Business problems fall into two classes:
- Good problems---like you are too busy
- Bad problems---like you are too quiet
- Good problems---like you are cash positive but only getting 1/10th of a percent on your money market
- Bad problems---like you are negative in cash, and can't find a bank willing to make a loan, at any rate.
Study your problem and find the root cause. It is not that business is slow, but why is your business slow? Ask your employees what they would do to increase customers calling or walking through the door. What would they do to reduce waste in the back? How would they set up the shop to be more efficient?
Your employees know more than you do on these types of basic questions. In fact, they want to solve them even more than you! If times are bad, their jobs are in trouble, as they know they will go before you do. Their self-preservation will kick-in to the benefit of the whole company. No need to pay for ideas, or have a contest. Just lay it out that there are issues that are hurting the company. Most employees will step and help. And the ones that don't, well, just keep that in mind when times get better and you can again give raises.
Break your problems down to bite-size pieces and ask different people in your company to work on each piece. When you pull them all together again, you will often find a new and successful solution.
Let's say you are the manager of a four man crew doing installations, and no matter what you say, they come back every day a half-hour late, except on the days you get a chance to go with them. How about appointing a foreman who is responsible for time management, letting him make suggestions on how to cut that overtime, and together you pick two or three ideas. The foreman is personally invested in the success of the idea and will try a lot harder for success.
The moral of the story? Ask those around you for help with problems, be they good or bad. The best resources are right next you most of the day.
(And the answer to the question, what is the opposite of Progress?
It is, of course, Congress.)