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If Ideas Are Fuel for Your Business, Here's a Book to Help Fill Up Your Tank

Challenge Yourself With Ad Age Publisher Allison Arden's 'The Book of Doing'

By Published on .

An idea is a wonderful thing. Nothing is as exciting as coming up with one, and nothing is as exciting as being part of one. It makes you feel happy and proud and part of something that is bigger than you are.

'The Book of Doing' will be in stores and online April 3.
Ideas are what make companies grow, and the great thing is everybody at your company can join in the fun. A big part of the job of a person starting a small business is to let everyone know that ideas are part of their jobs. Maybe your employees have forgotten how exciting thinking up new ideas can be, but a big part of your job is reminding them about the joy and pride that come with ideas.

Allison Arden, publisher of Ad Age , wanted to get back the feeling she had as a kid when she did arts and crafts and came up with stuff out of her imagination. As an adult, Allison found that trying new things and creating something she was really proud of "became something I only did in my free time or with my kids." But, she wondered, "what if I started considering these lessons as part of everything I did? What if I treated everything as if it were an arts and crafts project -- with the same sense of exploration, curiosity and delight?"

So she did.

The result, apart from the great satisfaction she got out of thinking up new ways of doing old things, is "The Book of Doing: Everyday Activities to Unlock Your Creativity and Joy." Published by the Penguin Group, it goes on sale this week.

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"Everyone has the ability to create an idea," Allison says. "With the execution of those ideas comes the greatest learning and the greatest successes. The opportunity is to inspire and empower people to move ideas forward, sometimes by getting them to look at things in a different way."

I like the notion of looking at familiar things in new ways, and I'll bet that if your team hits a roadblock, a great way to unpile it would be to get everyone together and do something -- almost anything will do -- in a new way. In the book, Allison provides 94 activities to get the creative juices flowing and lists "the laws of doing" that help people overcome the obstacles that might hold them back. For instance, she suggests that instead of going out to the same old pizza joint and wolfing down the same old sausage-and-cheese variety, a group of people should rate pizzas from a variety of locations on crust, sauce, cheese and overall flavor. As she found, "Rather than scarfing down our slices as we normally do, we slowed down, thanks to the score card, so we could actually take the time to think about the flavor of each part."

Allison says the food tastings -- pizza plus other favorites -- have made her kids and friends more "discriminating." Could a "taste test " do the same for your business? You can "taste test " parts of your operation that need improvement to think about how all the parts add to an overall rating.

Here's another of Allison's ideas to help you see things in new ways: Hiring a guide, even if it's for something you already think you know. "Whether for a town, museum or Disney World, good guides will teach you things you didn't know before or wouldn't have known otherwise," she writes. I'm from Chicago, and I've never taken an architectural tour of the city. I bet it would make me look at Chicago in a whole new way. Ditto for your company.

In the book, Allison talks about how a pumpkin changed her life. "I heard you could mail fruit without packaging through the U.S. Postal Service. I didn't think it was possible, but part of my new commitment was to try new things. I'd been told oranges specifically, but I figured if it worked it should work for any fruit, so I decided to give it a try. Since it was already fall in New York, I dove straight into pumpkins." So Allison wrote her own address on a nice, fat pumpkin, slapped some stamps on it and added a little Halloween message. It was delivered the next day. "I was delighted! And amazed. So I started flinging lots of gourds in the mail." It taught her that something she thought was impossible was actually possible and it inspired a creative response from one of her friends: a butternut squash with a Santa Claus painted on it.

Doing things like this with your customers would help them look at you in a whole new way, I imagine. And the post office would appreciate the additional business, Allison points out.

"The Book of Doing" not only helped Allison unlock the sense of "spontaneity and freedom" she felt as a child, but it also affected her business life in positive ways. She and her team "rethought how we packaged products, tested new concepts, and engaged with our community in unexpected and exhilarating ways. We became more open to the possibilities and gave more people within the organization a voice in our future and a seat at the table."

And if it works for 82-year-old Advertising Age, there's a good chance Allison's formula will work for your business, too.

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