“I am not a creative person like you.”
I get this a lot from small service business owners. The funny thing about it is that I don’t consider myself a creative person in the way they describe. But as a business growth strategist, providing various perspectives to my clients is my job. Because of this, I am definitely intentional about keeping my mind open for new ideas.
There is bad news & good news associated with this story of “I’m not creative.” So, if this is you, read on!
By the way, I call this statement a *story* because they are the ones who made a decision to label themselves as such based on…really no scientific or logical reasons. It’s just a thought backed by nothing. More on that later.
Let’s start with bad news.
News flash: Trying to grow a business without being creative & resourceful, especially when you need to solve problems, will end up costing you in the long run.
There are many problems that can be easily solved by using what you already have. But because you feel you are inadequate to do creative problem-solving or to come up with new ideas to take your business in the direction you want to take it to, you end up relying heavily on outsourcing.
If it works out, great. Most of the time though, the process of having others do the job requires some trial & error unless you are driving those projects. This eats up your time, and you have to pay money for their work if the arrangement is not results-based, meaning you only pay for the results they are bringing in.
The bottom line is, if you want to grow your business, it is your job to expand your way of thinking.
Now the good news.
I have 3 pieces of good news for you.
1. Being creative doesn’t mean becoming the next Picasso.
2. Small actions you can take will make a huge difference.
3. None of the tips I will share in this post cost much.
I’m sure you have a friend or two who are known as the “creative” ones in your circle. They may come across as “outlandish” with their flashy out-of-the-box ideas. The thing is you don’t need to be that person to stay creative in your business. Actually, you don’t want to be that person in your business.
First of all, most of those outlandish ideas have no end-game in sight. In other words, they aren’t linked to revenue generation. Second of all, what you need is a bunch of implementable, fresh new ideas that either save you time or produce more business opportunities, not crazy sounding, pie-in-the-sky ideas.
If you look at it this way, you will realize “being creative” as a business owner isn’t that daunting. Right?
So, let’s get started with my personal tried & tested 13 creativity boosters you can implement right away.
Here’s the quick list of 13 creativity boosters that I actively practice.
1. Stop using “I’m not a creative person” as an excuse out of frustration
2. Produce a ton of crap
3. Get physically exhausted
4. Stop setting aside some time to be creative
5. Choose to be alone more
6. Go for classics
7. Watch kids & animals
8. Get more oxygen to your brain
9. Engage in monotonous activities
10. Set yourself up for a surprise
11. Track it & tap into it
12. Question all the conventional wisdom
13. Go help others
Stop Using “I’m Not a Creative Person” as an Excuse Out of Frustration.
I got you there, didn’t I? It is an EXCUSE to blame something else for your frustration with the situation you are in.
When I hear “I’m not a creative person like you,” the emphasis is definitely being put on the end bit – “like you”- to make a point that, “It must be so easy for you to come up with these ideas. That’s your special skill. But I’m not made that way, OK?”
This happens when I push them to generate ideas. Their response is just a sign of resistance.
My job isn’t to just simply hand over solutions. As the sang goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” My job is to teach you how to fish.
Here’s the kicker. I’d say 99% of the time, those “ideas” they speak of that I presented were not “creative” by any means. Not even close. They come from the level of active learning on daily basis by taking courses, reading, watching content, documenting random thoughts, etc. I don’t pull those ideas out of thin air.
Simply put, I work for it.
Think about this for a second. If you label yourself as a non-creative person, you will act accordingly – you won’t try to be one. So, start by making a conscious decision that you no longer allow yourself to use this as an excuse for not being able to come up with solutions.
You can. And, you will.
Produce a Ton of Crap: Quantity & frequency rules
In other words, don’t get precious. In the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear (link), he shares a study done by a university photography professor who divided his class in half in the beginning of the semester.
One group was going to be graded based on “how many” photos they can produce during the semester.
The other group was going to be graded solely on the quality of photos they produce. They were allowed to only submit one photo if they chose to do so.
This is obviously a leading question, but which group do you think ended up producing high quality photos?
Answer: The group which was assigned to produce a large quantity of photos.
Instead of sitting around trying to come up with the perfect concept, thinking of ways to get your creative juices flowing and waiting for the perfect moment, just go for quantity. Just. Do. It.
