CREATING CREATIVITY: How hurdy-gurdy can help keep your business fresh

Published on 30 July 2020

Geoff Higgins.JPG


Geoff Higgins from Performance People has helped people in Central Queensland and beyond perform at their best for 22 years. For Geoff’s business journey, creativity has played an integral role in keeping it fresh while meeting client demands.

He says every client has their own way of needing something, and he avoids standardising his response to their needs.

“I'm more about trying to find proven techniques where possible or making things up where there aren't proven techniques already.

“Making things up is the creativity. Sometimes that means taking someone's great idea and just stretching it a little bit, or expanding on it or applying it in a different setting,” Geoff explains.

One of the key areas Geoff applies his creative process is in developing new training programs and tools to support his clients in business; finding new ways of taking what they have always been doing and making them fresher.

“Some of my clients were really challenged by how to find new ways of documenting process. Obviously, organisations need to document process, be able to keep track of what they expect their employees to do and how those things are going to be done, so that there is a good quality outcome.

“My colleague Simon Terry had been working in an area where he was designing a new bank branch and started talking to me about design thinking, which led to service design and design principles.

“I started on a bit of a journey of how we could use design thinking in Central Queensland to improve the processes that people are using.

“I developed training to support that, as well as tools and day-to-day resources to improve on the work that people are doing daily,” Geoff recounts.

To achieve this, Geoff says he had to find a way to get through to people, by questioning what is it they need, and how is this process going to make sense to them?


Another area Geoff finds himself trying to be creative in is business concepts.

“There are all sorts of business concepts that can make you more confused the more you read about them, so you need to demystify.

“I was working on a project management concept, which is about the balance between the amount of time that you expend, the amount of money you spend and the performance outcome that you get.

“Obviously if we spend more, we expect to get more. If it takes longer, and if we invest more time in, we expect also for things to be better, but it's not that linear.

“It's not like if I put in 20% more, I'll get 20% better outcome. It doesn't work like that. It's actually elastic, so I developed a visual using bungee cords to try and explain this concept,” Geoff explains.

Geoff says is he were to pull hard on the performance bungee cord wanting a top-quality outcome, it will affect the amount of time it will take, and it will affect the cost.

In our day-to-day work, Geoff says we need to be aware tension exists. Being unaware of the tension relationship between performance, time and cost could cause trouble as the project continues.

Simple concepts and metaphors help people understand concepts he says.


Geoff believes there are a few dimensions to the importance of creativity when it comes to business.

“As a business leader, if you want to keep things fresh, if you don't want to go stale, if you don't want to get bored, if you don't want to get distracted by trivialities, you need to really engage with the work that you're doing.

“Just spending time in that creative space, I think will make you a better manager and a better leader,” Geoff advocates.

He says there are multiple benefits at the other end of the creative process, in terms of clients having products which may be better tailored to their needs, are morce fun to use, or help make them more efficient in their work.

“Creativity is the energy behind innovation. We need to be creative. We need to come up with new ideas or we need to be able to take existing ideas and adapt them to the circumstances we're in, in order to continue to develop and grow as businesses and as product offerings,” he says.

So how do you use creativity? Is there a step formula for becoming more creative in our own businesses?

While Geoff once thought his creative process was quite random, he has since discovered a distinct and proven pattern to his approach, he has broken into five steps.

  1. Set up a creative space

Start out by setting up the circumstances in which you are going to do that creative work.

“It may be next Tuesday morning; you are going to put two hours in your calendar that says creative work and you're going to make a commitment to that two hours.

“It's hard to be engaged with all the process stuff that you've got to do, paperwork or whatever it might be that's accumulated during the week.

“You might set yourself a 20-minute wedge of time in your calendar or in your day just to work on creative stuff,” Geoff recommends.

Creating a space conducive to creativity is another important process. 

While Geoff simply rotates his desk chair and clears the space beside his computer to work from, he acknowledges others will be far too distracted by your computer to do that.

“It may be that you need to get up and you need to take yourself outside or down the hallway. I recommend a space where there is a bit of room like the dining room, down at the library…

“Space is really important. There might be some signals you give to your brain that you're about to move into a creative space, like lighting a candle, playing music or making a cup of tea,” he suggests.

Your creative space also needs the essential tools, including preferably colour pens, biros and different sized blank paper for brainstorming.

Geoff says to flip blank paper from the portrait orientation we often associate with bills and business reports to landscape more conducive to art or graffiti; this process alone expands your consciousness.

Size matters too; if you anticipate your creative brainstorming is going to be extensive, upgrade from A4 to A3 to capture all those ideas. 

  1. Ask a beautiful question

With your creative space and tools sorted, Geoff says the next stage involves figuring out what you are going to tackle.

“Ask the question; what am I going to be looking at? What am I examining? What am I doing here?

“Warren Berger has a website called A More Beautiful Question. He suggests a powerful question to use in business is ‘how could I?’

“How could I build a better mouse trap? How could I sell ice to Eskimos?

“The how could I, is really intentional…it's not why?

There are no why, or who, or how much is it going to cost, or when questions.

“It's an incredibly open question and it's not how will I, it's how could I? Always write that down in the middle of your blank page,” Geoff clarifies.

The next phase is about taking that brainstorming mess of ideas and creating order.

