The imaginative minds at Purple Elephant Promotions created a mascot for their company. Naturally, it was a purple elephant. “It’s a symbol of our promise never to forget,” says owner Darrell Marriott, “but more important, it is our brand in the marketplace. It’s difficult to stay creative and stay good…It’s easy to be a company that sends out catalogs and takes orders.”
If you are successful in business today, you must already be somewhat creative. For many, creativity is an under-utilized asset. Yet, if you weren’t creative, would you be able to generate ideas for clients? Put together a great proposal? Keep customers happy and get new business? Probably not. But ponder this: If you were even more creative, would your sales increase? Almost certainly.
There’s no simple definition of creativity and no guaranteed way to maintain it at consistent, optimum levels. Researchers, mostly psychologists, claim being creative means being novel and appropriate at the same time. I have been conducting creativity-in-business workshops for years and I am still not sure that I have the definition. I have found that the most creative entrepreneurs have 3 things in common:
- Their willingness to question the norm
- Their ability to see their business from their clients’ perspective
- Their adeptness at taking ideas from other professions and adapting them to theirs
Not that difficult. Right? Wrong! It is a constant state of awareness and many are not willing or are too involved in the everyday ‘stuff’ to devote the effort required in staying on top of the creative process. Here are 15 ways to jumpstart your creativity and reinvigorate your business pizzazz.
1. WRITE OUT THE CHALLENGE OR GOAL IN SIMPLE TERMS
David Hardy of the Institute of Learning at the Bank of Montreal said for him the key is clarity. “Never work on a creative challenge without first writing down a problem statement in the form of a question.” If your work involves a team, post the question throughout the office
2. CLEAR YOUR MIND
You don’t have to chant a mantra in the lotus position to sweep your mind clean enough to let in new ideas. Simply take a break from you everyday hectic pace. You will take a break but your gray matter won’t. It’s akin to downloading your computer and walking away while it processes the information. “Subconsciously, you’re working on your problem or goal—particularly if you’ve reinforced it,” says David Heavin, senior marketing consultant and owner of Ideas In Action. “If you have a clear plan, through intellectual osmosis it will seep into your unconscious mind.”
3. STICK TO YOUR STRENGTHS
Here’s something I consciously decided; I gave up on being organized. I am just not good at that stuff. I have people with whom I work that are great at it and give me the freedom to do what I do best. I know how my mind works best and I know my strengths.
4. LOOK FOR A JUMPSTART
Most of the time, businesspeople can’t wait for inspiration to strike. You need ideas now and you are hopelessly stuck. Try opening a dictionary and randomly selecting a word. Then try to formulate a solution incorporating the word. The concept is based on a little known truth—barriers are actually opportunities to get you thinking. Professional speaker and self-professed creative marketer, Rick Segal of Rick Segal & Associates suggests, “Open up a random book and read the table of contents. People will spend a lot of time and effort coming up with great chapter titles. They can be a great source of ideas.”
I think that brain-storming implies a violent act that occurs just when the wind blows in the right direction. Brain-sparking is the real goal; sparking an idea in yourself or others that will take you to the next level or solve a seemingly unsolvable challenge. The best brainsparking sessions involve bringing together a team of people with different personalities and thinking processes. They may not be from within your organization. Invite some business associates—whose opinion you trust—to lunch and go for it! Incidentally, it isn’t always going to be a likable person who inspires you. Segal mentions a woman who worked for him for 17 years. “I hated her, he says. “I didn’t like working with her. But she was, without a doubt, one of my best employees who pushed me more than any of the ones I liked..” She was his adversary, his nemesis. “I’m going to show her.” Segel would say to himself, and she felt the same way. “She’s one of the few people I actually remain in contact with,” he marvels.
6. TEAR DOWN BARRIERS
Some obstacles to creativity include behavior (yours and others) and physical reality. Do you work in a dreary space? Maybe your demanding schedule is so blocked you can’t devote even 15 minutes to creative thinking. Fear and lack of confidence will kill the creative spirit, and self-criticism will shovel the dirt on top of your fragile new ideas.