This is not surprising. You are probably aware that most of the highly produced commercial photos you see are the result of hundreds of shots taken during a single photo shoot. In reality, you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Also, to get better at anything, we all practice, right? The study shows that creativity can be developed like a muscle. (link)
So, how about doing yourself a big favor by removing this unnecessary pressure to come up with something spectacular every single time? Who says you need to reveal (or implement) all of the stuff you come up with anyway?
Get Physically Exhausted
There is a reason I did not purposely write, “Do more exercise” like other articles suggest. It’s because I don’t exercise.
I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve never set a foot in a gym in my entire life! Don’t get me started on this American obsession with gym culture, as if the only way for you to be fit is to sign up for a gym membership. That is complete crap.
Luckily, I live in a major city where driving makes no sense. I can easily get physically exhausted by simply getting around in the city. But I understand that may not be your case. That doesn’t mean I will let you slide on this one, though. There are plenty of things you can do to get physically exhausted.
Before sharing some ideas to get physically exhausted, let me explain quickly as to why that is important as a creativity booster. All the science stuff aside , from my own experience, physical exhaustion gives me a chance to completely cut off a never-ending cycle of thinking by simply sleeping better. Or I should just be more honest and say, I get to pass out.
OK, now that you know why this is a legit creativity booster, I’ll offer you a solution even if you don’t regularly exercise and/or you live a life with a car outside of major cities.
Do more chores. That’s it.
Why waste money on a gym membership while your garage is filled with unused crap? If you clean out your closet, for example, you can pack clothes to donate, and that’s one extra trip you’ll make even if you drive. That’s one extra physical activity you wouldn’t otherwise do.
What? You don’t have time? Well, move faster. You will get physically exhausted, right? You know you can’t win this argument. So, just go & get exhausted.
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Stop Setting Aside Some Time to Be Creative.
This is clearly against all the conventional advice out there, but trust me on this one. Don’t set aside time for creativity.
I’ve observed myself and done some research to find a pattern of when I am most creative only to find that there was no clear pattern. It has been completely random.
Sure, regardless of if you are a morning person, when your mind is fresh after you wake up, you can do better thinking. I do reserve some morning hours for my own work with no interruption for this reason.
But this only works for doing meaningful work that requires focus in my case. So, I intentionally use these hours to execute on things I’ve already decided to do instead of coming up with new ideas.
Here’s an interesting thing about monitoring myself. I was looking for a pattern to find out a combination of variables to put me in a creative mode, i.e. time of day, what I ate, hunger level, sleep quality, stress level, level of human interaction, etc., and I ended up finding no pattern. My goal was to find a way to time it. I realized that wasn’t possible.
But I did find something that resembles a pattern.
I think creatively when I am on the go, minding my own business doing random things like taking stairs up to get on a subway platform. I shared this in my post about my writing strategy when it comes to creating consistent long-form content (link).
This goes back to the idea of “don’t get precious” when it comes to boosting your creativity. You can’t time it. Therefore, you shouldn’t be setting aside a certain amount of time for it. It will only leave you frustrated sitting at a coffee shop with no ideas.
Choose to be Alone More.
In his book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport, author of Deep Work (link), dedicates a whole chapter to the importance of “solitude” in producing meaningful work and new ideas while maintaining sanity in this crazy digital world.
Even before this book was out, I was loving the articles on Fast Company “Brainstorming is Killing Your Creativity” because I always felt group brainstorming sessions produced dismal results, especially when I was doing group projects while I was in business school. I was happy that someone said it. Then I was sad that I didn’t think of putting it out there myself.
Personally, I never enjoyed group brainstorming sessions. It only gave me a massive headache and left me feeling disappointed with my own lack of diplomacy and frustrated with all the crappy ideas that came out of our brains. I was angry for having to acknowledge the sad truth about lots of talk and no action.
Yeah, I said it. I’m not taking any of this back.
What works better if you choose to get your team involved is to individually seek solutions or create ideas and present to the rest of the team. Or, as the article suggests, brainstorm and try to come up with the right questions instead.
This may be hard if you are a self-proclaimed social animal or have small kids or are a care-taker for your family. But I recommend giving this try by taking small steps.
Just to clarify, this is different from setting some time aside for creativity.
This creativity booster of being alone has no particular goal. There is no need to set any expectations other than removing yourself from information distractions. To do this right, there’s only one rule: No phone. You can choose to take a walk or eat lunch alone or just sit in a park for 5 min alone, but no phone.
You can choose to think about something or don’t think at all by just observing your surroundings. In the beginning, you may not feel any difference. But keep going. You’ll discover some unexpected things.
