As an entrepreneur, you often see things that other people don’t. Finding new, innovative solutions to everyday problems is the hallmark of entrepreneurship. But do you ever feel like you’re not creative enough?
It’s easy to think that creativity is a talent we’re born with, but modern thinking is headed in the other direction. We know now that creative thinking is a skill — one that can be acquired, practiced, and refined.
That’s good news. So when you’re feeling a little unimaginative, there are a few tricks you can employ to help inspire and boost your creative problem-solving. Here are five surefire ways to get started.
Get Outside and Moving
You can find study after study that proves it — walking and exercising improve creativity. In fact, one study found that creative output increased by as much as 60% when respondents got up and started walking. Studies have also shown that exercising regularly (not just when you need a mental spark) has a positive impact on creative thinking.
When you need an innovative solution, get up out of your chair and get moving. Whether you take a walk, head to a yoga class, or invest in a treadmill desk, getting the blood flowing is one of the easiest ways to get a quick boost of creativity.
It’s no coincidence that many of our great American novels were written from a cabin in the middle of the forest — the restorative power of spending time in nature has a big impact on our creative juices. An oft-cited interior design rule holds that simply looking at the color green is enough to boost ingenuity. So instead of painting your office meadow green, just head outside for an hour or two.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to bring a notebook or other way to record any bursts of creative genius that happen along the way.
Ask More Questions
Creativity is born out of problem-solving. We use our imagination to dream up unique solutions to the conflicts we face. Solving a new problem inherently leads us to questions. As humans, it’s in our nature to seek answers. That’s why positing the problem you need to solve as a question (rather than a statement) naturally elicits a musing state of mind.
‘We need more sales’ becomes ‘How can we sell more of our product?’ How have other people solved this problem? What if we employ X solution? What’s another way of looking at this? How will this factor affect annual sales?
Asking questions is the first step, but being open to multiple, varying answers is the ultimate key. In the quest for a solution, it’s easy to take the first answer as scripture, and that’s limiting. While your first idea may end up being the best, it could also be the gateway to an even more inventive solution.
Pro tip: Let questions evolve into a web of inquiry. One-off question and answers will rarely lead to the depth of analysis that spurs truly creative solutions.
Train for Creativity
It’s often thought that creativity is a talent — something people are born with and a trait that you either possess or don’t. However, that may not be the case. Recent research has shown that novel thinking is a practice — one that can (and must) be cultivated and developed.
The best way to become more inventive is to practice creativity. Making a point to train your creative mind can make a huge difference in boosting your imagination.
One of the hardest habits to break is self-editing. Avoiding premature criticism is an absolute key when problem-solving. Practice brainstorming and noting every single idea that comes to your mind. While some may have valid criticisms, acknowledging the idea can lead you down a new path and another potential solution.
Another way to train your creative self is to tap into that part of your brain more frequently. Prioritize originality and following your inspiration by sketching, journaling, even fun outings like a paint ‘n sip.
Pro tip: To get in the right frame of mind, try the 30 circles test. Tim Brown talks about this one in his TED talk.
Shake Up Your Routine
A strict routine can often be the death of inventiveness and novelty. The same routine, the same schedule, the same problem-solving process — they all lead to the same answers. That’s why shaking up your normal work pattern can do wonders for creativity. Exploring new processes forces your brain to think about things that have become automatic and create new pathways in the brain that bolster creative thinking.
Experimenting with new ways of working can also help you find your creative sweet spot. Once you get to know your own patterns and rhythms, you’ll be better equipped to create the best environment for innovation right on the spot.
Shaking up your usual routine doesn’t have to be a huge deal either — try working from a different location, hitting the gym at lunch instead of at the end of the day, getting up a few hours earlier or staying up a little later, shifting your ‘weekend’ days… As an entrepreneur, you have almost endless flexibility, so take advantage of it.
Pro tip: Make a routine of shaking up your routine. Prioritize trying something new at least once a month and keep what works.
Build the Right Environment
About that optimal creative environment… everyone has one. The right mix of noise level, distractions, light, scents, etc. can make a huge different for ingenuity. For example, when I need to be my most creative self, I light a cinnamon-scented candle, turn on ambient rain background noise, and use FocusWriter to clear my screen of distractions.
Now, that environment might not work for everyone. Some people will do better with dimmed lighting or outside in a quiet park. Finding your own sweet spot means getting to know yourself and your natural rhythms, as well as doing the kind of experimenting we talked about in the last section.
Next time you need to tap into some serious creative juice, pay attention to what’s blocking you — is it the email notifications interrupting you? Or that car screeching by outside? Now find out how to block those blockers.
You should also pay attention to what’s going on around you when those random bursts of creativity hit. Is it at 1am when you can’t fall asleep? Brainstorming with colleagues? Emulate those elements for a boost of innovation whenever you need it.
Pro tip: You can read about what works for other people, but the real trick involves plenty of introspection — find out who you work.
Cultivate Your Natural Creativity
Creativity is a vital part of being an entrepreneur and finding innovative solutions to common problems — but you don’t have to be born with it. Using the tricks above, you can train your brain to think more inventively and develop the creativity your business needs.