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Learning Nugget 20 - Your Most Important Skill

Is there only one ?

No. In reality there are many;

  • Your ability to learn, unlearn and relearn

  • Empathy

  • Purpose driven passion and persistence

  • And of course courageous co-creation

But imagination and creativity are deemed by many to be the most important skill for knowledge workers moving forward.

The rapid pace at which technology is evolving means any repetitive activity, even knowledge worker based, will be automated. For those of us in the sales industry this is absolutely the case. In the average “sales cycle” today, how much of what we do is the same opportunity to opportunity ? If we are honest with ourselves, our clients could easily use a smart program to explore our offerings, compare those to others, get a demo, build a bill of materials and negotiate a price / contract terms.

We believe they need us, as we represent the offerings in a differentiated way. But if what we do opportunity to opportunity is mostly the same, how is it differentiated ?

As Neil Rackham recently quoted:

“Today, HOW you sell, has become much more important than WHAT you sell. The successful sales person today, Is someone who creates customer value. They do that by;

Their ideas

Their creativity

By their capacity to show the customer things they hadn’t even realised were there”

It’s not about the features or technical wizardry of your offering, it’s helping customers to see how they could use those capabilities to make a meaningful and tangible positive impact on their desire business outcomes by doing something different than what they are doing today.

So how do you tap into the creativity and imagination in yourself and within your teams ?

How can you develop and build this important skill ?

This is our list, the ASPIRE! Group’s list. There is so much written on developing creativity that you could devote a lifetime to reading, research, unlearning and relearning. The following list is designed to be a practical approach that is both relevant and actionable in today’s hectic selling world. Actions that we’ve have seen deliver a quick and profound impact.


Never assume. We are taught that throughout the ages. Yet we do it time and time again. Many times in fact each and every day in most interactions.

Our assumptions narrow our view and constrict creativity. The well worn term of we need to challenge our assumptions may spring to mind. But how do you do that ? When we are so busy running from meeting to meeting, how do we genuinely challenge our assumptions.

In our view there are two simple steps.

1. Write down all your (personal and team) assumptions and

2. Write down all he assumptions you think your client may have made.

You can only challenge it (as a group) if you have it written down.

For example. A client publishes an RFP for a new communications platform (Voice, Voicemail, Presence, Web Conferencing and desktop video. Cloud based with appropriate cyber and corporate security). What are some of the assumptions we make that limit or creativity ? We may assume; They know what they want so we should just provide a deeply discounted price or that they’ve already decided who they want to buy from and this is just a compliance exercise. Or an unspoken one, they actually know how to use the capabilities to drive meaningful change in the way they work. On the other hand if we look at the assumptions the client may have made, Verizon has done thousands of these quotes for customers they should be able to turn in around in a week. They’ve got loads of experience so it should be an easy and simple deployment. It should “just work”.

We all make many assumptions. Taking 5 mins to brainstorm the assumptions you are making and those the client is making is the only way you can challenge your assumptions (and thus unlock more creative thinking).


In Learning Nugget 16 we discussed reframing. In that context it was with regards to overcoming bias. Both yours and your buyers. However in developing creativity and imagination reframing is a critical mind tool for thinking differently about an opportunity or problem and thus unlocking new ideas, perspectives and insights.

For example, think about a situation not from your clients perspective, but from their customers perspective. Or another powerful reframing technique is to switch.

If the current statement is positive, make it negative.

If it’s internal, make it external,

if it’s past tense make it future tense, or if it’s future, make it past tense,

if it’s a liability make it an asset.

Lets look at a practical example. A client says they need to go to digitally enable all their stores as they are losing to Amazon. This has an internal view (we are losing), a negative view (we are losing) and trying to insert a solution (digitally enable). All three of these will lead to limited creativity and ideation creating too many boundaries around the problem. A reframe that is more external and forward looking might be something like. Our customers want to have unlimited flexibility in how they buy from us. This reframe will enable significantly greater ideation and creativity.

So to reframe, when your client says they have a need. Reframe the need. Switch it. Then ideate.

Use this with existing opportunities. Take the need and reframe it. Switch it. One way, take the need the IT team has defined and switch it to what is the need the business, the LOB, is addressing. Now ideate.

Do Nothing

OK, the title is a bit cheeky. But part of our problem in western corporations is we are measured, promoted / demoted, judged and respected on our productivity. Or in layman’s terms how busy we are. If you can pull a 14 hour day in 8 meetings, respond to 112 emails, write 1 RFP response and draft 2 EBC PPT’s you are a super star.

But the reality is that each will have been “system 1” based activities. No deep thinking applied to each one. Autonomous instinctive responses.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken.

Our corporate culture teaches us to be uncreative. It rewards mediocrity. It rewards quantity of output over quality of impact.

To be truly creative, to develop your imagination you actually need to consciously and deliberately do nothing. You need the white space thinking time to read, explore, examine, seek, share, discuss and debate. This is deep thinking. Thinking that challenges assumptions, that enables you to reframe and that opens up a world of perspective you’d never considered. Try it. Take an existing client / prospect situation. Carve out 45 mins. Now do nothing but think about that situation. Avoid email, avoid calls. Consider the situation from many angles (business perspective, client’s customers perspective, risk, revenue, disruption. Explore who are the non conventional disruptors in that clients marketplace and what they are doing that is so disruptive. Find out who the most prominent futurist is in that industry and what are they talking about, read their stuff).

In 45 mins you will have a completely different perspective that will enable much greater alignment between your offering and your clients outcomes.

Here is additional things you can do to drive creativity and imagination in yourself and your teams;

  • Model it…lead from the front

  • Encourage and reward self-efficacy. Our thinking is only limited by what we think we can do (or can’t do)

  • Bring the outside in, bring in different perspective…don’t just rely on closed groups, which are normally group think / confirmation bias and bandwagon driven. Bring in those that will confront and provocate

  • Take sensible risks

  • Lean to live with ambiguity

  • There are no mistakes, only learning opportunities (as Edison said. I didn’t fail 10,000 ties, I merely learned 10,000 ways it wouldn’t work)

  • Make it fun

  • Establish stimulating environments that challenge your thinking

  • Expose yourself to non conventional viewpoints, information or insight

  • And finally, one of the most important, deeply encourage self regulation. You can’t force creative learning, only when one takes control of their own learning path using the techniques above can real impact be achieved

For additional reading on developing creativity and imagination here’s a couple of short articles to inspire.

  • 4 ways to access your creative genius

  • Here is a really confronting 15 min video. You will have 1 of 2 reactions to this. 1. Scare you or 2. Excite you. It explores the future in a world that has endless automation. But a world that is here now. My personal view. It opens up so much opportunity for a company such as Verizon that you all have the opportunity to fundamentally change he world. You should be salivating at the opportunity. An opportunity not every company is poised to grab a hold of.

  • Soon to be launched. Lemonade, a company started to help develop creativity

  • In the essence of challenging our own assumptions, here’s a short article that challenges the assumption, only geniuses (Einstein, Newton, Mozart etc) can be creative. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that “creativity” is dead (flashes of brilliant ideas) and that ordinary thinking applied well is the foundation of great ideas.

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