It’s intuitive to seek inspirations from external things such as books or film or checking out what others are doing, but remember you are enough. Do set aside some time to be alone with yourself.
Go for Classics.
We all love Netflix, right? If you are going to watch something on Netflix anyway, then give some old classics a try instead of getting sucked into its latest series that is carefully crafted to get you hooked for hours.
Old movies lack all the bells and whistles that you see in recent movies, like flashy computer graphics, surround sound, fast-paced editing, etc. That’s the beauty of it. Classics are simpler with just good stories, good acting and ingenious cinematography that allow you to easily overlook obviously fake backgrounds or monsters. Actually, they are charming in a way.
There are a few reasons I love it as a creativity booster.
1. It is a reminder that we still haven’t solved all the life problems or social challenges that they went through back then.
2. Simpler stories teach me numerous life lessons without being distracted by frills.
3. Their creativity in making due with only the technology and resources they had available at the time inspires me to be more resourceful.
If I were a righteous person, I may have listed “Read up on classic novels.” The truth is I haven’t done that for a long time. So, to me, this is a good alternative that you can piggy-back on by inviting friends, partners, kids or other family members to join you.
Watch Kids & Animals.
If you are a parent with kids & pets, you can skip this one. For the rest of us childless & pet less mortals, this can boost our creativity.
The reason behind this is simple. They may not say what they mean, obviously, but they do what they mean. Translation: They have very few filters or none at all. So, watching them interact with other kids or pets is incredibly refreshing.
“Wait, did they just do that?!”
That’s my typical reaction while I watch them out and about playing. Often, the reaction is followed by asking myself a ton of questions about what’s been on my mind. It all happens naturally and somewhat effortlessly. For this reason, this is one of my secret creativity boosters.
That’s not all. There is a bonus. They provide extra laughter that we so desperately need in our lives! What’s not to like?!
Oh, before I forget, I do have to point out though, be sure you don’t look like a creepy stalker while you are at it, OK?
Get More Oxygen to Your Brain.
The increase in brain oxygen levels helps your brain function. There is no need to go crazy, like going under oxygen therapy or anything fancy. What I do is I practice breathing exercises through guided meditation once a night. My favorite tool is the Insight Timer App, which is free & loaded with many different types of guided meditation recordings.
When I feel my brain is taxed heavily, which sadly happens all the time, I sense I haven’t nurtured my brain with what it needs. By doing deep breathing exercises, I give myself a chance to be intentional about how I breathe.
Considering 20% of the oxygen supply goes to the brain, it makes sense to avoid depriving our brains of it. If breathing exercises & meditation are not your thing, there are other ways that you can help promote brain health:
- Various herbs & nutritional supplements
- Change your diet by cutting down on coffee & carb consumption
Giving your brain what it needs, including rest and relaxation, can go a long way. If you feel you’ve been abusing your brain a little too much, try any of these to just give your brain a break.
Engage in Monotonous Activities
OK, this one is going to be a bit strange. But I am hoping you stay open minded.
Engaging in monotonous, boring activities works for me especially when I don’t have the luxury of taking my time to be creative. Here are some examples of what I do:
1. Organize coins – I normally throw pocket change into a small box (used to be a jar). When I need to quiet my mind so that I can think, I pull the box out and start sorting them. Quarters in one pile, dimes in another pile…so and so forth.
2. Play games on my phone – I do set rules for this one. I am only allowed to keep 2 games, I do not pay for extra lives, and I do not link them to any of my social media accounts like Facebook. I noticed that simpler puzzle or matching games work the best for me.
3. Doing chores – Shredding papers, folding clothes, washing dishes…none of them I particularly like doing, but I do them for the sake of thinking.
I’m sure you are confused… “What is she talking about?”
Let me explain. When I’m doing any of these activities, I am never really paying attention to what my hands are doing. For whatever reason, when I am using my hands other than typing on a keyboard, it gives me some space for my brain to think. It’s as simple as that.
Creative solutions or ideas start to flow through my mind while I’m engaged in repetitive, monotonous, boring activities. If you haven’t tried this yet, don’t be skeptical and just give it a try. It works.
Set Yourself Up for a Surprise
Operating on autopilot, which many of us do, is a creativity killer. It’s efficient to have a set of routines we follow. We also have obligations. But every now and then, you can manufacture pattern-disruptive activities to boost your creativity.
