It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re in business. But sometimes you need some creativity. What can you do when it’s not there to call on?
Well, there are plenty of ways to free up your creativity and get your brain making all sorts of creative connections. Once you’ve done that, you’ll find you’re getting new ideas all the time; ideas for new products, new marketing angles, new ways to operate your business, whatever it is you’re focused on.
First of all, make sure you get exposure to innovation and creativity. For instance, go to an art gallery or a performance at the weekend instead of just watching a ball game; or take a trip somewhere you’ve never visited, but always meant to. Watch a TV program on scientific innovations, or on different cultures. Or visit a maker space if you get a chance and see how people are using electronics, 3D printing, and laser cutting technologies to come up with something new.
Try to read about something different every day. It might be a good idea to find a few blogs that interest you and bookmark them. For instance, the Public Domain Review has fascinating articles on everything from art and music to history, meteorology and even jellyfish. In business and finance, the Abnormal Returns blog finds some great links, including podcasts and long form articles, on subjects from treasury bond yields to how to design pedestrian-friendly cities, psychology and artificial intelligence.
Just having such a diversity of different things to think about will challenge your mind and bring you different perspectives.
Next, try coming up with your own ideas. Just take ten minutes a day with a notebook or a sheet of paper. Quickly find a place to start. It might be an object (“credit card”), a question (“How can I get from New York to Toronto most cheaply?”), one of your existing products, something you saw on TV. Just jot a few words in the middle of the page.
Now think of different ways to develop your ideas. Suppose “credit card” got me thinking about borrowing, I’d write ‘borrowing’ on a branch heading outwards, then there might be more branches called ‘home loan’, ‘Butch still owes me $5 from 1986’, ‘funding a business’, ‘leasing a car’, ‘what if you could borrow body parts?’ It doesn’t matter if these thoughts are completely crazy; don’t make any judgments. You might even develop the idea of borrowing body parts to ‘cat head, dog tail, hooves, wings’ as a twig off that last branch.
Is this any use? Well, suppose you later looked at that bit of paper and thought hey, I could make a smartphone photo filter to turn people into angels or Egyptian gods with animal heads. That might actually be a money making idea. Or maybe it would get you thinking about prosthetics, or about wigs for chemo patients.
By the way, the drawing of branches and then twigs is a technique called mind mapping. It’s really useful for brainstorming, and it’s as much fun as doodling.
Once you’ve got used to this kind of exercise you can give yourself a target; say 5 new ideas a day. They might be good ones or they might be bad ones; you’ll need to do a bit of more disciplined thinking about them later. But if one in every twenty-five is good, that’s one good idea every working week. If you can actually get all of those to work, that’s 50 great ideas every year! If you make only one of those into a viable business, that’s still something!