Recently I took up painting, and I quickly realized that I am a bad painter. Maybe the worst of painters.
But producing something “good” was never the point. Mostly my goal was to try something new and see what came out of it. So far three things have come out of it – a bunch of bad paintings, hours of enjoyment, and a few breakthrough ideas pertaining to my business.
I paint at the end of the day, and generally by the time I begin I’m so wound up and weary from a long day of work that I am excited to dive into the paint and think of anything but work. So I gather all of my supplies, put on some music, and begin with the intention of distracting myself from the stresses of my business. But then a funny thing happens – I find myself thinking about work again, but not with the same intensity and exasperation that I’d felt at the closing of my day. As the canvas fills, I begin to develop a sort of detached consideration of my work. And that’s when it usually happens – the big ideas.
Suddenly solutions to problems that were seemingly insurmountable a few hours earlier begin presenting themselves like peacocks in heat, and I find myself running back to my computer to take notes. I have now learned to keep a notepad and pen by my easel, lest I end up wasting my time cleaning paint splotches from my laptop.
People Crave Creativity
According to research conducted by IBM, creativity is one of the most sought after qualities in a business leader, more so than integrity, global thinking, or influence, among other characteristics.
It isn’t hard to see why. Creativity drives the emergence of big, novel ideas. It pushes us to think outside of what is accepted, and to embrace change.
But while creativity is much sought after, 75% of people feel that their job doesn’t allow them to flex their creative muscles as much as they’d like to. These people would be happy to embrace more workplace creativity, and studies have shown that happy employees are 12-33% more productive.
So creativity is among the most sought after qualities in a business leader, it’s what most employees wish they could enjoy at their jobs, and it will directly make people happier and more productive.
These alone are great reasons to inject creativity into your life and work, but it gets even better. We could, ostensibly, list an endless number of ways creativity supports success in business, but for now let’s limit ourselves to six key benefits.
#1: It takes the pressure off.
We all know what it’s like to find ourselves faced with a problem that seems to become only more insurmountable the more we think about it. Try as we might, we can’t think of a solution.
But then in the most unlikely of moments, some big idea comes to us. It happens while working out, while cooking, in the middle of a hot date, or whatever. Solutions always seem to pop up when we’ve finally stopped obsessing over the problem.
It’s like stage fright – under pressure, we freeze up. But get us out of the spotlight and suddenly we remember all our lines.
#2: It encourages big picture thinking.
When you’re fixated on this or that aspect of your work, it can be easy to lose sight of the forest and focus on each individual tree. There’s certainly a time and place for that, but success in business doesn’t come to those who get snagged on minutia. It comes to people who are capable of holding a grand vision.
But it’s difficult to find the mental space for such a grand vison that will tackle life’s big problems when you’re constantly engaged with the little ones.
For example, I can spend all day trying to sort out the tiny problems at my agency – website bugs, a contact email I want to find, or whatnot. But it’s when I’m engaged in something creative that I begin to consider the larger implications that my work can have on society. It’s in these moments that I set big goals for my company, goals that pertain to changing law and culture.
And while fixing the website bug is important, it’s not what gets me clients. Clients come for the vision. They come because they want to be part of something big. But that “something big” requires space to breathe and develop. Creativity makes that space.
#3. Creativity pushes you to think beyond boundaries.
Your vision can only become as big as your boundaries will allow.
We develop boundaries in all sorts of ways. We decide that this or that idea is impossible or impractical. We tell ourselves that this or that will never work, or that customers will never accept it. That things have always been done one way and so will they always.
But boundaries only exist until they’re broken, and it is creative thinking that makes boundaries meaningless.
I had a ghostwriting client once, a music promoter and booking agent, who wanted to build her influence in the music industry. Our first idea was to produce a few articles about the industry, place them in key publications, and get her name out there. Basic thought leadership.
There was a problem – she was new in the industry, had zero clout, and therefore no one was interested in publishing anything under her name.
This posed an interesting problem. How can you publish to gain influence when publications only publish people who are influential? It was a real catch-22.
Our problem was, essentially, that a boundary stood in the way – the industry gatekeepers. So we had to find a way around them.
I was busy writing a creative piece for Vice when an idea hit me. I was thinking about how Vice started as a little alternative outlet run by some random guy, and how now it’s one of the most relevant media entities in the world. And I thought, why can’t we do that? Why can’t we start our own publication and position ourselves as the gatekeepers? This idea was akin to knocking out the sentries, stealing their uniforms, and sneaking through the gate in plain sight.
