Creativity Killers – How to Keep the Drive Alive

Your company needs a solid dose of creativity every day.  I’m not just talking about the art department either, although that’s the obvious place to start.  How your team solves problems, rises to challenges, and pushes past their limits all have to do with the amount of creativity they have in their bank.  So how do you keep that drive alive?  Read on my friend…

  1. End Roadblocks.  To foster creative solutions you need an atmosphere where ideas are welcomed.  If you have people at your company that make all the decisions or poo-poo anyone that brings up an idea on how to resolve a challenging situation, then your staff is more likely than not to keep their mouth shut.  The atmosphere you want to create is one of “anything goes” and “let’s hear it”.  Maybe you won’t act on every idea, but simply having the discussion can lead you down a path that wouldn’t normally be trod.  Micro-managers are the bane of creative people.  If that control freak is you, take a deep breath and let your team start handling challenges and give up some control.  It will be ok, trust me.
  2. Keep Busy.  I don’t know about you, but I do my best work when I am overloaded.  I really like it when I have multiple projects going, deadlines are looming and there is a lot at stake.  My creative mind works best when I’m juggling different tasks, and while I’m working on one thing I’m often thinking about another.  I believe that this cross pollination will often produce better results.  When things are a little calmer, and I actually have more time on projects is when I lose focus.  Pushing the limits is always a good thing for me.
  3. Feedback.  Want to motivate and encourage your team?  Provide positive feedback and encouragement.  It’s tough sledding to come up with better ways to do anything if you are surrounded by negativity.  Creative people thrive on others being impacted by their ideas.  Good discussions and dialog about challenges foster even more creative thinking.  It’s like adding fuel to the fire.
  4. Yes Men.  Surrounding yourself with clones is a great way to kill any creative spark.  Seek and hire people with diverse backgrounds and talents.  You want a rich mix of skills, life experiences, and attitudes.  Dig up people that think differently than you and encourage them to add their ingredients to the stew.  Thomas Edison was famous for getting all different types of people to assist him with his research – electricians, plumbers, sculptors, engineers, accountants, etc.  They each brought something to the table and were able to look at problems from different perspectives.
  5. Give yourself permission to fail.  In a rut?  Try something new and allow yourself or your team to fail.  How many famous inventions were created by accident on the way to discover something else?  The journey is what’s worthwhile.  Try something.  Fail.  Try something else.  Repeat and keep going.  Learn from it, and tweak things until you achieve your desired results.
  6. Research.  What’s out there that can help?  For graphic artists: I used to keep a notebook with pages and examples of great stuff I ripped out of magazines and other sources that showed different textures, shapes, layouts, colors or fun examples for inspiration.  Now I just use Pinterest.  To me, it’s always amazing that when I get stuck on an idea or layout I can find something that will work looking through this material.  Here’s a link to my Design board:
  7. Be silly.  Being silly is fun.  Loosen up!!  Life shouldn’t be so serious, and neither should you.  A great way to add some creative zest is to act like a goofball.  To multiply the effect, be silly with others.  There are no rules!!  Get out of your own way and laugh!
  8. Don’t worry about what others may think.  Over the years I’ve taught art classes and workshops on watercolor or drawing.  At first people are basically scared of the blank white paper and making that first black mark on it.  “If it’s not perfect, what will others think of me?”  Compare that to seasoned artists that just immediately splash a gigantic broad stroke of color on the paper to get started.  They don’t care what you think.  They armor themselves with the attitude that pushes their creativity forward.  Go ahead – make your mark!!  Have that inner strength in all that you do.
  9. Staying on the sidelines.  Get involved!  Want to push your creativity to the max?  Try helping someone else with a project, volunteering for a charity, take a class, or learn a new skill.  Getting up and out of your chair and involved in other things enhances the opportunities presented to you.  Life doesn’t come to you – you have to go get it.  Learning from these experiences can be like a super-vitamin to your creative system.  Go for it!!
  10. Stop thinking.  Sometimes your brain just gets in the way.  Have you ever thought of a great idea in the shower, lying in bed, or at the gym when working out?  The impetus for this article occurred to me when I was sweating like a freak on a rowing machine at my gym last week.  Your subconscious mind takes over and will shoot you a good idea every now and again.  The trick is to do something with them.
  11. Bonus – Ask for help.  That’s right.  Admit that you don’t know everything and seek guidance and support from someone else.  Collaborate.  Let an expert’s ideas help shape your original idea into something better.  Or, bring in a few other people and work on the project together equally.  Let their ideas shape how it comes out.

