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Why thinking differently could help you succeed in your career

By Paul Sloane, author of The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills

think differently for career success image

You can increase your popularity and success by becoming an ideas carrier, someone who identifies, collects and communicates fresh ideas for other people’s business challenges.  If you work in an office you can do this for your colleagues, your boss or the people who report to you. If you are a consultant or sales person you can do this for your customers. If you are a buyer you can do it for your suppliers. In every case you can build your relationship by helping the other person solve their problems.

Let’s say you are in sales. Think of your most important customers. What are their most pressing business challenges? What are the top priorities and the worries that keep them awake at night? Forget for the moment about trying to sell them your products, focus instead on their problems and issues. Now as you go about the rest of your work look out for ideas that might help. Maybe when you are speaking to a colleague or another customer, or when you are reading a magazine or the internet you will see something that might possible be helpful. Send your customer an email with the link or a letter with the magazine clipping and a note saying, ‘I was thinking of the issue we discussed and saw this idea that I thought might help.’ Your customer may adopt or reject the idea for all sorts of reasons but the very act of making the suggestion serves some valuable purposes. First it reminds him about you. Secondly it shows that you are interested in solving his problems and not just in selling your products. Thirdly it gives you a good reason for a follow-up telephone call, ‘Was the idea useful?’

Similar considerations apply if you supply an idea for a manager in another department of the company. It raises your profile and shows you are a constructive, helpful kind of person. These are the sorts of considerations that can help your image and career.

To become an ideas carrier you need three things:


  1. An interest in the challenges that other people face. You can find out about these with intelligent, sensitive questions. Most people are happy to open up about the business issues they face.
  2. An open, inquiring mind and a little lateral thinking. You need to be on the lookout for new ways to do things and fresh ideas.
  3. The willingness to offer the ideas, put them into context and communicate them in a positive manner.


You can build your success at work with a combination of three things. Firstly, your understanding of the needs of the key people you meet. Secondly your industry knowledge and contacts with other people. Thirdly your imagination and ability to spot connections. You can construct your own unique selling proposition with this combination. By carrying innovative ideas from one place to another you can help your customers, build your relationships and advance your career.

Paul Sloane is the author of the newly releases The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills and How to be a Brilliant Thinker, both published by Kogan-Page. He is also an experienced speaker, course leader and facilitator. A recognized authority on innovation and creative speaking, he speaks and gives workshops to leading corporations around the world.


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