I was coloring recently with 4 year old Emma.  I encouraged her to stay within the lines.  She looked up at me, asking “Why do I have to stay in the lines?  I like pink and it looks good all over!”.  What a great reminder.

Keeping a business fresh and fearless means frequently coloring outside the lines.  Those “lines” can keep us doing what we have always done!  They can sink creativity or cause us to miss trends that could make a difference in our business.

Here are a few things that help me color outside the lines.

1. Tap in to new employees.  They have fresh eyes and often very candid advice.  As a hotel General Manager, I asked new employees to be a guest in the hotel before their first day and to give me a detailed report on the experience.  This provided some surprising and honest insight in addition to giving the employee first hand experience from the guest point of view.

2. Go underground to observe guests first hand.  I often went incognito in the spas not to check on employees like the TV show “Underground Boss” but to watch guests.  This surreptitious observation and anonymous guest interaction frequently lead to addressing needs we hadn’t even thought of.   I often recall a story about my grandfather who did landscaping for a university.  He left paving any walkways until after the students made their own paths through the new lawns.  I always thought this was brilliant.  He actually let guests draw their own lines!

3. Capture counter trends.  Many years ago, I heard Edith Weiner speak.  She is a leading futurist and you can learn more about her at www.weineredrichbrown.com/blog.  One of her concepts was to always look  for the counter trends and this has really worked for me as a key tool to spark new ideas.   We all know that one big trend is ever increasing electronic communication.   By doing the exact opposite, you might really stand out.   What a great surprise to get a hand written, personal  note in the mail that isn’t even selling you anything.  Your customer knows you really care not just by the thoughtful note but by the precious time you were willing to spend to talk to them.

4. Explore subjects that are not your passion or business.  I am not a techy but I subscribe to Wired magazine and read others.  I regularly get ideas for new designs or spot trends (think wearable technologies or smart fabrics).   It forces me think outside my normal pattern.   If nothing else, I learn new vocabulary to incorporate in my discussions with much younger colleagues.

I would love to hear how you get inspired, stay fearless and color outside the lines.