  1. Brainstorm answers to the beautiful question

Some of the ideas on how to answer “How could I? will be other people's ideas, Geoff says.

“What are they doing in Toowoomba or in Silicon Valley in order to grow this?

Geoff says at this point you can do some gigantising, asking what if I had a million dollars to spend on this idea or what if I had to fit it in a briefcase?

“Try and think about ways in which scale could change the idea. This is just your creative expression.

“You might do this brainstorming over a timeframe of days or weeks, depending on how important the thing is and how much time it's worth investing in it.

“I don't think that it's a stretch to suggest many great ideas take years to turn into something,” Geoff proposes.

4. Draw a diagram

This step of the creative process requires another blank page, with the goal being to draw something that makes sense of at least some of what you brainstormed.

Geoff says he is a fan of the mind map and encourages others to remember whatever they put in the middle bubble on your mind map will have a big impact on what else you grow.

Mind map example: Of mice and men

If I wrote in the middle bubble “How could I…build a better mechanical mousetrap? I'm going to end up with a whole lot of ideas around how to make the mouse trap more efficient and more effective mechanically, but I'm not going to come up with new ideas.

Whereas if I put in the middle “How could I eradicate mice in my house?”, I might have the potential for a sonic boom or some kind of laser-triggered device when mice move around, or I might have some way of mouse-proofing my external walls.

None of those things would be there on the original mousetrap mind map.

The real power of a mind map is having the right sort of scope coming out of that middle circle and that is where you can go back to your question.

I don't want to build a better mouse trap. I want to eradicate the mice. Ask it that way.

Geoff says he also creates a lot of process flows, exploring how do we get from here, across to here and where are we going to go along the way, and where overlaps exist.

“Don't get contained by the idea of straight lines with process. Process can go in all sorts of directions and some things we do go around in circles,” he says.

A third format Geoff uses is the idea of inputs, processes and outputs.

He says if you were designing an app, you could ask, "What is the user going to put into the app? What are we going to do with that information? What are we going to present to them on the screen? What are they going to do as a result?"

“If you are manufacturing, "What are the raw materials? What are we going to do with the raw materials? As a result of that, what are the things that we're going to have at the end?"

“That's a nice encapsulation that can help you to not just understand, but also communicate, the things that are going to happen in the middle, how it is we got there and where it is that we're going from there?

“It's all about order and making sense of the information you brainstormed earlier. You'll come up with more ideas as you go,” Geoff forecasts.

  1. The next 3 things…

The final step in Geoff’s creative process is figuring out the next three actionable items.

He cautions again overwhelming yourself by developing elaborate project plans unless absolutely necessary.

Typically, Geoff says we can get moving on implementing, extending or expanding by trying to figure out what the next three things are.

“Try and have a discipline around not getting up and walking away until you've written down those three things you are going to do.

“It might be to ring a client. It might be to contact a manufacturer in China. It might be to do some diagrams of the screens for the app that you've just come up with the idea for.

“The things to pick are the things that are going to help you to make the best progress. Write down those, put them in your to do list or your calendar and go and have a break,” Geoff urges.

Another approach Geoff offers is to choose things you can do. Referring back to his example of building a better mousetrap, he says he would not write down "Introduce my mouse trap to the North American market”, at this stage, because he hasn’t got a manufacturer yet, nor contracts, or even a design.

“That's way out there and too far into the future. I need to do some things right now and it depends on what your workflow is.

“It might be to start getting out and talking to people, spending more time working on the product, the service, the training program or whatever the offer is,” he proposes.


What happens if you get stuck in the creative process, despite scheduling your time, setting up your space and lighting your candle? How do you get the creative juices flowing?

Geoff offers two solutions. The first is to phone a friend and talk about some of the things you are working on that have you stumped.

“Don't assume that they need to have any knowledge of what it is that you're doing, because often their lack of knowledge is actually the really valuable thing, because they'll ask you questions that you would have forgotten to ask yourself,” he suggests.

Geoff’s second solution is to seek random inspiration from the Dictionary.

“Roger von Oech is a thinking theorist who talks a lot about thinking and one of the things he talks about is giving yourself a whack to get you out of your straight-line thinking.

“That's what I use the dictionary for. You open up the dictionary. You point at the page. You point at a word, and then you read out the word.

“A couple of days ago, I was a bit stuck on my preparation for this HubLive session. I stuck my finger in my dictionary and I got hurdy-gurdy.

“A hurdy-gurdy is a musical instrument played by turning the handle, also known as a barrel organ.

“I had a bit of a think…what could hurdy-gurdy mean for what I'm doing here? I started thinking about music and the fact that for other people to produce the music that you invent, you need to do a score. You need to have this tangible thing that people can follow,” Geoff illustrates.


Geoff says if those solutions do not help, you may have chosen the wrong time or the wrong question and recommends walking away and coming back later.

Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves, "I started this business because I wanted to create great products. I'm sitting here with this opportunity to create great products right now and I not enjoying myself - why?"

“You might have to work a few things out and then you might need to rekindle the joy that you get out of creating great products for your clients.

“That was my hurdy-gurdy. I used the word as inspiration to jolt my thinking. It’s like a cure for writer's block,” Geoff says.

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