What exactly is creativity, and why even bother with enhancing your creativity? Some people think creativity only involves thinking in abstract terms about ambiguous concepts. On the contrary, the type of creativity that is valuable in business is original thinking channeled to respond to significant needs and organized and controlled to result in effective and productive outcomes.
In a business setting, I define creativity as coming up with new ideas, performing tasks in a different way or thinking of alternative approaches to solving existing problems. Creativity is an important skill in any job, but especially for an entrepreneur who must wear many hats in his or her business. In fact, creativity now is considered an important enough business skill (and one that has been sorely neglected in favor of analytical skill development) that many business schools at U.S. universities are adding an emphasis on developing creativity.
Developing your creative edge can give you the ability to think in innovative ways and allow you to be open to alternative ways of making business decisions.
Creativity can help you devise solutions to meet your customers' needs and develop new and different ways to promote and market your products. And, when you come up with a creative solution, you are less likely to be batting heads against one of your competitors, either for price or for a comparable product or offer. A well developed sense of creativity can mean the difference between being a slow plodder who gets the job done and a successful business owner.
Everyone is naturally creative, some more so than others, and each individual is creative in a different way. For example, you may be amazed by the creativity of an advertising campaign you see on television or local billboards and think you could never be so creative. I, on the other hand, am awestruck by the ideas and vision of many interior designers I meet when I see the beautiful living spaces they have created and know I couldn't possibly design such beauty.
Here are some techniques to help you develop your creativity or get yourself "unstuck" when you are working on a specific task and need some ideas to start thinking creatively.
Usually, being more creative just involves looking at what you already know at a new angle. Once you get good at it, you can apply it to any area of your life, whether it be business or non-business.
• Get ideas wherever you look. Be open to finding ideas anywhere in your daily routine. Read the local newspaper and look at the advertising for other industries. Go window shopping and explore local stores.
• Be willing to borrow. Some of your best ideas may come from seeing an idea in a different industry or adapting a concept you have seen in another city or country.
Be aware that you can find ideas in unusual places-even while watching television shows, when you're listening to your friends in a casual discussion or daydreaming while you're drinking a latte at a local coffee shop.
• Be open minded as to where you might find ideas, even in places you least expect to find creativity. Sometimes I pick up a magazine that covers a topic I am totally uninterested in (for example, auto mechanics), and amazingly enough I'll find some interesting ideas that can apply to other fields.
Or I'll spend a half hour browsing in the business district of an ethnic neighborhood I have never shopped in. Whenever you take yourself out of the comfort zone you're used to, you'll be exposed to new ideas and ways of getting things done-and you probably will pay more attention to what you see because you're not filtering out what's already familiar.
For example, I recently saw an advertisement for a bank that was promoting home loans. The ad capitalized on the headline, "Maybe avocado green just isn't your color anymore" and showed a dated avocado green kitchen. What a great idea for a headline for a retailer in the home fashions field.
When you come up with a creative solution, you are less likely to be batting heads against one of your competitors, either for price or for a comparable product or offer.
In a trade magazine geared to printers and marketing managers, I saw an ad for a graphic design company whose headline read, "Maybe it's time to seek professional help." Another great headline for an interior designer!
While traveling on a business trip, I wandered through a small shopping mall. A local clothing store was having a combination open house/charity art auction. The store owner solicited original art from local artists, which it showcased on the store's walls. The public was invited to come in and view the art, then a huge auction was held to sell it with proceeds benefiting a local charity.
This type of event definitely would increased local visibility for a store and generate free publicity from local newspapers because of the charity angle. Another great idea for a home fashions store!
• Give yourself a break. Sometimes your brain may be overtaxed or your focus gone for a while. Let yourself take a break. Run errands, cook dinner, take yourself out for coffee or a snack, even sleep on it. At the very least, your brain will be refreshed and ready to focus when you come back. Often, amazingly enough, you'll come up with a fresh, new idea when you've stopped consciously thinking about the challenge at hand.
• Get as much information as you can about the problem or issue at hand. When you're working on a specific problem, for example a client's particular window covering challenge, try to get every piece of information available. Sometimes the information or opinions that seem peripheral or simply background information, can help you solve the problem.
• Talk to a variety of people. When you're trying to solve a specific problem, talk to anyone at all involved with the problem and even some people who are innocent bystanders-whether their involvement is as a customer, a supplier, an installer, an ad agency, a printer or a newspaper.
• Be willing to brainstorm with a friend or family member. Often brainstorming with someone who has distance from your business and your immediate challenge is best.
First of all, you'll have to explain the situation to them, which helps to crystallize the issues and focus your thoughts. Second, they'll have a totally unbiased and fresh outlook you may not have been able to see because you were looking too closely at it. You were seeing the trees instead of the big-picture forest.
• Write down everything you can think of. It helps to start by writing down everything you know about the situation: what are the problems you need to solve, what are some potential solutions and what's positive or negative about each one, who might be able to provide you with more information, who do you need to satisfy or attract?
• Don't worry about coming up with the most creative solution ever devised. It is unlikely that an idea you come up with will be totally original and never tried before in the world. It's a big world out there, with a zillion different industries and market areas.
Whenever I thought I had come up with the absolutely most creative and newest concept every created, it never failed that within the next six months I would discover, just in casual reading or viewing, at least several other uses of what I had thought was my original idea.
• Don't get stressed out by the fear of failure. Think positively about the fact that you will solve your problem; after all, you have in the past. Thinking about failure will immobilize you from any creative thoughts.
• Last of all, just get started! Sometimes the most difficult part of starting a new project-especially a creative piece of your marketing program-is just getting started. When I get starter's block, I just make myself get going. Sometimes I'll just write down everything I know about the project, even if I know I'm not starting at the beginning. Start in the middle, with some of the details of the project, and then the grand beginning will come to you at some point.
In your jobs, it is important to be creative-both in devising solutions for your customers' needs and also in figuring out new ways to promote and market your products. Recognize that creativity is a part of all of us-including you-then harness it. The more you develop your abilities in how to be more creative, the more creative you will become, and the more you can direct your creative skills to become effective in your work. Now, just get started!
Kay Pegram is founder of Kaymar Communications, a Playa del Ray, CA-based independent marketing services firm for companies in window fashions and other industries. Pegram's previous window coverings industry experience includes serving eight years at LouverDrape and as director of marketing for the Tempo companies.