J.M. Haggar was fascinated with Henry Ford's idea of the production line and mass production. He thought if cars can be mass-produced, why can't men's trousers -- and at popular prices?
Many clothing manufacturers doubted Haggar's potential. But he proved them wrong.
The first lesson in all my corporate speeches is creativity. I think it is that important. Creativity is not rocket science. It's just finding a new or improved way to do something.
Haggar did exactly that and became a household name.
When I am giving a speech, I prepare by talking to eight to 10 people who will be in the audience to try and find creative stories. I hit the jackpot recently when I spoke to a couple of real estate agents.
One told me that he traveled to India for his brother's wedding in 1999. He brought along a portable SOLD sign and posed with it in front of the Taj Mahal. He used that photo as a postcard to send out to his clients. It read, "One man built the greatest monument to love the world has ever seen." Below, in smaller print, he wrote, "I just sell real estate, but I do it with great passion."
His clients still talk about that postcard years later. He's done other versions featuring Buckingham Palace and Mount Rainier. These have helped him stand out in his local market.
Another real estate agent told me that she scours current listings by competitors. She then sends out a large red mailing tube with a fuse that looks like a stick of dynamite. Inside is a large flier that reads: "BAM! Your listing has expired! Do you want to know why?" She gets lots of replies.
She also mails letters introducing herself. Then she sends a second mailing: She crumples up the first letter and writes, "Don't throw me away again!" on the outside. She gets lots of responses to this second mailing.
Another real estate agent in the Twin Cities told me about a marketing opportunity that she'd jumped on. She is a big fan of the Cities 97 Sampler -- a music CD produced by a local radio station -- that Target sells exclusively every November to benefit local charities. On release day, people line up hours ahead at every Target store, waiting to buy the disc. Nine years ago, while waiting in line, she realized that she had ready-made prospects. For the last eight years, she has passed out hot coffee, breakfast bars and hand warmers along with her contact information, introducing herself and working the crowd. She donates 3 percent of her commissions generated from this event to the same charities. She lists and sells five to six homes each year from this event.
What do these people have in common? They took something familiar in a different direction. That's creativity. Here's how to follow their examples:
-- Crossbreed your ideas. Instead of looking for one great concept, grab hold of two good ideas and look for interesting connections and juxtapositions. Reptiles and airplane disaster movies were unrelated concepts until someone came up with "Snakes on a Plane."
-- Refine other ideas. Don't directly steal anyone else's work, but look at what's been done with an eye toward doing it differently.
-- Repeat. Analyze what you've already done, and try creating it all over again. Chances are you'll find a way to improve it, or at least give it a fresh angle. You may also find a way to save time or use new resources by exploring what you're already comfortable with.
But back to Henry Ford. According to an old story, he once hired an efficiency expert to go through his plant and find the unproductive workers. The expert made the rounds with his clipboard in hand and finally returned to Ford's office with his report.
"I've found a problem with one of your administrators," he said. "Every time I walked by, he was sitting with his feet propped up on the desk. The man never does a thing. I definitely think you should consider getting rid of him!"
When he learned the name of the man the expert was referring to, Ford shook his head and said that the man had once come up with an idea that saved the company millions, and that he'd thought of it with his feet in the same position.
Mackay's Moral: Great ideas don't have to be new -- just improved!