CEO Insider

8 Ways You Can Set Your Goals by Thinking Creatively

Robin Landa

Think of companies that once offered a useful product or service, for example, Blockbuster. Now think of how you watch films at home. How do CEOs, professionals, and companies stay in the game and keep hitting home runs? Being nimble is a critical success factor for companies, CEOs, CMOs, CFOs, and every member of the C-suite. You could say that being nimble when things change (and things can change rapidly) is important but anticipating change by employing strategic creativity is gold.

Here are eight ways you can set your goals by enhancing your strategic creativity.

  1. Build on an Observation
    Keen observation is fundamental to research and creative thinking. There are many ways to stay ahead however being alert to possibilities is a hallmark of great inventors, scientists, engineers, artists, and CEOs. Because at times, you happen on a prospect and must be able to appreciate the potentiality.Take George de Mestral. You might not recognize his name, but you’ve heard of Velcro, a combination of “velvet” and “crochet” (which means “hook” in French). While walking in the woods, de Mestral noticed that his pants and his Irish Pointer’s hair were covered in burs from a burdock plant. Curious, he studied the burs under a microscope to realize that they bind themselves to almost any fabric, even to dog hair.

    If you paid attention to your elementary school science teacher, you might recall the surprising story of the discovery of penicillin—one that surprised Alexander Fleming himself. When Fleming, a physician and scientist, returned from vacation to his untidy laboratory, he observed something that others might have missed—a mold (called Penicillium) had contaminated one of his petri dishes containing colonies of Staphylococcus aureus (a bacteria). Fleming examined the mold and set a goal—to determine why it prevented the normal growth of the staphylococci. He went on to experiment and research.

    If you’ve taken an antibiotic to cure an infection, you have Fleming to thank for being alive. When he made his discovery, there was an enormous gap—there were no antibiotics. Fleming changed the world of medicine and our lives—an unmitigated gain for all.

    Make it a practice of being alert to possibilities—an anomaly, an unexpected connection or occurrence, an insight, a recurring theme, a behavior, and more.

    If you notice a possibility–a gap in the sector, a gain for people, an interesting phenomenon, find out if there is a need to fill that void. Determine what the gain would be and how many people it would serve.

  2. Spot a Problem That Needs Fixing
    Noticing pain points is extremely useful, whether customer or business. If you search social media to see what people are complaining about, what their pain points are on various issues, products, brands, and topics, you might have an insight into setting a goal, filling a gap in the marketplace or sector, and providing a gain–something beneficial to individuals or groups.Identifying business pain points requires taking stock; alleviating the pain points often entails rethinking goals.

    Whether it’s cost, delivery, assistance, utility, or the ease of a process, think of times when you’re the customer or when you notice a business pain point in another sector. Perhaps you’re a CMO who’s getting physical therapy for your rotator cuff and you notice what’s missing from the equipment sets or the facility. Or you’re a CEO, and you can no longer stand the customer service you get from other companies; or you realize that Gen Z wants to only patronize companies that share their values.

  3. Go with What You Know Best. Then Ask, What if…?
    When you are intimately familiar with a discipline or industry, you can see how you might be able to make things easier for people. You’re also probably in a better position to identify gaps, know who is underserved, and see which paths have not yet been explored. Pose any or all of the following: What if…? If only… Suppose you could… If you combine x and y, then you might get…
  4. Ask “What Else? Who Else?”
    When you’re observant, what you see, hear, notice, or investigate might trigger a goal. Ask, what else is possible? What else can you do with this material, data, or observation? What else is there to discover here? Who else can you collaborate with? Thinking and collaborating across disciplines can spark innovation.Can you extend your company’s offerings so that whatever you offer adds additional value–is more entertaining, informative, sustainable, or useful?
  5. Obtain Multiple Perspectives
    There are definite benefits to discussing pain points, subjects, or behaviors with other people. Dialogue with others, especially with a diverse group of people that affords different and multiple perspectives, could spark recognition of a goal. Too often particular groups of people are excluded from discussions about goals.By inviting multiple perspectives, diversity, equity, and inclusion reveal the vantage points of a wide range of people. Those diverse perspectives, which will undoubtedly be different from yours, will allow you to view your goal differently, anew. Your goal can be dramatically improved by thinking about it in a new way.

    Taking multiple perspectives—that is, looking at a goal or a partially realized idea, or a fully-fledged idea from viewpoints different from your own—helps you perceive multiple scenarios, multiple gaps, and potentially multiple gains, ultimately resulting in better ideas that appeal to more people in more meaningful ways.

  6. Reframe
    Changing a frame allows you to see the goal from different points of view. The point of reframing to see if there is a better goal to set.Ask yourself, how can I look at this a different way? Can I look at this scenario, situation, object, setting, or relationship through a different lens? Or, can you obtain someone else’s vantage point, someone quite different from yourself? When you’re with colleagues or team members, bring a diverse group of experts into the discussion to get external points of view. Bring in the interns, too.

    Flip the frame. For example, professors are supposed to do the teaching. But you can “flip a classroom” allowing students to teach some content. If there’s anything pedestrian in the thinking, you have something to reframe. By flipping the frame you can view a goal from an entirely different point of view.

    It’s always helpful to reframe through questions. Ask, what’s missing from this picture? Who’s missing at the table? What’s missing in the sector? Who is being overlooked? And finally, question the objectives that fall under the goal. Reframing a goal should maximize the outcomes.

  7. Determine the Wrong Goal
    Another way to think about pinpointing a goal is to determine a wrong goal. “Business as usual.” “This is the way things are.” “It worked for them so it will work for us.” So many people in leadership positions emphasize the “right” methodology or goal. Thinking of the wrong goal leads you away from pedestrian ones or ones that don’t offer a gain. To combat complacency and same-old thinking, think wrong.This method works in two ways. C-suite folks often ask, “How can we make what we do better?” Reverse that. Rephrase the question to solicit this goal, “How can we make it worse?” Conceiving the worst solution might inform your thinking or assessment of what people really want. For instance, instead of asking “How can we get more people to subscribe to our evening dress rental service?” ask “How can we get people to unsubscribe?” Illuminating pain points can lead you to ways to improve a service or product, and that improvement becomes a goal.
  8. Ask Yourself What You Wish Existed
    This one is pretty easy—it’s your goal wishlist for making the world just a bit, or a whole lot, better.

Adapted from The New Art of Ideas: Unlock Your Creative Potential.
Written by Robin Landa.
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Robin Landa
Robin Landa is a distinguished professor at Kean University and a globally recognized ideation expert. She is a well-known “creativity guru” and a best-selling author of books on creativity, design, and advertising. She has won numerous awards and The Carnegie Foundation counts her among the "Great Teachers of Our Time." She is the author of several books including The New Art of Ideas: Unlock Your Creative Potential.


Robin Landa is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.