Have you ever wondered how to grow your business and beat your competition? Have you ever wished that you could think of new services or products or adapt old ones to make your customers happier? It’s time to stop wondering and wishing and time to unleash your creativity and ensure your business grows as it should.
We are all more creative than we realise, our brains are designed that way. We want to solve problems and our minds are crowded with ideas. However, when it comes to business we often think that only a few, special people are creative and stop believing we can copy them whenever we wish. All it takes is some daily practise to get us back to our creative roots and from there we can use them to solve problems in a more effective way and grow our business easily.
Perhaps you’re not convinced. If that’s the case then read on and I am sure I will change your mind. If you are convinced then you are probably already scanning ahead for the first of the exercises which will get you started.
As you read through this article you have 2 choices; you can do each exercise as you read about it or you can read the whole thing then go back and do the exercises. Please yourself but please give this a try because I know you will be amazed by the results you will get in just a week or two and how you will find bold ways to grow your business successfully.
When you are focusing on your business (whether it exists or is still getting started) you fill up your work time with tasks, with necessary tasks but also with tasks which fill the time but don’t help you to create a unique business which attracts plenty of your ideal customers.
The first exercise in getting back to your creative roots is to take some time every day just to sit quietly and think about your business without writing anything down or getting up to do any tasks at all.
You don’t need to spend a lot of time at first – 5-10 minutes is enough – and don’t give me that old excuse that you don’t have time – everyone has a spare 5 or 10 minutes a day. I find the best time to do this is before I get started for the day but you can schedule it for any time that works best for you. But before you wander off and decide yes I must do that later please reread the previous sentence and spot the important word. You must schedule this time every day and it must be the same time every day or it will not develop into a habit and it will get overlooked.
Hey, you’re only spending 5 to 10 minutes a day and I am not suggesting anything awful – just that you sit quietly and think about your business.
What are you going to think about? Well that’s up to you but I try not to structure my thinking too much – I like to just gently relax my breathing and then scan through some of the thoughts whizzing through my brain as they relate to my business. It may be about things I have seen or read or a problem I want to solve. Doing it this way will allow your creativity to awaken and this is what will help you grow your business.
Red alert warning – don’t sit there thinking about the tasks you should or could be doing. They are going to happen anyway in 5 or 10 minutes so let them go and instead think about the bigger picture or problem which you want to solve for your customers. And the great thing is; that the more you do this the easier it becomes and the more useful it will be. You can also spend longer than this time but at first go gently and just get into the habit of regular, scheduled, quiet time.
Be a daydreamer
Your brain is full of incredible ideas and information. It has millions of filing drawers stuffed full of them and it really wants to analyse them, match them and create more interesting thoughts. The trouble is, you want to focus on activity and you don’t give it a chance to do this creative work except when you sleep. That’s why dreams can be so crazy – your brain is unleashed to mix up ideas and make a different view of your world.
Learn to go back to being a daydreamer so that while you are still awake you can utilise the magic of allowing your brain to help you to solve problems and grow your business. Daydreaming can be more focused than quiet time and if it is future based and includes your goals then it will be more likely to help you develop useful ideas. If you’re not sure what to do here’s an activity that might help.
Creating a wish list – Sit down and create a list of wishes about your business in your mind. Everything is acceptable. Try to have more than 20 of them if you can – some may be small and some big. Now, just let your mind wander as you think about how it would feel if your wish came true and see if ideas pop up about how this could happen. Write down anything which seems useful or different because you might want to use it later.
Take it a step further
By now if you are giving yourself the time to be quiet and to daydream then you might be looking for more a more structured way to improve your creativity. This involves looking for opportunities to practise more often and involves curiosity.
Have you ever thrown away a household appliance because it broke and wasn’t worth repairing or couldn’t be repaired? Did it ever occur to you to take it apart first? That’s curiosity at work. You can’t make it any worse but you might learn something more about how it actually works (take care not to take apart things with labels on them telling you it is dangerous to do so).
If you don’t have broken appliances then take an existing working one and think about how it could be made better. What if your toaster timer was connected to your stove so the toast and the eggs were cooked at the same time perfectly? Or if you prefer cold toast then how could the eggs be delayed so the toast was the right temperature?
Train your mind to think of new ideas by using this daily about products or services that you use. How could they be improved to make them more useful to you (and to others)? The more you utilise this technique then the quicker new ideas will come to you.
