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AARP AARP States Home & Family

Draw Me a Picture

Photo credit: Shawn Campbell

By Sharon Lewis.   Sharon Lewis is an integrated marketing communications strategist, guest blogger, AARP volunteer, and a member of the AARP NY Executive Council and AARP Volunteer Leadership Institute. Her areas of expertise cover a wide range of industries–and business models. She lives in NYC.

I recently read that creativity can soar when given constraints. Is this an oxymoron? Not!
Think about how you would feel if given a sheet of paper and asked to “draw something”. Now think about how you feel when you are given a sheet of paper and asked to draw a picture of your dream house.
The constraints provide direction and allow you to draw with a purpose. This simple exercise did wonders for my own sketch!

I had a tough day with one of my clients recently and found myself grateful for constraints that I was able to exemplify for his consideration.

The client is an entrepreneur in the wealth creation space and has established a professional networking group of some 60-80 people. It is time to take this networking group to another level of professional or industry association. The members in the group are all involved in the eldercare industry; on both a personal and professional level, each member wants to ensure that they are doing what is best as we move through what I call the era of the aging tsunami.

The entrepreneur has lots of ideas on how the group can be strengthened as a professional association for its membership base, as well as ideas on creating a consumer offering that will simplify the coordination of life-stage planning and care delivery to the senior. To move forward in creating the vision necessitates the creation of a more disciplined, structured approach; to draw this picture necessitates an evaluation of the consumer needs, the marketplace offerings and the opportunities which the gaps present.

Similar to our target consumer who is trying to decide how to best meet the needs of an aging family
member, this entrepreneur created a 6-person strategic advisory board for himself. Each one is wise
and committed to eldercare issues. Yet, each member of the team has a truly unique voice. Together we
represent a strong set of resources.

So here is where it gets a little bit sticky. The entrepreneur has been working with a blank sheet of paper. “All options are viable at this early stage of development”, he says. Yes, this is the core philosophy behind good brainstorming. And, it is a lot of fun—up to a point. To move forward, the entrepreneur must be willing to work with this advisory board to define constraints around the direction he will take.

It is like deciding that you want to go on a diet and eat healthy. What does eating healthy mean? My father never had a problem with his weight and was power walking long before it was in-vogue. Eating a big salad was as comfortable for him as was eating the two bakery black and white cookies for dessert.

So what did healthy eating mean to my father? When asked to give up the cookies, he would substitute 3-4 pieces of fruit, usually apples, oranges and bananas. And, always eaten at one sitting. On the surface, this fruit salad would appear to be healthy eating. However, would a dietician approve of four pieces of fruit for dessert…. At every meal? Was my father truly satisfied by all this fruit or was he actually eating more sugar in the four pieces of fruit than he would have been eating in one bakery black and white cookie. Some weight loss programs addresses this dilemma by telling us how and what to eat; they give the participants defined food categories and portion sizes. Creativity and compliance can
soar when given constraints.

Fast forward to our discussion around the challenge of defining a new entity that will simplify the coordination of life-stage planning and care delivery to the senior. How does a family do this? Is there a place where they can turn for one-stop advice on meeting the varied needs of an aging loved one? And what are the price points for this myriad of services? Cash, time, emotions and accuracy of the information – in a situation that is always emotional and time sensitive.

On a very regular basis, I have been sending the client advisory team articles and websites describing programs that strive to simplify the coordination of life-stage planning and care delivery to the senior. The options range from -- AARP programming to disease specific support offerings to grassroots entities—and much more. Overwhelming amounts of information are available; the challenge is in helping the consumer to recognize, and to define the core elements of their own situation so that they can turn to the appropriate resource for additional supports. Isn’t this a variation on defining some constraints to accommodate the answer?

When you rely on personal referrals for your eldercare journey, how do you know that the referral has had a similar elder care experience or that the senior citizen had a similar health condition or financial situation?

Dealing with my own family situation at one point, I confided in a friend who spoke in generic terms about how everything would work out and “this, too shall pass”. Anxious for assistance and simultaneously scared to put “labels” on the situation at hand, the generic nature of my friend’s response infuriated me. I had no doubt in her desire to help me; it was obvious that she too was scared and did not want to overstep any undefined boundaries in the friendship. Instinct took over. I found myself getting pretty specific in defining the resources that I required. I then took it a step further and defined the people in her own network that I wanted her to call - on my behalf. My friend was now empowered and a series of phone calls, emails and text messages soon followed --- all critical to my resolution of the situation. By better defining what I needed, I had empowered my friend to help me solve the problem. And, she was as excited as I was when the puzzle starting making sense.

Creativity can soar when given constraints. Not quite the oxymoron that these words initially convey!

About AARP States
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