Success, for a practitioner in a busy CPA firm, requires the ability to handle multiple tasks effectively. To get everything done, CPAs typically track their agenda with a "to do" list or other open-item systems to help manage their tasks. While this is important, doing this alone is not likely to lead to "next level" success. Strict adherence to simply crossing off items on your to do list leaves one important item off of the agenda: innovative thinking. The solution? Keep the to do list, but add an "idea" inventory to achieve even greater professional success.
Channeling ideas will generate some very comprehensive benefits. While the idea inventory itself could be nothing more than a roster, it should be the result of a personalized system, and a practice of innovation. The better the system, the more powerful the outcome, and the greater the likelihood of making the right kind of impact. Here are some best practices for making innovation an integral part of your daily routine:
Establish a Consistent Method for Capturing Ideas. A simple method is to set aside a portion of a standard to do list (digital or handwritten), solely for new ideas. Keep it handy and accessible, and review it often. Also, keep the idea list nearby during downtimes, such as first thing in the morning, during walks and other exercise, and the last thing at night. Inspiration often occurs when the mind is free to wander. There is nothing worse than having a great idea and losing it.
Create the Optimal Conditions for Creativity. Many studies outline the stages of the creative process as follows:
- Information: The research phase, during which information pertinent to a particular challenge or area is gathered.
- Incubation: During this phase, the mind is given time to ruminate on the information gathered.
- Illumination/Translation: Ideally, the above two stages will result in an "aha!" moment, resulting in a new idea.
When faced with a challenge that would benefit from a creative solution, create conditions that allow for these stages to occur. Highly creative people often make a habit of daydreaming—an activity that is especially important during the "incubation" stage of creativity. Pay attention to activities that provide a "brain break"—things like cooling down after exercising, taking a shower, or even taking a brief nap—and incorporate these breaks into a daily routine. Be ready when that all-important "aha!" moment occurs, and have your idea list in hand, or at least nearby.
Make Research a Daily Part of Your Creative Process. Spend time gathering information on the newest best practices, within each of your areas of interest. When considering new ideas, be sure to consider their level of relevance to a specific practice, how long these solutions might take to implement, and who benefits once these new ideas are put in place.
Capitalize on times when new information is easily accessible. For instance, continuing education classes are an optimal time to bring fresh thinking to a practice. While learning new things, consider the following:
- How can what I learned today be relevant to my practice?
- What should I do with this knowledge?
- Which of my clients specifically might benefit from this new information?
Focus on Areas that Will Benefit the Most from New Ideas. Challenges typically arise in a busy practice, in the following areas:
- Recruiting top talent
- Retaining key employees
- Managing practice reputation
- Developing leads
- Communicating with clients
- Planning for practice continuity
Define and itemize the areas of the practice that are most challenging, and create sub-categories, within the idea-list system. Focus on bringing innovative thinking to bear on those topics that arise most frequently. Try and apply creative thinking to solve challenges for specific clients. The goal of any successful practice is to have satisfied clients, and bringing them thoughtful, new ideas is one of the best ways to keep clients happy.
Develop the Best Ideas with an Eye Toward Getting Buy-In. Once an idea that merits exploration has made it to the list, it is important to develop the idea, more fully. Consider who might be affected if you choose to implement the idea. If it affects a client, how will the client react to trying something new? Are there any costs or cost savings that will impact the client's buy-in? What is the client's tolerance for change?
Within any busy practice, decisions are not made in a vacuum. There are partners, team members, and clients to consider when trying something new. Ideas that make it from the list to real-life execution must be developed in a way that takes those impacted by the change fully into consideration. Convey a new idea in a way that starts a conversation, where an even better idea may emerge.
Getting buy-in and feedback will, ultimately, lead to the most positive outcome.
Embrace the Uncertainty of Trying New Things. Even the best ideas are meaningless unless they result in action. Do not just list new ideas, be willing to explore the best ones fully, even if that means stepping out of your comfort zone. Failure is often a precursor for success. Experimenting is crucial and being prudent about the experiments is wise.
Few things lead to more professional satisfaction than a great, new idea that is well-executed. Attempting to solve a recurring problem with the same old solution consistently adds pressure to any problem. If the old approach is not working, it may be time to try something new. It is time to tap into the power of new ideas.
About the author:
Ira S. Rosenbloom, CPA, is the Chief Operating Executive at Optimum Strategies, LLC, a consulting firm focused on helping small and medium-sized CPA firms enhance business performance, profitability, and foster practice continuity. Ira can be reached at: [email protected], or at (973) 666-1980.