Einstein is right. “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Before you say “no” to invitations that may not be your cup of tea, pause and think if this can be a pattern-disruption. Maybe you think of a way to get back in touch with someone with a little more effort. Or you sign up for a class that you thought you’d do someday this week.
I normally look at my week on Sundays just to get a grasp of what’s ahead. While I’m doing this, I check to see if I will be doing something as a routine for no good reason other than, “That’s what I’ve always done.” Nowadays, I’ve cut that out completely, so it is rare for me to see anything that I do for the sake of “just because.” But it’s always good to spot check.
Sometimes pattern-disruptive incidents show up unexpectedly, like missing an exit or a train station. I’ve done both a plenty of times. If I’m not in a rush, I no longer consider this as a setback. Instead, I look at it as a chance to do something different.
When you see unfamiliar places or you see someone you don’t see often it can trigger new ideas. If you want a jolt of creativity, don’t let yourself slide back into autopilot mode.
Track It & Tap Into It
Once you free yourself from the idea of getting too precious about “being creative,” you will start to notice ideas pop up randomly in your head more easily than you expected. However, if you don’t track them, you will lose them faster than you think.
Previously, I’ve written about how to consistently create stunning branded content in which the guest speaker John DeMato talked about his “Idea Nugget Generator.” It’s the same idea. Having a simple system in place that you can easily follow will save you from trying to recall your brilliant ideas.
Now, it doesn’t end there. If you create a place to store your ideas no matter how rough these ideas are, checking it out regularly can be a great creative booster.
I don’t know about you, but this happens to me a lot. I come up with random ideas that are not quite developed as stand-alone ideas, and, much later, in some cases like 6 months later, I look at the list of ideas & realize a few of them can be combined.
“Oh, wait a second, I guess I was onto something.”
This gives me a chuckle when I feel like my brain is completely blank but need to find a way to solve something. I just open up my list & skim through it very quickly. More often than not, I find some clues.
Question All the Conventional Wisdom
This is a gem. When I face something that I can’t seem to figure out the cause of, let alone the solution, I ask myself, “What am I assuming here?” Then I write them all down. A lot of times, I am assuming this is the way it’s supposed to work.
To be honest, I am completely guilty of making assumptions under any setting. But I don’t feel bad about it as this is a totally normal human behavior. Instead of beating myself up, I actively acknowledge the fact that I am making many assumptions. Then ask,
“What if it isn’t? What if I do the complete opposite?”
I make up a list of possible evidence that doing something completely opposite of what I believe can create new insights or opportunities.
Notice these are all new ideas I would not have come up with if I were so adamant about my original view. Incredible, right?!
Here is a simpler example. Most of you would probably agree with this statement, “Debts are bad.”
I don’t care how much you believe in this. I want you to ask yourself, “What if debts are actually good?” Then soon enough, you will find hundreds of articles online covering the topic of “How to leverage debts in business.”
See? Are you convinced yet?
It is understandable that this might make you feel uncomfortable in the beginning. But what I like about this creativity booster is that it is so easy to do. All you need to do is to flip it.
This is a game changer as a business owner. Just treat it like a game and challenge everything that you encounter. “What if the opposite can also be true?”
Go Help Others
Helping others doesn’t need to be time consuming. I do most of my “helping others” activities online. Because I am super conscious about how much time I spend on social media and why, I incorporate this activity while I do other social media related activities.
All I do is look for people asking questions and give them my answers. If I see similar question over and over again, I take a screen shot of them.
Why is this a creativity booster?
This is because it’s the easiest and effective way to avoid the “curse of knowledge.” If I were to ask the same question, I won’t be asking in the way they do. I might use certain business terms without giving them a thought. It is extremely hard for me to guess how they describe their problems in their own words.
Their questions often give me so much insight into what to write about and how to describe my offers in their words (and not mine). Many great ideas can come from just observing how others are describing their pressure points.
Being creative in your business doesn’t have to mean generating original ideas, and this is a great example of how you can be inspired by listening to others ask questions. Not to mention they will appreciate your help in the process. Not to sound too cliché, but this is a win-win for everyone involved!
What Are Your Unconventional Go-To Creativity Boosters?
You didn’t see your go-to creativity boosters in this post? I’d love to know what they are! Share your tips in the comments section below.
Also, I’d love to know which one you tried & what happened. I’m curious to see if any of these lead to finding creative solutions or new ideas that helped your business grow.