Creative thinking presents a paradox for entrepreneurs.
Certain situations demand a degree of creative thinking; responding to problems, coming up with new extensions or ideas, and adapting the business to new circumstances all force you to “think outside the box.” This makes creative thinking an indispensable skill in the entrepreneurial world.
The paradox is that, unlike any other skill or ability in the entrepreneurial world, creative thinking can’t be taught, learned, or forced.
So if you can’t force creative thinking, does it all come down to lucky streaks of inspiration? Not necessarily. Instead of trying to focus on a creative solution, or forcing yourself to come up with a new idea, use environmental and procedural strategies to facilitate more creative thinking—then let it come naturally:
1. Enrich Your Environment. Your surroundings can be a source of powerful inspiration, so choose them carefully. The word “enrich” here is ambiguous for a reason; how you enrich your environment is a matter of personal preference and logistical capabilities. Start by filling your core office environment with objects, resources, and even people that help you think outside the box. For example, line your desk with toys, games, and puzzles to fiddle with when you’re stuck on a hard problem, or specifically hire people with a predisposition for engaging conversation and alternative perspectives.
It’s also a good idea to work in different environments, trying out a new office, desk, or even city to get fresh perspective. This way, no matter where you look, you’ll find something new—and that something new could spark your next breakthrough.
2. Let the Ideas Flow. One of the biggest challenges people face in creative thinking is allowing their ideas to emerge.
3. Seek Inspiration Everywhere. This is an easy one to neglect, but it’s one of the most practical. Most entrepreneurs dedicate time to creative thinking—they do it when faced with a problem, or when they have spare time to brainstorm new ideas. Ultimately, they only end up doing it in their office, or occasionally, at home. Don’t allow yourself to fall into this rut—seek inspiration everywhere. Look at the creative branding of items in the grocery store. Examine how people interact with each other at the airport. Marvel at the beauty of the park. All of these small moments can give you a fresh perspective or a flash of inspiration when you need it most.
4. Play with Word Associations. Some of the best ideas aren’t generated out of thin air; they’re imagined out of two independent ideas that already exist. These ideas are connected sometimes randomly by unexpected occurrences; you can simulate these occurrences by playing word association games. For example, generate a list of words, beginning each new word with the last letter of the former, or simply by coming up with random words as you see fit. Most of these will appear strange, and might even give you a laugh—but you never know when the right combination of ideas will come along to inspire a new direction in thinking.
5. Read. It may seem simple, or obvious, or impractical to you, but I promise you—start reading more often, and you’ll find your mind brimming with more creative options.
I don’t just mean non-fiction, nor do I just mean fiction. I don’t mean any one genre or caliber of writing. Read everything you can, from news to blogs to novels to poems to textbooks. The more information you expose yourself to, the more diversified your mind is going to become. You’ll be introduced to new dialects, new concepts, new metaphors, new anecdotes, and of course, more raw information—all of which serve your creative mind well.
To reiterate, these strategies aren’t shortcuts to come up with creative ideas. They can’t force inspiration upon you, nor can they turn bad ideas into good ones. Instead, they create an environment where your creative thinking can reach its zenith. The rest is on you. Everybody in the world is a creative thinker; all you have to do is let it happen.