Fostering new ideas

Dec 03, 2015

Having fun and encouraging creativity can lead to the generation of fresh, new business ideas.

IMG_2699I have long felt one of the problems with the A/E/P and environmental consulting business is that we have so few new ideas – really new ideas – to fuel the success of our businesses. So many firms seem to be plodding along – with owners who are doing the same thing as the other owners of firms in this business – all hoping the economy holds up and they can sock away a few bucks so they can make it through the next recession. That’s sad. Because I KNOW that most of us could do a whole lot more with the resources we have if we just came up with some new ideas and then actually implemented them! We have smart people. We have smart clients. We have design and technical abilities. We have offices. We have cash flow. We have cash and borrowing capacity. But we aren’t using all of this very well. If we were, we’d all be a helluva lot more successful. The process of firm (and life) transformation has to start with some new ideas. Where will they come from? Here are some thoughts:
  1. Start reading Inc. Magazine and other similar publications. Why? Because they are focused on privately-held, growing companies and will get you outside of this industry! Learn from people outside of this business. The most recent issue has so many articles. One on a fellow who took his fashion company from public to private. Another on a restaurant design firm where all owners are equal owners and work together with undefined roles and it actually works. Another article on a guy who decided to pay each of his employees at least $70,000 a year. Another on someone who was considering selling their company for as much as $4 million but then realized they’d be taking a huge pay cut they couldn’t afford and may have other options to work less but keep it. One on someone who outsourced his operations to the Phillipines and pays his workers $4 an hour and he and they feel great about it. I could go on but I strongly recommend getting out our industry and learning about some others!
  2. Force your managers to come up with new ideas. Try having all them do their business plans this year with more than their typical sales, revenue, and labor expense forecasts. How about asking each unit to come up with three new things to sell and three new ways to market? Then make them present their concise plans in an entertaining format. Give out prizes for the best ideas and presentations.
  3. Make your office environment a lot more fun. Maybe you need to have a free lunch for no reason. Let your people teach a class on anything they want to teach it on. Have lots of sugary snacks. Get an office sound system and try out a “DJ for a day”from your employee group. Go on a field trip to an interesting new business or somewhere fun. Mix it up.
  4. Be open to new ideas. Never say “never” when someone makes a suggestion. Let it age. Ask questions. Try small experiments to see if it works. Test it on other people. Don’t be quick to say “no.”
  5. Mix up the roles. Tinker with your organization structure and roles. Just because “Sally” has always been the bill collector doesn’t mean she has that job for life. Just because “Joe” is in charge of I.T. doesn’t mean he’s right for the job today. Inject some young people and new grads. I hate to tell you but youth and naïveté may actually lead to more creative thinking some times.
Hopefully if you do these things you’ll be energized yourself and maybe you’ll be more inclined to come up with some new ideas. Your next challenge will be implementation. Ideas by themselves are worthless without action. But more on that another time! MARK ZWEIG is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.