Much has been written about creativity’s integral role in entrepreneurship. It is what sparks new business ideas, enables effective problem-solving, and drives innovation. Creativity is fuel for the entrepreneurial fire, and it is also what propels good companies to become great (and stay that way). But creativity doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Its basis is intuition, or learning to trust your gut instincts, which are actually valuable hypotheses based on years of observation and experience. While we’re often taught that we should mistrust our own instincts and value empirical data over “hunches,” all empirical data and scientific exploration originate from a well-founded “hunch,” and most good business decisions do, too.
Unfortunately, most business people find it difficult to think of themselves as creatives. After all, most of us spend more time reviewing spreadsheets than we do composing original sonnets. And intuition is an even scarier word, perhaps because of its amorphous meaning. But being creative doesn’t mean that you’re the 21st Century version of Renoir, and trusting your instincts doesn’t mean that you’re basing your actions on ill-advised hocus pocus. Anyone can be creative and, in fact, most people are. Furthermore, creativity is at its best when it functions intuitively. The two are interdependent.
Thankfully, even the most left-brained entrepreneurs can build their creative confidence and mine their intuition by following certain guidelines:
Don’t Overthink It
If you don’t consider yourself creative, don’t stress about it and, above all, don’t confine yourself to a chair and forbid yourself from moving until you’ve thought of something wonderful. Creativity doesn’t usually work well under pressure. That being said, it’s important to put in the work necessary to get to where you hope to go. No project completes itself. But when you’re just beginning to cultivate your creativity, it helps to start by simply making space for it in your life rather than forcing yourself to a creative outcome.
Make room for inspiration by avidly exploring new territory. Read widely. If you normally read business bestsellers, try a novel. Or if it’s always the Wall Street Journal, stream a podcast, instead. Creativity happens when we step out of our daily routines and expose ourselves to new things. New knowledge and rich stimuli can reframe work and unlock new ideas. And this exploration need not and should not be purely intellectual. Creativity is also stimulated by allowing yourself to have fun in new ways. This could mean taking your lunch break at the movie theater, or finally signing up for that dance class, or spending 10 minutes sketching a colleague, or shooting a few hoops in the driveway. Any journey outside of the familiar will be rewarded.
A cluttered brain is a recipe for elusive intuition and stifled creativity. It makes it harder to translate ideas into solutions that serve customers, and even more difficult to sidestep hurdles. Clearing away the noise is especially important today, when inboxes are overflowing, social media is a constant distraction, and following the news is like consuming a 24-hour cycle of fears and worries. Meditation and yoga help, as do repetitive and mindless exercise such as swimming or running. Exercise that can unfold while the mind is on autopilot allows the brain to stretch and unwind. When the body is engaged and the endorphins flowing, the imagination is set free, paving the way for new ideas and unfurling creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems.
Network Widely and Often
Many solutions involve repositioning existing products, services, processes or technologies into new uses or contexts. Any artist will tell you that there aren’t many truly new ideas. In art, as with business, originality is less about creating something that didn’t exist before and more about drawing new associations. Networking is integral to creativity and intuition because it’s impossible to guess in which people or industries we’ll uncover the spark of an idea or find the missing piece to our puzzle. Whether you’re joining professional groups, reaching out to professionals on LinkedIn, attending conferences, or all of the above, meeting new people of varied backgrounds, roles and industries is exceedingly important. By regularly placing yourself in these situations, you’ll synthesize an array of competing ideas and, ultimately, intuitively know when you can repurpose one to build out your business.
Many creativity gurus advocate for daily journaling. This, of course, provokes backlash, especially if the would-be creative isn’t interested in becoming a writer. However, the simple act of articulating what’s on your mind helps you work through roadblocks. Often, we spend so much time looking for answers that we haven’t even determined if we’re asking the right questions in the first place. Journaling helps formulate a more holistic view of your business, ensuring that you explore issues more deeply. But whatever your chosen brainstorming method, try to do it daily and at roughly the same time. The simple act of ritualization primes your mind, sliding it into creativity mode more quickly as easily as time passes.
Whether you try one or all of these strategies, you’re sure to set the stage for a mindset that welcomes more “out of the box” thinking and better serves your business for years to come.