On any given day in the pharmaceutical industry we usually know exactly what we have to do next. In fact there’s usually a long list of things we have to do next, and we spend the day working our way through the list.
Some of the things on the list are appointments and meetings; others are bottomless pits – reading and answering emails, replying to phone messages, reporting upwards, managing downwards, and doing all the things you need to do to keep clients and customers happy – and then there are all the other things that just seem to pop up and prevent you from ever having a spare moment to think.
For many, that’s business as usual.
So if you were to walk past someone’s office and see them staring at a blank piece of paper while they ignored their ringing phone, you’d be tempted to think they were slacking off. Or that they’d gone a bit odd.
But you might be wrong.
The first step towards innovation, towards creating a way of doing things better, is to have an idea. Now, ideas don’t usually just magically appear as you work your way down your to-do list. Occasionally they do, and that’s good, but many of us spend our days being so busy that there is no room to step back and try to think about new and better ways of doing things. If you want to have more ideas about improving your business then you have to spend time trying to think of them.
And that involves staring at a blank piece of paper.
No business is perfect. Keep your eyes open and identify ways in which your business isn’t. Maybe your supply chain isn’t operating as well as it could, or your sales team could be more efficient, or you think everyone spends too much time talking in meetings about what has to be done, and not enough time doing it.
Whatever the problem is, write it down on a blank piece of paper, turn off your phone and think about how to improve things. Because that’s where innovation often comes from. Then, when you have an idea write it down.
But what if nothing comes? What if all that happens is that you feel frustrated and stupid?
Here’s the thing. If you are trying to think of better ways of doing things and you feel frustrated and stupid, that means you’re doing it right. You’re supposed to feel like that. You’re supposed to want to stop and go back to answering your emails.
Because thinking is hard.
Many people have sat in front of blank pieces of paper and felt stupid – authors, song-writers, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. They have known that there is something out there, but have felt unable to reach it. Some of them got up and walked away, or went back to answering their emails.
And some of them have kept sitting there staring at that blank piece of paper.
Those who have been successful have not always been the ones who were the cleverest or the most talented. They have been the ones who have felt stupid and frustrated, but have kept at it, and kept thinking until eventually an idea came.
If you keep wrestling with a problem, something will come. Maybe not immediately, maybe it’ll come later on when you are walking or lying in bed or tying your shoelaces or making toast or sitting on the train.
But if you keep going sooner or later you’ll have an idea. And sooner or later, one of the ideas you have will be a very good idea that you will be able to implement into your business to make it better.