You’re on your way to a major business presentation. It’s all on you to land this huge new client. You’re mere blocks away from their office when it hits you: You forgot the jump drive with the presentation back at your desk. You don’t have a copy floating conveniently in the cloud, either.
So what are you going to do?
In this kind of situation (and yes, they happen to all of us), being creative on the fly can make the difference between sealing the deal and taking a rain check -- which could cost you the whole account.
I believe an entrepreneur’s ability to be creative and adapt has a direct impact on the success of his or her business. Fail to innovate, and you’ll be left behind.
As a quintessential left-brain, creativity isn’t my forte. But I’ve found ways to flex my creative muscle, awakening the right side of my cranium a little bit at a time.
Here are seven ways you, too can learn to be more creative.
1. Steal -- em, I mean, borrow - from others.
Nothing is original. Every idea out there, from a great work of art to a classic novel, was influenced by something else. Keep your creative juices flowing fresh by being a rabid consumer (and sometimes borrower) of other people’s work.
Of course, this doesn’t mean or passing off someone else’s work as your own. If you see a fantastic article in the New York Times, for example, you might write a blog post or opinion piece sharing your own take on the topic at hand. Or, If you love the style of a particular photographer, you might practice it yourself, tweaking certain elements to make the photos your own.
Austin Kleon has a great post about “stealing like an artist” here.
2. Keep a notepad (or notes app) handy at all times.
Most of the ideas for what I write about on my blog come to me either while I’m driving or right before I drift off to sleep -- both times when my brain is doing its own free-flowing thing.
Instead of thinking, "I’ll remember this later" (you won’t), quickly jot down those spur-of-the-moment ideas in your notebook or notes app so they don’t slip away into the abyss.
3. Believe that no idea is too small.
Write down anything and everything in your notebook, even if it seems silly or miniscule.
Anytime something inspires me, whether it’s a quote or a new song or something someone says in passing, I write it down. Don’t believe me? Here’s a line-item breakdown of the notes in my phone’s notes app at the moment:
- #Goals: a random list of things I want to get done this year
- Daring greatly: a quote I loved from this episode of the Being Boss podcast
- Happy chew: a concept idea for a healthy eating blog
- Backpack: an affiliate marketing opportunity I heard about
- Pitbulls: another blog idea
- I don’t like it, I love it: this song by Flo Rida, told you I save everything
- Pitch guest posts: a reminder to myself
- Not being a perfectionist: a comment from a friend that I liked
I come back to these notes all the time when I’m feeling a creativity drought. They often spark ideas for things to write about, new projects to begin and different angles at which to tackle projects.
4. Have a meeting of the minds.
When you’re an entrepreneur, your social life has a way of taking a backseat to, well, everything else, but it’s such a critical ingredient to staying creative.
I admittedly don’t spend as much time with friends as I should. When I do, though, I always walk away feeling refreshed, re-energized and full of new ideas.
Once a week, try to schedule coffee, lunch or drinks with someone purely for pleasure. If you end up talking business, fine, but don’t make it the main agenda item.
Talking with a like-minded pal has a way of giving your own ideas new dimension. You’ll find they often point out details or offer suggestions you hadn’t thought of yourself.
5. Do a brain dump.
If I have a massive task ahead of me and don’t know where to start, I’ll do a brain dump. I open a blank Word document and write down everything I can think of about the project in bullet-point form.
This could include requirements I need to check off, smaller tasks I need to accomplish or vague ideas I want to explore along the way.
Once everything is on the page, it’s much easier to identify categories and start to organize things. You might create one category for to-do’s, one category for deadlines, other categories for different phases of the project -- you get the gist.
6. Expand your horizons.
I am creature of habit. It’s so easy (and comfortable!) to stick to the same routine day after day, especially when things are going great for your business. But to give your creativity a shot in the arm, change things up.
Take a surfing lesson. Go to a poetry reading. Attend one of those neighborhood meetings you always blow off. Or, if you’re like me and too many commitments give you heart palpitations, do something different that requires even less personal investment: Shop at a different grocery store. Take a different route to work. Order a chai tea instead of a coffee. I mean, go nuts.
I recently learned that on a physiological level, our brains are delighted by novelty. That’s why they respond to unusual situations by reacting differently than normal, a.k.a. creative thinking.
7. Meditate. Or don’t.
Over the years I’ve heard so many people preach the benefits of meditation for bringing clarity and opening our minds to new ideas.
But for me, meditating sucks. I know “it’s a practice” and yada yada, but for all my trying, I simply can’t sit still with a clear and present mind for more than 30 seconds.
My theory? Some of us nurture peace of mind differently. For me it’s going on a long run, jumping in the ocean or taking a nap in the middle of the afternoon.
If you don’t meditate, don’t sweat it. Find what works for you to clear your mind.
Do you have hacks for forcing yourself to be more creative? I’d love to steal them. Share them with me on Twitter @TamiBrehse.