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Business Brainstorms

6 Ways to ignite your creative-thinking processes

Remember that exciting, lightning-flash moment when you conceived your first idea for a homebased business? That initial electric charge of creativity is often followed by bursts of energy that help you complete vital tasks and spur you on to make your business ideas become realities. Many experts feel that, rather than being a personality trait, creativity is a way of thinking that entrepreneurs can take advantage of to build their businesses in innovative and profitable ways.

The following suggestions are offered to help you make the most of creativity techniques in originating, developing and expanding your homebased business.

1. Explore creative-thinking methods. Creativity guru Edward De Bono says that creativity is like the reverse shift in a car. While you would not dream of driving along in reverse all the time, if you did not know how to use reverse, you would be unable to get out of blind alleys, thus limiting your general maneuverability.

In De Bono's SeriousCreativity: The Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas (HarperBusiness, $14, 800-242-7737), he states that in conventional vertical thinking, you take a position and then seek to build on that position. The next step you take depends on where you are in the first position. In lateral thinking we think sideways, rather than in a linear fashion (from one logical conclusion to the next), in order to try different perceptions, different concepts, and different points of entry-using various methods to get us out of the usual line of thought, which can sometimes become a rut. One way to do this is to pause before reaching a "logical" conclusion to ask yourself, "Is there another way I could do this?"

2. Think like an artist to "make friends" with failure. Patricia Sullivan, who has taught creativity techniques for 18 years in her own homebased business, The Sullivan Group, feels that her biggest revelations were accepting the value of risk-taking and realizing that creative solutions are often reached after much trial and error. She explains that students are taught in school that they succeed when they reach the "one right solution" and get an "A" or a 100 percent score.

"In business, people can't figure out why the 'single right solution' isn't just around the corner, like money found on the sidewalk," says Sullivan. "Today's advertising makes solutions seem instantly beautiful, clean and neat, when creativity is more likely a slow and often messy process."

Sullivan says an artist is likely to begin a painting with many starts, thinking of each different version as a different incarnation rather than as a failure. "When you are creating," advises Sullivan, "be accepting of your work's newness, and value the steps you are going through. An artist knows that if he lets something he doesn't like in one incarnation stop him, he'll never proceed to the final incarnation."

3. Let creativity help your business evolve. Being open to influences around you, as well as being receptive to the validity of each of the stages of your own creativity, can help you realize which business strengths you have. "When you put your work out to the public," says Sullivan, "their response can help lead you to the next step."

Tina Scott Lassiter, owner of The Business of Women's Business in New York City, watched her homebased business evolve through three distinct stages as she discovered her business strengths.

In her first business, Nouvelle Image Consulting, Lassiter accessorized homes, planned small parties, and helped clients choose professional clothing. "The creativity involved kept my motivation high," she recalls.

In 1992, operating under the business name of T. Scott Lassiter and Associates, Lassiter's business segued into the realm of public relations, concentrating more on "image development in events planning," in which she helped clients create marketing materials that reflected their unique personalities. But she soon found herself feeling confined in this new field. "Even though public relations is a creative field, I felt unproductive in my work because the passion wasn't there. I liked the writing," says Lassiter, "but the other noncreative business aspects of public relations were draining to me."

Finally, in 1995, after many glitches in refining and revamping her business, Lassiter returned to her original goal-building a primarily creative business-by originating The Business of Women's Business. This new entity is a personal- and professional-development business that coordinates special events and workshops targeted to a female audience-or to businesses that hope to reach this audience. She feels that her current business makes the most of her creativity while still effectively utilizing her business skills.

4. Choose a creative theme to help launch and grow your business. When Kellee Harris decided to open her own homebased marketing consulting company specializing in sports and fitness, she knew she had to have a dynamic marketing theme for her business. A sporting-goods corporate marketing manager for 15 years, the Portland, Oregon entrepreneur marveled at the creativity displayed in the marketing campaigns used by sporting-goods companies at trade shows she attended. "From a marketing perspective, I knew I needed a theme that would attract attention and create awareness right out of the chute," she says. "I needed a new company name that would make me different."

Harris continued to brainstorm, mulling over the words "market" and "marketing," hoping to conceive a winning name.

Then, Harris awoke at 3 a.m. one morning with the name "Market-Spark" on the tip of her tongue. She felt the word "spark" was an electric, positive-energy word which symbolized the excitement of ideas and also captured her own upbeat personality. Brainstorming with words like "electric," "energy" and "spark," she decided to use an image of a sparkler for her company logo.

"Once I got the lead, everything else began to fall into place," Harris recalls. Feeling that spark was "a scripty, jagged-edge kind of word," she designed a logo in hot pink and black that captured that description. Today, her newsletter, Web site and letterhead all feature this logo.

As her business grew, Harris continued to expand and reinforce her original idea. For her sideline speaking business, she chose to use her full name, Kellee Harris, followed by the tag line, "A Speaker with Spark." A quote from Dante-"From little sparks may burst a mighty flame"-appears on her postcards, and her answering-machine message concludes with "Keep the sparks flying."

5. Cross-pollinate your creativity. While an entrepreneur may be inclined to spend all his time working alone in the business, the stimulation of others' ideas is often one of the greatest enhancers of creativity, says Padi Selwyn, a homebased entrepreneur and the co-author of Living Your Life Out Loud (see "Worth Reading," above, for ordering information). "Homebased entrepreneurs need to constantly expose themselves to new ideas and the thoughts of others for cross-pollination of their own creativity," says Selwyn. She advises homebased business owners to form or seek contact with a "mentor" or "mastermind group," in which participants meet regularly to discuss and consider ideas. Her own mastermind group consists of five people who regularly work alone. "We meet and run ideas by each other, then serve as a sounding board," says Selwyn. "It's a great way to get creative ideas."

6. Break away from work so your ideas can marinate. For 16 years, the hand-painted fish Bri Matheson creates in his garage have graced T-shirts, bolo ties, jewelry, sculpture, and promotional materials for an international tuna company. On days when he's not feeling creative, Matheson spends a brief interval in his garden, takes an energizing walk, or goes skiing. "I find that changing my environment spurs me on to want to return to my artwork with fresh ideas," says Matheson.

Selwyn agrees. "Most exciting breakthroughs occur not when you are sitting at your desk, but rather when you are doing something pleasurable for yourself," she says. "For example, Art Frey, a 3M executive, got the idea for Post-It Notes while singing in his church choir. Velcro was born when a Swiss engineer took a walk to escape from his work. When a burr landed on him and stuck, he thought that it would make a great fastener."

Selwyn recommends taking at least a 30- to 45-minute block of uninterrupted time for ideas to marinate in your subconscious mind. "When you break away," says Selwyn, "be sure to take a 'capturing device' with you, such as a tape recorder or notebook."

Using creativity techniques can help your business advance during the downtimes when you most need that spark in order to move ahead. From the initial brainstorm through each subsequent sag in momentum, creativity techniques can jump-start your enthusiasm and keep you focused on the track to success.


Carolyn Campbell, a home-office entrepreneur for 20 years, has written more than 200 magazine articles.

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This article was originally published in the March 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Business Brainstorms.

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