How to generate powerful, creative ideas like putting goats on a roof

Updated: Oct 5


Maybe your business has been disrupted during COVID-19. You're not alone. Maybe your business is thriving. In either case, the saying "Innovate or Die" is real. If you're not moving forward, you're moving backwards, because the competition is moving forward. So how can you innovate and generate creative ideas?

The Creative Roots of "Goats on the Roof"

The Old Country Market in Coombs, BC owes it's success to creative thinking. The market started as a fruit stand on the side of the road in 1973 by Kristian Graaten, who emigrated with his family from Norway to Canada in the 1950s.


A series of "What If" questions later, and today the market known as "Goats on the Roof" is Vancouver Island's second most visited tourist attraction, after Victoria's Butchart Gardens. What differentiates this market?


There are actual goats living on the roof!


The Coombs Old Country Market is the second most visited tourist attraction on Vancouver Island (photo taken pre-COVID-19)

Last month I stopped at the market for a solo lunch on my way to Ucluelet, where I was running a (physically-distanced) CEO peer group retreat. I had been to the market with my wife and kids before, and I thought it would be a good place to stop on my own during COVID when it is much less busy. I had a great talk with one of the staff about the history of the market and its creative roots. The inspiration for adding goats to the roof came from the family's roots in Norway. It is common for Norwegian farms and homes to be built directly into the hillside. Sod roofs are common as they help the building look like an extension of the hillside. The Graaten family eventually built the market with a sod roof.

Asking "What If...?"

The family credits this simple question as the "steady compass and organic inspiration" guiding the market from its beginning. They first asked, "What if... we started a fruit stand beside the highway?" They next asked, "What if... we sold hamburgers to travellers en route to the West Coast?" They next asked, "What if... we built a market?" The grass on the sod roof was getting long. Eventually, after a night of drinking wine, they asked... "What if... we put goats on the roof?" The grass is long. Goats eat grass. The rest is history.

How to Generate Creative Ideas

I find that getting out of your regular "tramlines" helps with being creative. The corporate version of this is typically an off-site at a different location from your office. The CEO retreat I ran in Ucluelet is another example. There are several creative problem-solving techniques you can use to get you and your team generating ideas. It will help to set a series of ground rules, such as:

  • Defer judgment: park the need to shoot down ideas. That comes later!

  • Quantity leads to quality: go for volume of ideas, no matter how crazy

Once the ground rules are set, it helps to have a clear problem (or opportunity) statement. It could be something like "How do we grow customer loyalty in 2021?" or "How do we increase revenues to pre-pandemic levels?" Once you have a clear problem statement, you can move on to generating ideas. I ran a workshop like this for a client recently. We set the ground rules and the problem statement, and then we moved on to using creative problem-solving techniques to generate ideas. One exercise we did was for each person in the team to select a random object, list the qualities of that object, and then "force-fit" meaning back to the problem statement. I brought a random selection of objects to the room, including a hockey puck, kids toys, and even a survival knife. One executive picked up the hockey puck, and listed qualities such as these: it brings a group of people together around a common goal, it provides joy to millions of people, it often requires teamwork to score a goal. They then force-fit those qualities back into their problem statement and generated ideas from it that could contribute to solving the problem. it's incredible where creativity can come from. Feedback from this team was that it was the best session like this they've ever had. What can you do with your team to detach and generate creative ideas for recovering or thriving? If you take just one thing away from this week's article, it might be this: drink wine with your team and let the crazy ideas flow!