Creative thinking isn’t limited to just artistic types.  Sometimes, it’s just getting out of your own way and pulling down the barriers of why you think something won’t work.  Explore different alternatives.  There isn’t a correct answer, just one you haven’t tried yet.

If you need some creative thinking help with your company, I’d love to get involved.  Send me an e-mail at and let’s brainstorm together about how I can help you achieve success.

Is Your Shop Stagnant? Why Innovation is the Road to Success

Let me ask you some simple questions.  Be honest to yourself while you think about your answer.  Are you a shop that constantly seeks to reinvent itself, improve and get better?  Or are you the shop that sits there enviously and wonders “how do those guys do it?”  This is important, as I see all too many shops closing these days because they can’t compete.  The used equipment resellers are loaded for bear, and their inventory has never been more stocked.  Why is that do you think?

It’s not just the smaller shops either.  Bigger ones are going down in droves as different market forces and other factors affect their business.  So how are some shops not only staying in business, but actually growing?  Innovation.

Stronger, healthier companies are constantly seeking new avenues for continuous improvement.  They are looking toward the future, taking some calculated risks, experimenting, and driving change in their shop.  Professionals practice and develop their game.  It’s the ones with their heads down that just take orders and print, never looking up or facing the market that are going to be left wondering where their business went.  Below are a few ideas that I’ve been working on lately.  Think about how these might affect your shop a year or two down the road.

Innovation for Better Margins.  The margin is simply the difference between what it costs you to decorate the garment and what you are charging.  There’s always enormous price pressure in the apparel decoration industry, regardless of the market niche you are serving.  Yet, few shops really do anything to help build their margins.  Some can’t even tell you realistically what their actual margin even is.

  1. Sustainability.  Sure it’s good karma being “green”, but building a sustainability program in your shop forces you to review all of your processes, materials, and wasted motions to see if they really matter.  It’s hard work, and takes a good foundation of solidly trained staff members to pull off, but you can add thousands of dollars to of your bottom line by implementing a sustainability program.  For a more detailed answer check out this article I wrote for Impressions Magazine –
  2. New Products to Try.  Your vendors come out with new products constantly.  In fact, I’ll bet you have some unused samples sitting in the same box they were delivered to you in from six months ago.  You never opened it for whatever reason.  Too busy, didn’t ask for it, loyal to a competitive product, etc.  That, my friend, is foolish.  You should always be looking for the newer, better, cheaper product.  When was the last time you went to a trade show?  I try stuff constantly, and let the staff using the product gauge whether it works for them before deciding about it.  Some are instant hits, some are ok, and some are complete dogs.  You will never know unless you open the box and find out.
  3. Training.  Innovation by Training?  Sure…as unless your staff actually knows how to do something, how would they have a concept on how to improve it?  Taking someone from customer service and teaching them how to ship, or taking someone from the screen room and instructing them on how to set up a job….those just may be the next people on your staff to have the epiphany on how to do something better.  Here’s how you can effectively build a Cross Training Program in your shop:
  4. Automation.  When was the last time you looked at the labor steps needed to do anything in your shop?  From typing in an order, all the way through production, to invoicing.  Many hands touch that job.  How much time would you save if you reduced the steps necessary for each task along the way?  Have you conducted any time studies?  Technology, software and help is out there and early adopters seize a competitive advantage when they understand their numbers so well that they can spend the capital it takes to acquire new technology.  Are you doing anything to innovate in these areas?  Why not?  Your competitors are.