But what about in your business – what’s an exercise to do there to help you grow your business?
Start with a challenge in your business or one in setting up a business. Write down exactly what the challenge is. Rule a piece of paper into 3 columns then pick 3 of the more interesting words out of the challenge and write 1 of them at the top of each column. Now try to think of 8-10 alternative words for each of them and write these in the columns. Randomly combine words from each column to trigger new ideas. These ideas may have nothing to do with the words but may just flow from the stirring of your creative juices. (This exercise comes from Bryan Mattimore’s book Idea Stormers)
Become a collector
Becoming more creative can grow from being a collector of new ideas and resources. Do you spend time outside of working hours checking out what is going on in the world or do you just laze about being somewhat entertained by movies, programmes and social media?
Collecting is great fun – like a bird attracted to shiny objects you are free to be attracted by shiny ideas, shiny people and their businesses and shiny free resources like blogs, articles, ebooks and videos on youtube. You might not want to follow in Richard Branson’s footsteps but isn’t it interesting to find out what he is looking at next or how he got to where he is now?
You can collect ideas on your computer or phone via many different forms of social media or write them down on your devices or notebooks. If you are visual you can save them on Pinterest or if you prefer audio there are amazing podcasts to check out.
The important aspect of this is to allow these ideas and resources to stimulate your own creativity rather than just imitating what others are creating because that’s how you will grow your business. Here’s an activity to get you started.
Get a bunch of magazines together with a glue stick and a big piece of paper. Tear out pictures and words to create a collage of a problem or challenge you face right now. Now go back to the magazines and make another collage of how your business will look when the problem or challenge is solved. Put them side by side and think about what you could do to get from one to the other.
Think outside the box
Sadly, on a day to day basis we become boxed in by our beliefs and limitations and begin to make assumptions that there is only one way to run our business or to compete in the market for our ideal customers. This is absolutely not true and can hold you back from growing your business. You can use creativity to overcome these limitations and barriers and see your opportunities in a totally new way which will help you to grow your business right past your competitors.
Every successful business has a uniqueness which ensures it stands out in their customer’s minds and you need to be using creativity to develop your business uniqueness and once it is developed to ensure that your customers are involved with it too.
This means you have to think differently to your competitors and you have to engage with your customers in totally different ways too. Being a “me-too” no longer works so you have to be a “look at me” instead and growing and using your creativity will help you to find ways to do this. Here’s 2 activities to grow your outside the box thinking.
Start with a challenge you face (such as giving the best customer service) and make a list of the worst ideas you can think of to do this. You need truly dreadful ideas, maybe even illegal ones and you need as many as you can think of. Once you have finished the list you now need to turn them around in some way to turn them into good idea. It may not just be the opposite and will hopefully include some very original ideas which you could put in place.
The crazy idea game – this time you want to be in your customer’s head (or shoes) and make a list of everything you can think of that would make your experience of buying from your company an absolute pleasure. Go completely crazy please and take the ideas as far as you can. Once you have a cool list go back and check out if any of the ideas actually make sense and could be implemented.
Think outside the industry box
Whatever industry you are involved in there will be a set of norms – the way that things are done and always have been. It’s now time to disrupt these norms in the most effective way that you can so you can grow your business.
To do this you need to start by checking out all your competitors and focus on what they all do the same. It might be the way they deliver the service or product or the pricing structure that they all use. It might be the places they advertise or the way they treat their customers (good or bad).
Think about why they do this (it’s often just habit) and decide if it achieves the best result for the customer or not. Some of the norms will be best for the customer but others won’t be and you need to be able to spot the difference.
One way to do this is by taking one of these norms and stripping it down. What could you remove or eliminate to make it easier for customers (remember payment before paywave when we all thought we would always have to enter a pin number?)
Maybe you could substitute something else for it or modify it to make it more customer friendly. How could you improve it or could you create something new that would replace it?
What I am suggesting here is that you stop taking the easy road and following your competitors and instead you look for creative ways to improve your customer’s experience of buying from you – and of course your competitor’s customers might like these improvements too.
Every service and every product is better than when it was first introduced to the initial customers. You may be too young to remember dial up internet connections but believe me that service is now so much better. And of course improvements will never stop. We don’t watch movies on videos anymore or even on TV often, and just around the corner is the replacement for Netflix and others.
Take the opportunity to change your outlook on what are the “right” ways to do your business and you will not only grow your business but you may become an industry leader not a follower.
