How to Be Instantly Creative for Greater Profits

Need some inspiration, fast? Try out some of these brainstorming activities and tools, and just watch the ideas roll in.

November 1, 2009

Don't think you're creative? Well, think again! Most real estate pros have to be somewhat creative to last in this very demanding, ever-changing industry. A lack of creativity is not an issue for most practitioners — it's the process they use to generate new ideas.

Here's one of the most powerful methods there is to turn on your inner Thomas Edison and tap into the creative well of others, too.

Bubble Charting: Harvesting Great Ideas

The quickest way to turn off your creative flow is to try to make a list of ideas. Why is this so bad? Because by its very structure a list has an enforced priority (i.e., first, second, third, and so on), which causes your mind to evaluate ideas rather than just let them come out. Ideally, you want a way to capture your ideas as quickly as they appear without interruption or judgment getting in the way.

Bubble charting is a very simple mind-mapping method I learned in a writing class 25 years ago that has absolutely transformed how I generate ideas and organize my thinking. It's so powerful that I use it many times each week to help me run and grow my business. Here's how it works:

  1. Take a blank piece of paper and draw an oval in the center. Then put the name of the topic in this oval for which you want to generate tons of ideas.
  2. For each idea you think of (never mind if it's any good or not—remember, no judgment at this stage of the process) simply put it anywhere on the page. Draw an oval around it and an arrow from it to the central oval.
  3. As you have ideas that relate to other ideas, just do the same as in step 2 above, except draw the arrow so it connects the two ideas.

It's not about creating a nice-looking chart but rather getting as many ideas (good, bad, or otherwise) out as quickly as possible. While a blank sheet of paper or a whiteboard is fine for bubble-charting exercises, these media don't make it particularly easy to edit, share, or even store your creative work. Thankfully, there are tools available that make this process much simpler.

Bubble-Charting and Mind-Mapping Tools

I never thought a computer-based mind-mapping tool could ever replace the ease and free-flowing nature of paper and pencil. But after using some of the tools available on the Web, I've found that my bubble-charting and mind-mapping activities are aided by the additional speed, ease, sharing, and storage for future use afforded by these solutions. Here are a few:

  • MindGenius (www.MindGenius.com): This is PC-based software that you download and install. This is my preferred mind-mapping tool. Unfortunately, at more than $200, it's also the most expensive. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to generate bubble charts and mind maps quickly. Also, you can easily share your mind maps with others by exporting them as images or PDFs.
  • MindMeister (www.MindMeister.com): This product is similar to MindGenius, but it's Web-based and much less expensive. (There's even a free version.) However, this particular solution can be a bit clunky and slow when generating mind maps—not a good thing when ideas are flowing like the Mississippi.
  • LovelyCharts (www.LovelyCharts.com): This is a very elegant and well-designed Web-based flow-charting and diagramming solution that can easily be adapted for bubble charting. In fact, we use this in my company when bubble-charting ideas for our students. And there is a free version.
  • Virtual-WhiteBoard (www.Virtual-WhiteBoard.com): This is the least elegant of these tools, since you have to draw your bubble charts manually. However, what makes this particular solution unique is the ability to have real-time collaboration among different people, each of whom can add to the bubble chart as everyone sees the results. There's also a free version of this service to try out.
  • Microsoft Office 2007: Both Word and PowerPoint give you the ability to create "smart charts" that resemble bubble charts.

The above are just a few examples of the many computer-based mind-mapping tools that are available to you. However, the key to using a computer-based tool to help you create bubble charts or mind maps is that you don't want to think about how to use it during the process.

Throw a Brainstorming Party

Whether you create bubble charts or mind maps with a pencil and paper or use a sophisticated software tool, you can greatly enhance the results by inviting more people to the party.

By adding people to the brainstorming process, you will have access to ideas, solutions, and strategies that you couldn't even imagine otherwise. Use the following process to get the most from your group brainstorming without it turning into a fat-chewing session:

  1. Gather a few friends and associates for a half-hour session. (A group's creative steam tends to run out if you go any longer than this.)
  2. Assign one person as the "recorder"— that is, the person who creates the bubble chart as the ideas are voiced.
  3. Provide plenty of beer, wine, and pizza. (Lower inhibition lubricates the creative process—just don't allow anyone to drive home under the influence!)
  4. Give the rest of the "rules" to your group:

    • Keep a rapid-fire pace
    • No editing or criticizing! (Nothing shuts down a brainstorming session faster than this.)
    • The more "out of the box" the ideas are, the better.

The key is to make it fun and fast-paced, like a game. By doing so, you and your group will likely generate more ideas in just a few minutes than you could by yourself over six months.

Remember, not all the ideas will be good. In fact, some will be quite awful. But that's okay, because you can always edit the ideas and select the best ones after everyone goes home.

Speaking of ideas, here's a clever social networking suggestion devised by one of our students. He simply went on Facebook and started a "contest" for all his Facebook friends to come up with the best ideas for a particular problem he was working on. In short order, the ideas just came flying in, and he didn't even have to buy beer or pizza.

Innovative ideas, when properly implemented, are what typically sets one person apart from the rest of the pack. Using the methods described above, you will have an exhaustive supply of great ideas to choose from. And once you have them, the only thing left to do is brainstorm how you plan on putting them into practice.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.

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