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The Big Jolt Featured

9:37am EDT July 22, 2002

For a company to succeed, its leaders must stimulate creativity and make employees feel they aren't just another pair of hands.

Speaker and author Grace McGartland says she has the solution for executives who don't even know where to begin. She calls it "Thunderbolt Thinking."

It's a whole new system of thinking, not just a compilation of traditional tips and techniques, says McGartland, who speaks and lectures on this subject. Her book, "Thunderbolt Thinking: Electrifying Ideas for Building an Innovative Workplace," presents a five-step model for executives to learn how to think more effectively.

McGartland says she conceived of the new system while battling cancer 16 years ago. The crisis forced her to look at life much differently than she had before.

"I needed to have some fun, use the brain power of those around me and look at things differently," she says.

She played with toys, incorporated others' ideas into her own and began to welcome change. This led to the concept and the book -- and, McGartland says, to her success over the disease.

Her Thunderbolt Thinking clients, which use the thinking model to encourage innovation among employees, include AlliedSignal Aerospace, the American Cancer Society, PNC Bank, U.S. Steel and SmithKline Beecham, to name a few.

A corporate case study of SmithKline, for instance, showed that Thunderbolt Thinking provided the Consumer Division the necessary techniques to analyze major market trends, generate ideas, formulate an action plan for competition and move its product back on target.

McGartland is quick to point out that her book and the system it outlines is for business owners whose top priority is employee retention.

"The biggest issue in small-, big- and mid-sized businesses is the retention of people and recruiting," McGartland says.

Creative thinking, she says, can help retain people.

An innovation survey available at her Web site (www.thunderboltthinking.com), will assess your innovative leadership. Have you defined what innovation really means inside your organization? Is innovation just a gimmick to you, or is it an integral part of the company's success? Have you assessed how each team member is creative and how those strengths benefit the team and the organization?

SBN magazine recently caught up with McGartland, a Pittsburgh native, to talk about her book and her system for creative thinking. Here's what she had to say.

SBN: What is Thunderbolt Thinking?

McGartland: It is a process for thinking more effectively, being alert, aware and agile. It's about thinking on purpose -- with a purpose, a how-to system for thinking. This is a very experience-based model, not theoretical.

Explain your five-step model.

First, expand your perspective. Be deliberately prepared to welcome change and be willing to look at change as an opportunity. Second, ratchet up the brainpower. One technique to achieve this is to do reading outside your normal area of interest. If you are a journalist, read fiction; if you are a small business owner, read about big business; if you are a high school football coach, read about what coaches do in the NFL. Add new thoughts to your brain so your brain can output fresh ideas.

You can also establish a brain trust or "kitchen cabinet" of people you trust -- not a formal board, just advisers. They will challenge your thinking but support what you're trying to do as a business owner.

The third step is to turbocharge the environment, but do this in your own style. Small businesses can have freer atmospheres and work codes. Bring Play-Doh, bubbles, Legos or crayons to meetings to foster creative thinking. But when you bring in toys, these are tools to help transform people's ideas and thinking. Use pictures, symbols and drawings to help think through problems.

Fourth, you must master the conversation of possibility and the conversation of reality. Research says that 90 percent of the time, we tell ourselves negative things. You need to have the conversation of "what if" and explore possibilities first before having the conversation of reality.

Finally, you need to be a catalyst with spirit -- be willing to take action. The models are useful, the toys helpful, but your own creative spirit is where creativity and change comes from. You need to move on ideas or strategies.

We're trained to have the perfect plan, so no plan ever gets done. See opportunities and spark energy to create change.

Why use toys?

It's one of the techniques that combines creative and analytical skills.

Who benefits most from this type of creative thinking?

The individual person benefits above all. When the individual benefits, the company benefits. If many people are unhappy on the job, it will have a major impact on the company.

How can Thunderbolt Thinking improve small business leadership?

Small business leaders have a unique opportunity to employ these techniques due to their size and flexibility. We worked with one CEO of a small software development company who dressed like the Wizard of Oz and had all his employees tell the Wizard about the company's future, all in the context of Oz.

It showed he was vulnerable, and it infused the company with energy and creativity. Another CEO was developing an innovation camp and decided to do a Blair Witch knockoff video to kick it off. Leadership is about how you set the tone in your organization.

Why should business leaders consider trying this new approach to team thinking and problem solving?

When you can help an individual achieve professional goals and become a better person, you'll retain that person. The biggest issue in business is retention of people and recruiting. The challenge is knowing how to keep people feeling like they're contributing.

Using these tips and techniques, this system will help companies learn how to retain people. Amanda Lynch is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.