Stop doing, start playing
Creativity grows when you encourage your brain to think in challenging ways and playing and having fun are great ways to introduce new thinking. Aha you’re thinking – I can let loose with Candy Crush Saga and it will improve my creativity. Not so fast, the games need to be stimulating not mindlessly addictive. Puzzles are great and so are messy, experimental ideas involving household items or trying a new game. You can do anything which is fun and playful.
You will be surprised by how taking time out from tasks and having some play time will change your thinking and allow you to focus in a new way. Once the playing is over watch what happens when you problem solve in your business – suddenly it will be easier to think of ideas and solutions. And it’s from these ideas and solutions that your business will grow. Go on – give it a go and surprise yourself. Here’s a game you can play alone or in a team.
Get together a group of random objects from around the house and garage. Select 2 objects which don’t appear to have any relationship and find some way to link them. Once you have done this a few times try to think of a new object which could be created using 2 of the objects you have in front of you. It doesn’t matter how crazy it is because the more you play around with ideas the more likely you are to think of something which could be great.
It’s time to experiment
One of the most creative things you can do in your business is to trust your unconscious mind and stop the self-doubt that we all feel when we think of launching a new product or service. They say we have 2 critics; ourselves and those that care about us. We need to overcome our internal critic (it is very rarely satisfied so we need to be able to ignore it) and our belief that our external critics will point out any faults we or our business have. Actually, they are often really supportive if they can see that we are trying new ideas.
To help with managing the criticism it is useful to use the experimental technique for introducing new ideas. So now it isn’t a new product, service or business it’s just an experiment which you are trying out to check out what results you get. It takes away the need to be successful straight away and gives you a chance to make some mistakes without it being a disaster.
Instead of thinking of a launch as a big deal and getting all worried think of it as an experiment, another way of testing the market. By experimenting and repeating the experiment with small but important changes you can improve your service or product without fear because you can tell your customers that you are just experimenting. And people love to be involved in experiments so they will be excited to try it and give you feedback. Wow, how good is that!
Using experimentation to grow your business is an easier way of getting started and of introducing new services or products. But how do you get started in doing it?
Look around you and focus on what you think you could be doing in a more effective or more productive way. Choose 3 things that you could change today and start testing new ideas to do them differently. For example, if you always cook a meat in a certain way or a vegetable in the same way every time hunt down some ideas online and experiment with a new way of cooking them. Make notes on what works and what doesn’t.
Once you get more accomplished at experimenting then incorporate it into your business or business planning and check out how much easier it is to introduce new products or services.
Sharing creative ideas with others
For lots of successful business people new ideas flow better when they share creative times with other people. That’s fine if you have a bunch of people working with you but what if you don’t? What if you are an entrepreneur working away by yourself on an idea? Well then you need to be a bit more organised about your creativity.
Some time ago I heard of a group of people living and working in central Auckland who meet up once a week to share problems and solutions. They meet at the same time and place each week and take turns to bring a problem that they need help in solving and everyone shares creative ideas on resolving it.
Have you ever thought of involving your friends and family in a creativity event? Maybe meeting every week is going to be too much for you but how about a monthly get together? Certainly if you have other friends who have their own businesses then including them would allow them to share their challenges and it would potentially make the event more interesting for everyone.
And if getting together is not possible at present then form a private group on Facebook or set up an email group and share that way. Always remember that sharing creative ideas will increase the number of great concepts that are brought forward which should enable you to grow your business and you can help others by using your new skills too.
Here’s an activity which you might like to use to get the group started either online or offline.
Each person writes down a creative challenge or problem on a piece of paper or via a post or email. If the group is meeting together then pass the pages in a clockwise or anticlockwise manner and the next person reads the challenge and writes down an idea. Adapt this for online get- togethers. Each turn a person either adds a new idea or uses the existing idea to trigger a new solution. You can do this more than once if your group is smaller in numbers. (This idea is from Bryan Mattimore’s book Idea Stormers.)
The final words
Building creativity is a process not a race. Practise these concepts and try the activities regularly. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – actually there are no mistakes in creativity just ideas that aren’t as useful as others for the problem or challenge you are facing.
But heed my warning, when you unleash your creativity your business will grow and be more successful so buckle up and get started today and be prepared for a wonderful ride full of ideas, concepts, fun and sharing.
The Biz Coach NZ