Innovation for New Techniques.  Do you ever just “try” something to see if you can make it work or figure it out?  Other industries call this Research and Development, or R&D for short.  Stretching your creative muscles once in a while when it doesn’t matter and nobody is looking can reap big benefits as you could master a technique or even invent something new.  Take that new skill and bring it to market.  Make money on it.  Here are some thoughts to get you started:

  1. Listen to Your Customers.  What do they want?  Where are they going?  When was the last time you actually sat down with them over a cup of coffee or a plate of BBQ for lunch and asked them?  Partner with them and solve a problem for them.
  2. Experiment.  When was the last time you tried to foil a DTG print?  Print off the seam of the shirt?  Screen print on an inflatable toy?  Fold shirts differently to get a drop ship set in a smaller (and less costly) polybag?  Eliminate masking tape on screens?  Print eight metallic inks on one shirt, without pick up?  Print over hoodie seams without a special platen?  We’ve done all of those, and more.  The “What If” question is a big one.  How are you handling it?  Here’s a bunch of shots of our shop that I’ve taken and loaded on my Pinterest board “Behind the Curtain at a T-shirt Shop” –
  3. Ask Your Vendors.  I do this all the time.  I state the challenge that I’m trying to resolve and partner with them to work towards the solution.  Some are easy, as there’s a ready-made product.  A few aren’t really in their wheelhouse, but they may have experience or knowledge that could steer me in the right direction.  How good is your relationship with your vendors?  Do you treat them as partners, or do you put them off and keep them at arms-length?
  4. Adopting or Trying New Technology.  Still using film for screens?  Do you waste time digitizing your own files?  Have you looked into Direct to Garment printing?  Do you have an order entry system?  Do you have an online presence? There’s an old adage that says “The only constant in life is change” – this is true of business.  Either you adapt or you will soon become obsolete.  There is technology, services, equipment and expertise out there that can make your business stronger, faster, leaner, and more profitable.  What was the last thing you tried?

Innovation for Exercising the Creative Mind.  Unless you are a blank apparel distributor you probably don’t sell much undecorated product.    We all have our market that we sell to…but what have you developed lately that is creative and would set yourself apart from your competition?  Or, even worse, what are they doing that is going to take your customers away from you?  Adding value to your sales proposition should be one of your key strategies this year.  Have you even thought about it, or are you just like a lot of apparel decorators and just sit and wait for the orders to come in by themselves?

  1. Look to Other Industries for Inspiration.  Put your thinking cap on and try to see things from another person’s perspective.  How would a technology driven company or an equipment manufacturer look at the challenge?  Would they make the same choices you would?  Any material, training, process, or thinking that you could apply to your situation?  Being creative isn’t all art related, as creative thinkers are problem solvers.  Step outside what you know and see things from another’s viewpoint.  What would you change?
  2. Borrow Ideas from Others.  I like to watch the show “Chopped” on the Food Network.  The show’s premise is that they take four chefs and give them a basket of crazy ingredients to use to compete against each other for three separate dishes.  With each round, one chef is eliminated until there is a winner.  What’s creative about the show is that they are taking diverse elements that might not ever be paired together and forcing the competitors to create something not only new but delicious.  What if you took this idea and used it in your shop?  What list of weirdo things could you combine to make something that would sell?  This is where the “Gee, I never would have thought of that” ideas come from.  If you are only taking and producing orders you will never do this.  Get out of your rut!!
  3. Ask Your Staff.  Maybe you aren’t creative.  But I’ll bet you employ some that are very creative.  What’s the one thing that they have always wanted to try?  Find some time and have a shop contest to develop the wackiest idea to showcase your creative juices.
  4. Take a Field Trip.  This could be just to the mall or a trade show.  Bring a notebook.  Take pics.  What do you see?  Sit around the coffee shop later and debate what was really cool, and what would work for your shop.  The best discussions are the ones that are freely and unconsciously made.  Don’t try to squeeze them into a meeting.  Talk.

Hopefully this article is the catalyst that starts some innovation with your shop.  I would be very interested to know if you developed any ideas after reading this article.  I’m all about sharing ideas, so let’s trade!  E-mail me directly if you don’t want the world to know…