Why not set a new rule? Self-censorship is prohibited. Never allow one of your ideas to wither away because you think it’s too crazy to say out loud. There’s an old saying (one with which I have gotten myself in trouble when I try to verbalize it!) “Premature evaluation, prevents conception”! Be careful using that one.
Just remember that every idea is a good idea and nobody should play the critic at first. Usually it is the weirdest ideas—when modified—that become the great idea in the end.
7. CREATE A SPACE TO BE CREATIVE
Set up an environment that encourages creative output, a comfortable space within which you feel non-threatened and able to create. Many of us work in small offices or have a space at home to work. There’s likely an unused shelf or corner that you can call your “creative space”. Put two things there: (1) something that reminds you of when you were a child (2) something that symbolizes what you do for a living. The former is just a reminder of when you were uninhibited, willing to take risks and unbelievably creative. The latter is a little more complicated. Find something that brings a smile to your face. Recently, one of my clients shared that she had a toy fire hydrant on her desk to remind her of the ‘fires’ she is constantly putting out in the company.
Make some rules for when you go “into” your creative space. Another client shared that they have relegated a small office to “Fun Room”. In the office you will find inflatable chairs, a popcorn machine, black light, children’s bookshelves and an easel with paper. The rules are no shoes nor normal pens and pencils and no interruptions during creative sessions.
8. QUESTION EVERYTHING
The status quo can block creativity. If you’re willing to question things, you will find out not what’s been working for other people, but will work for you. Those who ask the most questions—children—are in touch with their creative side and use their imagination freely. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author and professor at the University of Chicago, says the most creative people live by the maxim, “Die young—as late as possible.” Creative people are “as curious, engaged and innocent as children. They keep asking questions, wrestling with interesting problems, looking at the world through an ever-changing lens,” he says.
9. MINE THE PAST FOR IDEAS
Don’t always blaze your own trail. What was done in the past should be used as inspiration. When you hear what has worked for others, don’t discount it. Take the idea and ask yourself, “How can I apply that to what I am doing in my organization?”
10. GET OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Leaving your comfort zone doesn’t mean abandoning what’s proven to work. It means adopting a new perspective, seeing a new place or looking to another industry for ideas. As you read this, try something. Take off your watch and put it on the other arm. Uncomfortable? Awkward? Yes, but if you wear it like this for the rest of the day, you will be reminded of all of those things that we do in our lives (personal and professional) that are strictly habitual; doing them because that’s the way they have always been done in the past.
I suggest to our clients that they look outside of their “4 walls” for ideas. Look at other professions and industries. See what they are doing to market themselves and what they are doing to attain and retain customers.
11. KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER
If you are truly offering your products or services in a creative way to your customer and they see you as a creative resource, you have to be asking a lot of questions. Creativity builds from interaction with your client. How well do you know them? How well do you anticipate their needs? Can you sell them something unexpected if you believe that’s what they need? Your success is ultimately contingent upon your clients’ successes. If they succeed, you succeed and you don’t ever have to worry about the competition.
12. START AN IDEA CATALOG
Ever heard of an Idea Can? Well, neither had I until I met a woman in Dallas years ago who explained that she had given one to all of her salespeople as a holiday gift one year. The object was to use the can to tore ideas that never came to fruition. “They can go into the can when they’re really at a dead end,” she explained. Some ideas may seem strange for the project at hand, but may be perfect down the road.
13. USE ‘ISMS’ TO STAY IN PERSPECTIVE
“Isms” are quotes, expressions, aphorisms or parts of songs or poems. Some believe that daily affirmations (a la Stuart Smalley) of your creativity will foster and bolster it as well. Quotes can lift your spirits and make you laugh. What better way to keep things in perspective and alleviate the burden of stress? I like to keep a “comics file” in my desk. When I read a funny comic or find a humorous political cartoon, I clip it out and stick it in my file. You never know when it will come in handy!
14. HAVE FUN!
What else can I say???