The old adage in business used to be that the single most revered skill to be a successful CEO was communication. According to a global CEO study conducted by IBM in May 2010, creativity is now the most important leadership quality needed for business success. 

Recently, I was sitting in a room of what the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) calls “subject matter experts," or SMEs. These individuals were assembled for their knowledge of surveying, their education, their diversity, their location and their willingness to give up a perfectly good weekend and travel to Clemson, S.C., and virtually be locked in a room with a bunch of other surveyors to discuss issues facing the profession. These meetings are always interesting since it is a relatively small group of individuals from all over the country. The differences in work experiences and especially licensing laws are really exposed when the group comes together to work on a standardized licensure exam.

During one of the conversations that took place over a couple of days, I began to notice how much surveyors tend to sell themselves short and view what they do as a very narrow field. Many surveyors still see surveying as boundary only.

After a business consultant mentioned the study from IBM, I began thinking about how we all need to use creative thinking to survive these tough economic times. It’s easy to stick with what has always worked in the past, but times have changed. We need to start thinking out of the box.

My firm has traditionally used many different tools to complete design surveys. As the economy hit the skids, I started looking around for new streams of revenue. Now, my business model involves applying my expertise to any measurement-related need—be it a manufacturing plant that needs updating, a car crash that is going to court, a historical structure that needs to be recorded, or an airport baggage ramp that is undergoing renovation. I have also started casting a wider net as to where and how I work. Recently, I have begun teaming up with colleagues in different cities and even different states so that we can provide clients with greater value and a faster turnaround.

Communication is still important. But clearly creativity is key for anyone trying to grow their business in this economy.

How have you creatively altered your business model to address the changing economy? Share your comments below.