Creativity and innovation are at the core of successful small businesses.
But what if you don’t consider yourself to be the so-called creative type?
You might be more of a number-cruncher, a tech expert, a project manager or a salesman. Maybe you think coming up with colorful, creative ideas just isn’t something you were cut out to do.
Stop telling yourself lies!
Most of the innovative ideas in this country come from small companies and startups. That’s because most large corporations are resistant to any sort of change. You need to bring creativity into the workplace at your small business – otherwise you probably won’t survive.
We’ve all come to believe a bunch of baloney concerning our creative abilities, as well as who is creative and who is not. If you want to know the truth…just keep reading.
Myth #1 – Creativity is Something You’re Born With
It’s the old Nature versus Nurture debate once again…
There actually are some studies indicating there may be certain genes connected to creative thinking. However, this only indicates that perhaps creativity comes a little easier for some than others.
That’s true with a lot of things. Your brother may be able to beat you in a footrace every time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t become a faster runner.
Most experts agree that creativity is not a genetic trait, which you either have or do not. It is much more like a muscle that grows stronger the more you use it and more flexible when you stretch it.
The ultimate truth here is that creativity is something you’re born with. We all are! As little kids we are extremely imaginative as we play. As we grow up, we get serious and stop playing. Our creative muscles get weaker and weaker.
I love watching my three year-old son play pretend. He turns the living room into a swimming pool of couch cushions and pillows. Magic markers become rocket ships, bowls become hats and just about anything can be an electric guitar.
The other day, he dragged an empty laundry basket into the kitchen exclaiming “This is a bath!”
Without thinking, my wife corrected him and said “A bath? Max, that’s a laundry basket, silly. You know that.” Then he hopped inside and showed her that in his imagination, he could take a bath in the laundry basket.
Pablo Picasso said it best:
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Myth #2 – Creativity is Only for Artsy People
Picasso wasn’t creative because he was an artist. He was an artist because he was creative.
Wouldn’t you say great thinkers from Aristotle to Einstein were also creative? Would you deny the fact that inventors like Thomas Edison or businessmen like Henry Ford were creative? No.
Yet practically by default, we associate creativity with the arts. If we hear someone is creative, we automatically assume they must be a painter, musician, comedian or someone like Don Draper in Mad Men.
A general manager I worked for at a printing company was known for meeting with the marketing department and saying things like “I’m not creative. I know about print, not this stuff.”
However, he was constantly coming up with new ideas for products and asking lots of questions about better ways to do things. What he really meant was he felt like he didn’t know anything about marketing. He had creative thoughts all the time. He had so many – the marketing team sometimes felt overwhelmed!
Creativity doesn’t have to be artsy. It can be technical. It can be strategical. It’s all about seeing things differently and solving problems in a different/better way.
I’d be willing to bet that most engineers are just as creative as most artists.
Myth #3 – Creativity Happens in the Right-Side of Your Brain
Another falsehood most of us have believed for a long time is that creative thinking is done with the right hemisphere of your brain alone.
Sometimes people will claim they are “left-brained thinkers” if they need an excuse for feeling uncreative. A truly creative person is going to need to use their entire brain to get the job done.
The right hemisphere of your brain is indeed important for outside-of-the box thinking. That’s where you get your amazing ideas. But that’s only the beginning. You still need the logical, left hemisphere to bring your ideas into reality.
Rober von Oech, author of a book on creativity called A Whack on the Side of the Head… explains that the best creative thinkers have minds in which the right-side and left-side work together very well.
Thinking outside-of-the-box is cool. But to truly be creative, you need to take the box apart and then build something new when you put it back together.
Myth #4 – Creativity Can be Motivated Through Money, Fear and Restraints
A 2004 article from FastCompany, dispels a boat-load of creativity myths. That includes some interesting insights into what small business owners should and shouldn’t do to inspire creativity within their companies.
It’s not necessarily wrong to reward creativity. However, dangling a carrot in front of people in order to jump-start innovation just won’t work. You’ll find most people are actually yearning for the chance to be creative anyway. Bill Breen of FastCompany wrote:
“People want the opportunity to deeply engage in their work and make real progress. So it’s critical for leaders to match people to projects not only on the basis of their experience but also in terms of where their interests lie. People are most creative when they care about their work and they’re stretching their skills. “
Another thing to consider…start rewarding people for creative contributions and they may hold back their ideas until they know they’re going to get paid extra.
The fear of facing a new challenge at work can also inhibit creativity. That goes against what many of us believe.
We think that challenges force us to “get out of our comfort zone” and come up with new, more efficient ways of doing things. Breen found the opposite in his research and believes tough times, like dealing with the threat of downsizing, will hurt creativity:
“Anticipation of the downsizing was even worse than the downsizing itself — people’s fear of the unknown led them to basically disengage from the work. More troubling was the fact that even five months after the downsizing, creativity was still down significantly.”
Of course, there may be times that layoffs are unavoidable. Make sure the people you work with still feel comfortable if you want them to keep being creative.
There is room in the creative process for feeling uncomfortable. But someone who is at peace is much more likely to be innovative than someone who is worrying all the time.
Pressure, like time restraints, won’t encourage creativity either.
I spent five years working as a TV producer who put together an hour-long 5 pm newscast. Every day, I was facing a looming deadline while working with reporters and anchors, writing scripts, delegating duties to video editors and graphic artists. It could be a wild ride.
Now when I look back at that part of my career, my one regret is that I wasn’t being more creative.
However, I was occasionally given the chance to produce special programming with meteorologists in the weather department. These were 30-minute specials instead of 60 minute newscasts. Plus, I had weeks to put them together instead of the six hours in between the morning editorial meeting and the start of the 5 pm show.
In our post on coming up with a big idea, we explained how ideas need time to marinate in your mind. Rushing things may get the job done faster, but will it be done better?
Want your employees to be more creative? Give them some extra room to breath.
Myth #5 – Creativity Isn’t Needed in Your Industry
You’re a plumber. You’re a financial adviser. You run a janitorial service. Sure, creativity is important if you’re a teacher working with kids, a lawyer trying to win a case or a doctor diagnosing a mysterious illness. But not your job. Creativity is for the folks in marketing.
Another big fat lie! Every kind of career can use more creativity.
The plumber may need to think creatively to figure out what got stuck in the pipes and how to get it out.
The financial adviser may come up with creative ways for clients to invest or get out of debt.
The janitor might think of a more efficient way to clean a building from top to bottom. Or he could even invent a new solution that gets gum out of carpets.
Look for the problems in your industry, and then try to solve them. Find out what would make things better for your customers, and then find a way to make it work.
Just remember, in order to be creative, you have to create! Amazing ideas are nothing until you bring them to life.