And that’s exactly what we did. We made an entire publication with my client at the center as “Editor in Chief”. We brought on writers and covered concerts and did interviews and built what was – within about a year – a music publication that was respected throughout her target market.
Soon my client was appearing on local news programs as the expert on all things music. She had contact with every venue, band, and promoter from Vancouver BC to San Diego. Everyone important knew who she was, so when she began pushing her promotion business again, it took off with virtually no effort.
A moment of creativity allowed the chance to think beyond the status quo and to break past borders. And if we had failed at building the publication, so what? The publication was never our first goal. It was just one possible path to success. If it succeeded, great, if it failed, we’d try another route.
And speaking of failure…
#4. Creative endeavors remove your fear of failure.
As a painter, I am a failure. Nothing short of it. But there is something empowering about trying and failing. About doing something outside your comfort zone, and simply seeing what happens.
We’d like to think that entrepreneurship is all about success, but the truth is that it’s all about failure. It’s about giving an idea a go and not being afraid of a flop. It’s about making mistakes and learning from them.
And the ability to cope with failure is a muscle that needs exercising like any other. If you don’t have a well-developed acceptance of failure, the slightest entrepreneurial speed bump is going to feel like the apocalypse, and you’re going to give up.
Creative practices teach you to enjoy failure, to accept when things go wrong, and to laugh in the face of catastrophe. You learn that, at the very least, you get a good story out of the attempt.
And speaking of stories, that brings us to…
#5. Creativity teaches you to develop engagement.
A study done in 2012 found that consumers have an average attention span of just eight seconds – and that’s a four second drop since 2000. That means it’s getting harder and harder to capture the attention of your audience.
An advertisement will no longer suffice. You need something more engaging. You need to tell them a story. Consumers are no longer willing to be advertised to – they want to be entertained.
By building creativity into your life, you make more space for this kind of storytelling. You find innovative ways of entertaining yourself, and therefore your audience.
#6. Creativity is revitalizing.
Why do we enjoy entertainment? Because it serves as our escape from the rigors of life’s less-entertaining aspects.
Creativity gives us the space to breathe. To do something just for the fun of doing it. If there are business benefits, great, but that’s not why we’re doing something creative. We’re doing it because it makes us feel good. Because it refreshes our spirit and replenishes our energy.
And we all know how draining entrepreneurship can be. It’s exciting and satisfying, yes, but also exhausting.
Creative endeavors allow us to bolster our spirits and regain some of the energy we’ve expended. And we’re going to need every ounce of energy we can muster if we’re going to succeed.
4 Strategies for Leveraging Creativity
So now, how do you make your creative endeavors a success? Here are six tips:
- Designate your creative time.
You need to find the space to be creative. And I mean a substantial chunk of space. At least a few uninterrupted hours a week in which you have no other distractions.
Entrepreneur Tim Ferris says he must do it in the morning before he’s barraged by other tasks. For me it works best if I have a couple of hours of creative space two or three nights a week after my workday is done.
Whatever works for you, block off the time and be sure to disconnect. No phones or internet.
- Find something you love to do.
It doesn’t have to be something you’re good at, but you need to enjoy it. You won’t maintain your creative time if you’re not having fun.
- Find something that challenges you.
You don’t build your physical muscles by lifting light weights. You build them by lifting something that poses a challenge to your body.
Your mental and creative muscles work the same way. Do something that pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to grow.
This is why painting is, I think, such a good activity for me. I tend to have a kind of natural talent for most other creative mediums, but not painting. It forces me to do something I’m not good at, something at which I will almost certainly fail. But that causes me to think more. Or to put it another way, it makes me work hard to fail.
You never know what creative endeavors might be right for you. I never considered painting, and then tried it on a whim and loved it.
Try different activities and be open to new experiences. If one doesn’t float your boat, don’t force it. Move on to the next thing and see if that catches your fancy.
But just because you’ve tried something once and didn’t enjoy it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should abandon it right away. It can take a few attempts to get past the initial discomfort of doing something you’re not used to. And that initial discomfort might be a sign that it’s exactly the challenge you’re looking for.
But don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve hit a wall, and to move on to other possibilities.
In the end, it’s simple – a creative lifestyle breeds opportunity for creative solutions, and success in business is all about innovation and thinking your own way.
So find something you enjoy, block out some time, and get creative.