Creativity is a vital attribute for any entrepreneur who hopes to make his or her startup stand out in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Entrepreneurs may be highly skilled at identifying and responding to needs in the marketplace, but those who nourish their own -- and their teams’ -- creative insights can experience big improvements in success and profitability.
For entrepreneurs, creativity doesn’t involve simply coming up with a lot of new ideas. Instead, creativity encompasses a strategic process that includes ideas, development, refinement, and implementation. And often the success of each of these components depends upon a team effort, with a variety of personalities, skill sets, and communication styles in the mix.
Here are only a few creative insights based on recent research and the day-to-day practices of successful entrepreneurs:
1. Understand the nature of creativity.
Recent studies have demonstrated that, as human beings, we all possess a common framework for dealing with challenges creatively, even though our individual expressions of that creativity vary considerably. By developing an in-depth knowledge of how the creative process works, entrepreneurs can enhance their toolkit of innovative solutions, and those of their employees.
One outline of the creative chain reaction goes like this:
When confronted with any problem or challenge, seek to clarify the problem to be solved by learning as much about it as possible. Gather information from a range of sources, and begin to assemble a plan to tackle the issue.
Using this information, come up with new ideas that can assist in addressing the problem, winnowing them down so that the most workable options remain.
Then put these ideas through a refining process -- analyzing them, tearing them down, and reconfiguring them until they represent the best possible fit for responding to the challenge.
Finally comes what is perhaps the most difficult part: entrepreneurs need to create acceptance and embrace of change within their organizations, encouraging all relevant stakeholders to develop and support new ways of doing things.
2. Leave preconceived ideas behind.
Creativity grows best in an environment rich in stimulation by new ideas, people, and places. Something as simple as varying your route to work or your companions at lunchtime can open new avenues of thinking. Many of the most successful companies build in regular time for staff to attend webinars, conferences, and other virtual or in-person meetings with professionals within and outside their fields.
3. Question ideas you love.
I always say “There’s no such thing as a dumb idea… unless it’s the CEOs”. Just because something seems like a great innovation at first doesn’t mean it will turn out well in practice. You might not have explored it enough to know whether it truly represents a solution or is simply a waste of time.
Think through exactly how ideas that excite you would translate into solving real-world problems -- before you try to implement them too quickly. Ask for constructive criticism from a diversity of stakeholders and take their points seriously enough to consider incorporating into a modification of your idea.
4. Celebrate divergence of opinion.
By embracing the full range of differing thought processes on your team, and incorporating those of external stakeholders, everyone can benefit. Don’t allow yourself to feel threatened by different opinions; instead, look for ways they can offer you and your team new insights and provide innovative pathways for success.
Additionally, talk more -- and with more people. The more you surround yourself with people who are noted for their creativity, even in fields dissimilar from your own, the more your own creativity tends to put itself into high gear.
5. Figure out how you think.
Do a thorough analysis of where you and your team are in terms of skill sets, knowledge, and resources, and don’t hesitate to seek outside help and insight whenever possible. Understanding your own limitations will help you fill in the gaps in your team’s preparedness.
Discover the default ways you and your team approach problems. Thinking styles are similar to handedness, in that we all reach out to solve a problem in ways that are most comfortable and familiar to us. Some of your staff will be ultra-realistic, grounded in the here-and-now. Others may be visionaries with large-scale ideas. Still others prefer to simply dig in and get new inventions off the ground by applying practical know-how in refining a design or implementing a marketing strategy.
A number of business leaders use the FourSight Thinking Profile, which is promoted by the National Science Foundation, as a means of identifying and understanding individual habits of thinking.
6. Try out the “thinking hat” strategy.
This approach to creativity was developed by world-renowned psychologist Edward de Bono. His writings encourage a type of mental role play in which an entrepreneur looks at an idea through the perspective of six different thinking styles.
One “hat” is optimistic, another judgmental. One is a fact-gatherer, another stays attuned to feelings. One focuses on a constant stream of creativity, another organizes and evaluates. By mentally trying on one “hat” after another, you can gain a surprising amount of insight from multiple perspectives.
7. Don’t hide behind a screen.
Get up from the computer, walk around, and sketch out a visual, tangible representation of your ideas for yourself and your team. Even better, get out of the office and get in front of your customers. If necessary, create a map of your ideas together in a shared virtual workspace. Researchers say that visuals can be a powerful aid to new insights and creativity.