From where are you getting your inspiration? Your new ideas? How are you keeping things fresh? If you are like most, your sources for inspiration have become stale and you haven’t even realized it.

Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I actually like our friend Tom Asacker’s definition of insanity better – “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results.”

Corporate culture tends to reward habit. We look for things that have been successful in the past and institutionalize them – why fix what ain’t broken, right?

As such, planning and innovation tends to follow formulas – we do research, we have planning meetings, we put together decks… We get our information from trusted sources – things we read, research partners we use, agencies with whom we partner, etc… And then one day we look up and we may realize we have been left behind – bested by someone more nimble, more in touch with the changing world, more innovative.

One way to avoid this is to expand your horizons! Build routine around doing things OUT of your routine – get exposed to new and different things that have no obvious connection to what you are doing. You will be surprised how many new ideas you will generate…

Here are 5 easy tips to expanding your horizons tomorrow:

(1) Take your next team meeting on the road. Not a big trip or a boondoggle. Just get on a train to nowhere (and then come back, of course). Take a car ride. Take a walk. Go sit on a park bench and people-watch. Go to a store that doesn’t sell your product and walk around. Eat in a restaurant you would never normally go to. Go catch a stupid move. Go to a museum or a flea market. DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN SIT IN A MEETING ROOM. No matter how crazy you get with design, a meeting room will never be more inspiring than the real world. Get out there.

(2) Watch some TV. Not just what you have DVR’d or what you can stream on Hulu or Netflix, but actually watch broadcast TV – commercials and all. And not shows that appeal to you – but shows that appeal to your target. I can’t tell you how many marketers I talk to that don’t watch TV anymore. Ask them what their favorite ad is (other than their own) and they can’t name one – or they come up with the ones that have been covered in the trades, or a Super Bowl ad. I know, you are busy – but this is what we do. We need to see the good and the bad. Inspiration comes from both.

(3) Study success stories outside your industry. Look for transferable lessons and best practices. Brand ManageCamp speaker Jackie Huba is a master at this. Her last two books (“Monster Loyalty” and “Fiercely You”) have pulled lessons for marketers from some seemingly unlikely sources – Lady Gaga and Drag Queens. (FYI – she will be speaking at Brand ManageCamp in September – and she is amazing! She what she will cover here.)

We can sometimes convince ourselves that our industry, our products, our services, our customers, our consumers are different. “That doesn’t apply to us because we are B2B and that’s B2C, blah blah blah.” The reality, though, is that we are all humans. And when it comes down to it, we aren’t all that different from each other in terms of our basic needs and wants and how we make decisions.

(4) Play contrarian. What if our perceived weaknesses were actually our strengths? What would we do different?

What if our target was no longer our target? Who would we sell to?

What if the things we held to be universal truths were no longer true? What would change? How would we survive?

What if a resource that is currently abundant suddenly became constrained?

I especially like the constraint game because it can be so easy. Former speaker Mark Barden and our friends at eatbigfish talk about “A Beautiful Constraint” and how you can turn your limitations into advantages. Here is a quick exercise you can do this afternoon or tomorrow: When people show up at your scheduled 1 hour meeting, tell them it has been cut to 15 minutes – but everything on the agenda still has to get accomplished. You’ll be surprised how much waste gets cut out and how much you accomplish, and how creative you had to be to get there (and how appreciative people will be for the extra 45 minutes they just gained)!

(5) Get some exercise – but don’t wear headphones. Whether it is a run on a treadmill or lifting weights or just taking a hike – get out and spend some time by yourself with no artificial inputs. No music, no podcasts, no radio. Just you and your brain and the empty road (or the treadmill in the crowded gym – whatever). Just run, or walk, or lift, or stretch…and THINK. Not with an agenda. Not with a problem you are setting out to solve. Just think. Your mind will wander. You will think about home issues. You will think about work issues. You will wonder why nobody picked up that dog poop. And you will come up with ideas. Some relevant, some having to do with making it easier to pick up dog poop (which may also be relevant to you).

Not only is exercise good for your body, it’s great for your mind. Make sure when you get back after the exercise, though, that you jot down any good thoughts you had – or even the seeds of any good thoughts you had. Then come back to them later…

So there you go – 5 things you can start doing immediately and for essentially zero cost. Of course, if you want even more inspiration, think about joining us at Brand ManageCamp in September. Jackie Huba will be there as will 12 other amazing speakers covering a 360 degree view of brand marketing… Just saying. 🙂