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STEP 2: Lose the routine
STEP 2: Lose the routine
Robin Chase is no slouch when it comes to launching successful startups. The 50-year-old CEO founded her first successful business, car-sharing service Zipcar, 10 years ago. In 2007, she shifted up a gear and started GoLoco, a company that helps carpoolers connect with one another online.

Her two big tips for aspiring innovators? Goof off and read.

"Time wasting is an excellent source of innovation," says Chase. "Make time to read widely, and cultivate a variety of friends and online groups who send you wacky articles."

At the Chicago firm Total Attorneys, which provides accounting, marketing and back-office services to lawyers, founder and CEO Ed Scanlan lets employees take paid sabbaticals, with the understanding that the time will be spent on creative pursuits such as acting in a play or touring with a band.

"If you move more quickly in your own life, innovation moves more quickly," he says. The impetus for two new services -- virtual reception and virtual personal assistance -- came from employee suggestions. Scanlan expects double-digit growth at his $24 million business this year.

Other entrepreneurs recommend jumping out of your rut by hitting a trade show or attending a seminar about an unrelated industry. Or try spending a day in the life of a client, suggests Julie Lenzer Kirk, CEO of Path Forward International, an entrepreneurship consulting firm in Rockville, Md.

In the late 1990s, Kirk ran Applied Creative Technologies, a software firm that sold inventory-management applications. She ordered her staff (and all new hires) to spend a day working at a food processing plant that used their software.

The fieldwork paid off immediately. One programmer watched a manufacturing manager go through multiple steps while searching for old products in an inventory database. The programmer dashed back to his office and tweaked the software so that data could be found in a single step. At the same time, Kirk started sending out annual customer satisfaction surveys. The scores have consistently averaged 4.9 out of 5.

"It cemented customer loyalty," says Kirk. "It's really powerful when they see you're listening."

NEXT: STEP 3: Use the brains you hired

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LAST UPDATE: Oct 06 2009 | 4:09 PM ET
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