Why you should ask your staff to dream on the job

This article was contributed to The Globe and Mail by Brian Scudamore


Recently, I found a picture I drew as a four-year-old. It’s just a simple drawing of me cleaning up junk, complete with a little push broom. At the time, there was obviously no way I could have known I’d grow up to start 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. Looking at this little scrap of paper proves one thing to me: the simple act of writing things down has magic.

Okay, maybe not magic, but it’s more than coincidence. Studies have shown people are 42 per cent more likely to achieve something if it’s written down.

That’s why we ask our team at O2E Brands, “Can you imagine?” Then we write down their big, hairy, audacious goals on the wall at our headquarters to ensure they stay top-of-mind. Empowering our people to complete passion projects that align with the company’s broader vision has a huge impact on momentum and engagement. It’s also resulted in some of our biggest achievements, from appearing on Oprah, to expanding to Australia, to being the subject of a Harvard Business Review case study.

Here’s how you can create a “Can You Imagine?” wall for yourself, your company, or your employees, to keep everyone pushing towards achieving their wildest daydreams.

Get the creative juices flowing

The first step to successful brainstorming is to create a space where ideas can unfold, without self-censoring or limits. No matter how ridiculous something seems, jot it down. The goal is to get your team into what occupational psychologists call a flow-state, where you’re fully absorbed and enjoying the process.

It’s easy to get things started by asking pointed questions. Things like, if this company could do anything, what would it be? What market would be incredible to reach? Then, dig a little deeper into the answers: If you want to expand to Australia, what does it look like out the window from your imaginary Aussie office? Picturing a specific scene is key to turning fantasy into reality.

Use the whole wall

So you’ve got your key list of goals. The next step is so obvious that most people forget: Write them down where you’ll see them, day after day. Visuals stick with us: only 10 per cent of verbal information gets retained, but we can recall 65 per cent of visual info we receive.

At our office, I’ve designated an entire wall for sharing our business dreams. In the center are the words “Can You Imagine?” Our ideas radiate out from there – no hierarchy or special order. Anybody from our team can suggest goals for the wall at any point, and if they’re right for the brand, I’ll order up a special decal and add it to the wall. Paint or markers work, too – the point is to instill some sense of permanency.

After several years, the wall becomes a fantastic mix of aspirations for the future and reminders of goals we’ve actually achieved: a testament to what dreaming can accomplish.

Throw out strategy

The “Can You Imagine” wall isn’t meant to be an obligation or a burden, with deadlines and deliverables. It’s supposed to be quiet background motivation: subliminal but powerful. Simply by posting these ideas, our brains start looking for connections and spotting opportunities when they arise.

Several years ago, I was getting frustrated looking for a second business for our company to invest in and had pretty much given up. But the goal was still up there on the wall. When I least expected it, I stumbled onto the opportunity to start WOW 1 DAY PAINTING and was able to move beyond the junk industry. It may sound silly, but it’s amazing what happens when you just put something out there, let it marinate and wait.

Right now, I’m working with my daughter’s school to put up a “Can You Imagine?” wall because dreaming big just isn’t encouraged enough in schools. In fact, the rules in educational institutions often do the opposite. But if we start encouraging kids to think outside the box and create a space for them to stretch their imaginations, imagine what the next generation could accomplish in business – and beyond.

Brian Scudamore is the founder and CEO of O2E Brands, which includes home-service companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. He’s a people-person and passionate entrepreneur who helps others take the lead in their small business.