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Thinking Outside the Box
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I recently attended the AMC Institute’s Executive Leadership Forum (ELF) for Accredited AMCs in beautiful Vancouver. The group of Executives gathered experienced two days of exceptional education from The University of British Columbia, Sauder School of Business, one of the best business schools in the world, and Win Without Pitching, a renowned consultancy for professional services firms and creative agencies.

One of my favorite sessions involved exercises to help us think differently. We experimented with three specific methods or tools and the impact was immediate!

First, we used visualization as a way to focus and engage all of our senses in thinking. We were asked to close our eyes and picture ourselves performing a series of tasks in environments that would be familiar to each of us. For example, “picture yourself walking into your kitchen on a bright sunny morning. There is a large bowl of lemons on the counter; you pick up a knife and slice open a lemon. You take the lemon wedge and squeeze some fresh lemon into your mouth.” Several of us actually made faces as we “tasted” the sourness of fresh lemon! Visualization is used successfully by professional athletes frequently, however it is not a common practice in business. It’s interesting the details that you pick up on when you use this tool! Try it the next time you have an important presentation to make; you will be surprised at how it changes your preparation and your confidence.

A second exercise involved the concept of the “mash up.” In addition to songs, it turns out you can use the mash up concept to help brainstorm something with your team. A group of about 6 of us were asked to “think of a product we were going to market” and our group chose a coffee maker. Then we were assigned several random words: Moscow, smooth, Pharrell, and happy. We were asked to create a name and description for our product that involved all of the words. It was amazing how creative we became as we tried to figure this out! In the end we came up with “Gladkaya” as our name because it is a Russian word for happy, and our envisioned coffee maker was going to have the ability to add vodka and other liquors to each cup of brewed coffee that would make purchasers of our product happy!

The third exercise involved a variation on “the Five Why’s” which is a method of asking “Why” at least five times to get further into the actual meaning of any specific challenge. In this exercise we were instructed to ask “What if?” repeatedly. The example used was that a city had decided to remove all cars and we were a task force asked to determine the best way to achieve this. Again, the conversations we had were far more creative when we were given freedom from the usual constraints because we could “make up” the solutions using our “What If” tool. Our group said “what if we installed fast moving conveyor belts for transporting people without cars?” as one side bar idea.

In the end, a random group of people assigned to work together to experiment with these tools agreed that we are all too often constrained by our expectations of what is “possible” or “practical” and we don’t engage fully with our creative selves. I will definitely try these techniques again!


Lori Gordon is the Chief Operating Officer at Association Headquarters in Mt. Laurel, NJ. As COO, Lori leads the day-to-day client services and growth team operations of AH and serves as a guide to prospective new client partners, coordinating and customizing AH’s broad menu of services to fit each client partners’ unique needs.

AMCI Partners

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