As business owners, we are faced with an interesting challenge. Our success relies on our ability to think outside the box and be creative in our approach, yet it is also this same creativity that can be to our detriment. In the wider market, we have all seen a company try something completely new and fresh have it define them as innovative geniuses. But, at the same time, we have also seen companies go too bizarre in their approach and fall flat. Companies need to take these leaps of faith because creative growth is a risk that is necessary for survival.
In the pursuit of surmounting this ‘challenge’ we are armed with two things, our creative thinking skills and our critical thinking skills. Ironically, these two things are often antagonistic to each other, but both are needed in order to grow. Without creativity, critical thinking acts as a filter, but with nothing coming through it. If you have ever heard the term ‘paralysis by analysis,’ you would understand the potential pitfalls of thinking in a purely critical sense. But on the other hand, creativity without critical thinking is a gamble. There is no way to discern what is a good idea and what is a terrible idea. This creates a high-risk situation where an idea can be a friend or a foe. Creative and critical thinking are both important.
However, we would argue that the majority of people have the ‘critical-thinking’ aspect of business growth covered fairly well. It is in our nature to find out what is wrong with something before we find out what is right with it – especially if you are a business owner. In light of this, this blog will be focusing on techniques that will allow you to improve your creative thinking skills.
1. Let go of your inner critic.
The initial stages of the creative process should be free of criticism. If you try to edit your work while you are coming up with ideas, you will likely come up with nothing. Surprisingly, this tip is actually quite hard to achieve if you have little practise.
If you check out our other blog about Freewriting, you will find a detailed guide describing a tried and true process for writing without that inner critic bothering you. This is one of many powerful creative thinking exercises available.
In addition to Freewriting, try a process that we call ‘rubber logic.’ This involves taking an absurd proposition/idea and then trying to justify it logically. Get a pen and paper and come up with a ridiculous idea and then try to build on it.
For example, say you want to do a giveaway for your business but you don’t know what to give. Choose something ridiculous like a flock of pigeons to give away, and then try to go through the process step by step.
“Okay, so the first step would be to get a hold of the pigeons. As far as I know, you can’t buy pigeons from a store so I am going to have to capture them. But how do I do that? I will first need to buy a big cage and then set it up in a park. Then I would probably put a trail of food from the outside of the cage into the centre of the cage and wait for the pigeons to enter…”
Keep going with this process until you have a hair-brained scheme. Remember, this process is simply a way to open up your creative muscles. You aren’t actually going to use any of these ideas, but you will use the same muscles when you are working on actual problems. If you think that you can’t train your problem-solving skills then you are incorrect. You can absolutely get better at problem solving with exercises that force you to think in abstract ways.
2. Change your environment
Our blog about how your work environment affects your performance discussed something very important. Your work area has a direct effect on your ability to think clearly and effectively. A research study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that a person’s brain ‘power’ will be spent on processing the numerous items in an unclean workspace, and therefore not be spent on the task at hand.
In addition to this, a study in 2013 published by the journal of environmental psychology found that dim lighting helped improve creativity.
“The priming studies revealed that the effect can occur outside of people’s awareness and independent of differences in visibility. Second, two additional studies tested the underlying mechanism and showed that darkness elicits a feeling of being free from constraints and triggers a risky, explorative processing style.”
– Freedom from constraints: Darkness and dim illumination promote creativity (Journal of Environmental Psychology Volume 35, September 2013, Pages 67–80)
Don’t be afraid to do some rearranging of your working area in order to come up with some new ideas.
In addition to changing the lighting and workspace, it is also worthwhile to completely abandon your workspace and get into nature. There is something about walking in nature with no distractions of smart phones and computers that triggers the best ideas.
3. Be Consistent
There is a great video on Entrepreneur.com (www.entrepreneur.com/video/240111) by Jason Fell where he talks to James Clear about creativity. In this video, James Clear talks about a piece of advice that Jerry Seinfeld once gave to a fellow comedian who was coming up in the business and wanted some tips.
When asked ‘how to be a better comedian’ Jerry responded by saying that writing every day was the key. If you set aside 10 minutes every day to write down jokes, after a year you will have a plethora of material to choose from. This consistency ensures that eventually you will create brilliant jokes.
The same principle applies for all creative ideas. Whether you are writing ideas for your business or for a novel, consistency is what brings out the great ideas. Creativity is sometimes a very methodical process. It is not always a mystical moment where you are in the shower and a brilliant idea hits you (although, this does happen too). Sometimes a great idea comes after writing down ideas for two weeks in-between coffees on a random Thursday morning.
Creativity is like any other skill in that both patience and practice are required to make it flourish. Don’t underestimate the potential of your own creativity. The worst thing you can do is not trust your own ability to come up with new and innovative ideas for your particular field of interest. Your greatest asset is the untapped well of your creative genius.