Entrepreneurs are creative people. It’s often the free-thinking souls among us who start their own company to escape the confining, uninspiring environment of working for someone else. And once you’re in business, one breakthrough idea can change the direction of your company overnight.
Creativity has been studied by scientists and artists alike, and some of the experts have discovered some very useful ways to help you become more creative. These methods are good for any entrepreneur, but particularly for those who code, write, design, or create for a living.
In this post we reveal seven of the best strategies, ranging through three broad groups – the mindset, the techniques, and the online tools you need.
Let’s get started!
1. Embrace Your Creativity
Many people are convinced that you’re either born creative or you’re not – but that’s not exactly true. Even something as mundane as cooking can be very inventive. Instead of telling yourself you’re not creative, try to accept and embrace the fact that you are creative, and develop your creative habits intentionally.
Research published by the American Psychological Association confirms this, and suggests the following tactics:
- Record your ideas: Even if you have to use a napkin. Doing so stimulates the subconscious to keep providing new ones.
- Challenge yourself: Take on impossible, imaginary challenges to get out of mental ruts. Imagine how to make skyscrapers fly, or to make suitcases pack themselves, for example.
- Sleep on it: Very often new solutions and ideas occur to us in dreams, or in the hypnogogic state between sleep and waking.
- Get happy: Depression kills creativity, whereas positive emotions encourage a more loose-knit approach to problem-solving and innovation.
2. Shake Up Your Mental Habits.
“We tend to think about things in habitual ways, overlooking the secondary, more imaginative ways to use them,” says Susan K Perry at Psychology Today. Shake things up by placing deliberate constraints and challenges in the way of your creative job. For example, limiting your time or space to come up with something will often spark fresh, new ideas.
3. Take a Walk
Research conducted at Stanford University confirms that taking a walk can boost creativity. Sometimes all it takes is a short stroll to get that aha! moment. It’s old-fashioned, but it works.
4. Meditate or Clear Your Mind
The results of a study published in Science Daily involving 40 individuals, many of whom had never meditated before, showed that meditating for just 25 minutes can significantly promote creative thinking.
5. Get Into a Creative Frame of Mind
Try one of these simple tricks to get into the creative state of mind:
- Switch off everything and cut yourself off from all interference – silence is golden.
- Go somewhere new – a factory, a garbage dump, or the countryside can act as a catalyst.
- Play, and have some fun.
- Create psychological or physical distance between the task and yourself – often what’s needed is a different point of view.
- Stimulate a mood or a powerful emotion to trigger creativity.
6. Utilize a Creativity Technique
Experts in creativity have come up with a quite a number of different formal techniques to solve problems and flush ideas out of the woodwork. Some of them work best in team situations, like a classic brainstorming session – though even that can work when you’re on your own. Here are some of the best techniques:
Bob Eberle explored the notion that everything new is merely a modification of something that already exists. It’s a sentiment shared by Steve Jobs, who said:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
Eberle’s technique has a few variations, but the basic idea is taking one key concept and modifying it in various ways to stimulate new creative outcomes.
Each letter in the acronym represents a different way you can play with new ideas:
- Substitute: What happens if we switch two things around?
- Combine: What if we add this these two things together?
- Adapt: Is there another use? Can we invent one?
- Modify: What can you emphasize, hide, or change?
- Put to Other Uses: A brick can be a paperweight. A shoe can be a doorstop.
- Eliminate: What can we delete – and what does that do?
- Rearrange (or Reverse): Why not turn it upside down?
Edward De Bono originated the term “lateral thinking”, wrote the book The Six Thinking Hats, and is a proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools. He said:
“We really need to stop considering thinking as simply ‘intelligence in action’ and think of it as a skill that can be developed by everyone.”
In the Six Thinking Hats technique, you put on a figurative hat, think only what the hat lets you to think, then switch it up. Forcing yourself to limit your thinking can lead to interesting new connections in the mind. The hats are as follows:
- Blue Hat: The organizer and planner. The big picture.
- White Hat: The facts only. What do I know, and what else do I need to know?
- Green Hat: The creative. The free flow of associations. All possibilities.
- Yellow Hat: The optimist. All the pros – none of the cons.
- Black Hat: The pessimist. Just the cons and risks.
- Red Hat: The emotions. Feelings, intuitions, and hunches.
Lateral thinking has become a common term for thinking out of the box, finding alternative angles, and taking unconventional approaches. It’s unlike the usual linear, logical approach to thinking.
Another technique uses random words, images, and ideas (which are not connected to your problem or desired outcome) to stimulate your mind to make new connections. This will often kick up unexpected and creative thinking.
If those don’t work for you, here’s a useful list containing many more techniques to choose from.
7. Use an Online Tool as a Creativity Prompt
There are a number of online resources that act as prompts to spark your creativity:
- Need an idea for a blog article? Portent’s Content Idea Generator gives creative entrepreneurs title ideas to tweak and make your own.
- The Idea Lottery from Idea Champions generates random connections between words using a grid format to spark new trains of thought.
- Creativity Games has a simple random word generator to stimulate lateral thinking.
- The imagination prompt generator might be useful for stimulating writing ideas in a pinch.
- Or, if you’re open to random suggestions to solving a tricky problem, try digging into the magic sandbox from Idea Sandbox.
- The Creativity Pool contains hundreds of unused ideas for products uploaded by creative entrepreneur from all over the world. Some are terrible, but you might find a gem of inspiration between all the rest.
There’s nothing quite like it when the creative juices flow and you’re visited by inspiration, but to quote Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” It’s not always just about sitting back and waiting for the ideas to come – it’s more like a relentless hunt, and a lucky find. Nevertheless, it is possible to actually develop the habit of creativity.
It starts with creating the kind of mental space that welcomes creativity into your life. While hard work is always an ingredient, forcing yourself and creating stress in the process is counterproductive. Once your mindset is in order, you can use one or more of the many creativity techniques and tools in the list, or even invent your own!
When all else fails, click through one of the links to the online creativity tools we’ve provided here – it might just give you the angle you’ve been looking for.