can pay off big time to change our perspective. And one of the best ways of changing our perspective is to use distancing techniques -- stepping outside of your usual self for just a bit, and looking at the issues from a fresh and objective point of view.

Here are a few suggestions for doing just that:

  1. Turn your world upside down (or inside out). To get a fresh perspective on a problem, there's nothing quite like literally turning your world upside down. A graphic designer, for example, can get an entirely different perspective on his or her work -- and perhaps unlock a flood of creative energy -- by looking at a design in a mirror or even upside down. A tax consultant can put him- or herself in the shoes of an IRS auditor -- imagining the kinds of things that are sure to raise red flags in a client's tax return, and then addressing them. Or, if you're a record or video producer, you could play a recording backwards to see what kinds of sounds and images emerge. It might sound like a weird idea, but the very different-ness of these sounds and images may spark fresh solutions to persistent problems.

  2. Get a second opinion. When you're not exactly sure which approach to take for solving a problem, it's often best to bring in a trusted friend or associate -- preferably someone who will give you his or her honest and objective opinion -- to have a look. You might even want to go so far as to bring in a DTP -- a disinterested third party -- who has no vested interest in stroking your ego or trying to soft-pedal your shortcomings. Ideally, the person will have experience -- or at least strong opinions -- in the kinds of problems you're trying to solve, or the kinds of solutions you've got under consideration. I routinely bounce ideas off of my long-time best friend (and fellow business author) Bob Nelson. Not only do I know that I can rely on him to give me a fresh perspective on my problems, but I know that he'll give me his honest opinion -- even if he has to tell me that not only does my idea suck, but I must have been completely nuts to have come up with it in the first place. If you don't have a trusted advisor or disinterested third party handy, recruit one. Perhaps a client or another IP with whom you have a good working relationship would be willing to help you out. One thing is for sure: you won't know unless you ask.

  3. Jump start your brain. When what you need is an industrial-strength shot of creativity, one of the best books on the topic is Jump Start Your Brain by former Procter & Gamble marketing whiz kid Doug Hall. While his book presents hundreds of different approaches for upping your creativity quotient, Doug is a big believer in clearing out the creativity cobwebs by restoring the spirit and innocence of your "once childlike mindset." He suggests that you buy a joy buzzer, pepper gum, black soap, and fake dog poo, and learn how to use them properly. But for my money, Hall's best advice is to break out your kid's crayons and write a letter with them. Try drafting a Crayola-colored memo (to yourself) detailing your client's problems and how you might solve them.

The point is that sometimes you may have to scrape away years of the kind of conditioning that has led you to narrow rather than expand your creative options and your view of the world around you. What better way than to go back to a time when, for each one of us, the world was one great, big adventure, and nothing seemed impossible?

Coming up with the right solutions to your clients' problems isn't always an easy task, but it's exactly the reason why your clients have decided to stick your name and number in their Rolodex!

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Peter Economy if you like. You may also like to see his biography.

Go to top of this page

Entire contents Copyright © 2001 1099 Magazine. All rights reserved.
The 1099 name and logo are trademarks of 1099 Magazine.