“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” – Albert Einstein
You should develop your creativity not because it will make you rich or famous but because it can extend and enrich your career.
You don’t need a creative mind to achieve something important. Plenty of very successful people — businesspeople, executives, salespeople, and other professionals — broke into the big time without being creative. This is true even of some people in the “creative” fields — artists, actors, and musicians, for example.
Success is a product of persistence more than creativity. I’ve made that point many times. Most successful people, I’d venture to say, have succeeded not by original thinking but by the opposite — knocking off a good idea that someone else came up with.
In past messages, I advised that you do the same — that in deciding on a second business or career, for example, you choose something that has already been proven to work, something that has already been validated. Hop onto a successful idea just after it’s left the station, and you’ll have a good chance of a very rewarding ride.
Of the more than 50 successful ventures I’ve launched, fewer than five have been creative breakthroughs. Most simply involved the application of an existing, proven idea … but with a twist.
Look in any community of million-dollar houses, and you will find that the great majority of those who live there earned their first big money by doing something (perhaps slightly better or different or cheaper) that had already been done.
You don’t need creativity to start something new. But you do need it to keep your venture going.
You need to be a wellspring of ideas if you want your business or career to last. That’s because nothing stays the same. The moment you introduce a new product to a market, the market itself begins to change. Your competition feels the pressure of your business. Your customers grow accustomed to the new benefits.
The vendors and the consultants and the marketers all catch on to what is changing. Gradually but certainly, expectations change. What was great before becomes just OK. What was good enough when you started is suddenly in serious need of change. Making such changes usually requires creativity, because what you need to do then — as opposed to what you needed to do when you began — is something DIFFERENT.
What I’m saying is that starting a new venture is 80% imitation and 20% innovation, whereas keeping a venture going and growing is the opposite.
To keep your business alive and changing, you need plenty of fresh ideas. To generate plenty of fresh ideas, you need a creative process. You need a way to continuously reinvent what you are doing in a way that will appeal to your customers. And, most importantly, you need to come up with these changes even before your customers ask for them. You must be at least one step ahead of the game. That takes creativity.
According to the experts, naturally creative people tend to be bright, spontaneous, liberal-minded (we are not talking about politics here), and confident. If those qualities don’t describe you, don’t worry. You can develop them — and you will — by following the ETR formula for becoming a creative genius. Here it is:
1. First and most important, enjoy the process. If creativity is nothing else, it’s fun. When it comes time to reinvent a product, promotion, or process, forget for a moment about how serious a job it is and promise yourself that, at least in the brainstorming stage, you are going to have a lot of fun coming up with a bunch of wild ideas.
2. Be Confident. Oh no! I can’t believe I just told you how to feel. I hate it when success gurus do that. Strike that. Instead, make it “Act Confident.” You can’t help it if you feel like an intellectual slug. And maybe you have been — so far. But that can change. Being creative has nothing to do with how many points you can rack up on a standardized IQ test. It’s a matter of learning how to solve problems and come up with new ideas. You can learn to do those things just as you can learn to ride a bike. I can teach you. Start your drive toward confidence by being foolish. When a creative challenge comes up, volunteer to take it on. (I’m not kidding. Just go ahead and stick your neck out.) Then follow the rest of the advice that follows.
3. Don’t be afraid. Here I go again, telling you how to feel. Let’s try again. Ignore your FEAR OF FAILURE. Accept the fact that you will fail. Remind yourself that all successful people fail routinely. Remind yourself that people will forget your failures and remember your achievements. A good way to handle this problem is to begin the creative session by telling your fellow participants that you intend to make some very foolish suggestions … but if they agree not to be stopped by them, you won’t be stopped by their foolishness. Then … go to it, guided by the strategies below. And remember, creativity is supposed to be fun. If someone doesn’t like your latest idea, just give him the next one. When it comes to generating creative ideas, quantity is more important than quality.
4. Borrow successful ideas of the past. Most naturally creative people have good memories. They can tell you which ideas worked for them when they were younger. Keep a record — make one today — of every successful thing you’ve ever done. Ask yourself if any of the lessons you learned from those successes can be applied to the challenge at hand.
5. See what your neighbors are doing — especially the brightest ones. Routinely — on a daily basis, if possible — study the competition. When an important competitor changes the way he does business, you should know why. When an advertising promotion takes fire, figure out why it is working. Call your competitors on the phone to compliment them when they’ve done something you admire. Listen to them when they speak at trade shows and seminars. Buy their products. Know them as well as they know themselves. Before you arrive at the creative session, spend a half-hour or so reviewing your collection of borrowed ideas. Bring along any samples that you think might help you illustrate an idea you may come up with.
6. Look beyond your neighborhood. Similar but different industries should be studied. Ideas that are working there can be borrowed and tested in your own marketplace. Most of your competitors will not be willing to do this, and that gives you a big advantage. The ideas you get this way will most likely be very new — and if they work, they might become the breakthrough ideas you have been looking for.
7. Remember that great ideas often come in bits and pieces. The first idea is clumsy. You may have borrowed it from another industry so it doesn’t really fit. At first, nobody even gets it but you. But if it feels good and you persist, you can gradually refine it over time. When it is finally ready for acceptance, few people will remember what it looked like at first.
8. Keep your USP in mind. When it’s time to come up with new ideas, keep yourself tethered to your basic business. Ask yourself what essential purpose your business serves — how it benefits your customers. Figure out what your competitive advantage is — in what specific way you can help your customers more than your competitors can. Remember that when it comes to reinventing your business, not all creative ideas are equal. Those that adhere to the mission of the business will have the greatest acceptance and produce the strongest results.
9 Finally, there’s this from Doug Hall: Use tricks and tools. Ask your creative team questions like “What is our strongest quality?” and “What does our customer care about most?” I’ve been in sessions where this sort of thing is done. It’s embarrassing, but it works.