What’s the secret weapon that will give a business an unfair advantage over its competitors?
No, we’re not talking industrial espionage or insider trading. We are referring to creativity. Here are 6 tips for how to make your business more creative. (there are many more in our book!)
1. Celebrate mistakes. It’s okay to fail. In fact it’s a valuable part of the creative process and those who have many successes tend to have had more failures along the way. The point is to reduce the downside of failing so it won’t kill you. Find ways to reward small risks, perhaps with a prize for the bravest ideas.
2. Slip into something less comfortable. We all have things we feel comfortable doing and tend to avoid the other stuff. But it’s the other stuff that often allows us to think in new ways, so break your routine, talk to people you don’t normally talk to, and make it a goal to try something that scares you at least once every few days.
3. Learn how to play. It’s usually business or pleasure, but to be creative you need to have both because the more you can let go, the more fun you’ll have and the more likely you’ll come up with unexpected ideas. Use music, humour and games to shake things up and help you and others think in new ways.
4. Try some Idea Spaghetti. Quantity of ideas is the single biggest predictor of creativity, so don’t wait for the Big One: keep generating as many ideas as you can, by questioning what you see around you and thinking of ways to improve them. Set yourself a daily goals for the number of ideas you want to come up and write them up in a notebook
5. Flood your brain. Creativity is about making connections, often between two completely unrelated things. So it stands to reason that if you can feed your brain with a lot of different stimuli you’ll have a greater chance of making connections. Make sure you read, watch, listen and do to a wide variety of things as often as you can.
6. Collaborate. “Plays well with others” applies now even more it did on the school report. It’s almost impossible to bring good ideas to life without partnering with outsiders, so we should be less paranoid about signing NDAs and more willing to collaborate with people who share a common vision and can add expertise we don’t have.
Creativity is not something that can be managed in the traditional sense, and that can make many business people, used to having control, feel a little uncomfortable. The best we can hope for is to manage for it. Robert Sutton, professor of science and engineering at Stanford University, says: “Managing for creativity, I’ve discovered, means taking most of what we know about management and standing it on its head. It means placing bets on ideas without much heed to the projected ROI. It means ignoring what has worked before. It means taking perfectly happy people and goading them into fights among themselves. Good creativity management means hiring the candidate you have a gut feeling against. And as for those people who stick their fingers in their ears and chant, ‘I’m not listening, I’m not listening,’ when customers are making suggestions? It means praising and promoting them.”
While it’s not always easy being making creativity a part of everyday business, in a world in which it is difficult to maintain differentiation without innovation it’s a necessary part of business life. As Richard Branson, who wrote the foreword to the book, says it’s about having a spirit of adventure. “Catch the cow, Ricky,” his mum used to tell him, “If you want some milk you can’t just sit in the middle of a field waiting for a cow to come to you, you’ve got to go and catch it and milk it yourself.”