Let’s talk about tips to be more creative as an entrepreneur or artist: how to get inspired, think outside the box, and “do it different(ly).” 😉
I hesitated to blog about this, but it’s been on my mind for weeks, so here goes nothing!
Learning HOW to think and be creative is a part of our jobs—whether you’re a photographer, artist, floral designer, planner, blogger, studio owner, videographer, scientist, teacher … anything is creative. It’s how we were made.
Truth be told, I have to work really, really hard at being creative. Hard!
I think that surprises people, but I really think that I was drawn to things like ballet, calligraphy, and writing because I’m MOST comfortable with parameters for which to be creative in … like, a blank white page would totally freak me out. Abstract art is my jam … but I feel like I could never create it myself.
I need a rule book, and THEN I can be creative.
I’ve found some ways that have worked well for me professionally over the past decade, some ways learned in a PR agency, and some learned on my own as a small business owner.
Today, I want to pull back the curtain and remind you how you can be creative by looking outside of our industry … WAY outside of our industry, wink.
Why? Because it’s SO easy to copy each other.
We see it constantly in our industry, right?
I’ve had tough conversations with people I’ve seen copy me, completely lift my work, and duplicate my process—that’s part of running a business though. However, I also realize I’m not immune to inadvertently copying someone, either. None of us are.
It’s so easy to look at someone’s copy, look at someone’s marketing plan, look at someone’s work, and just tweak it as “inspiration.”
But, maybe that’s not a sustainable way to have a business.
In this blog, I’m not talking about what to do when you’re copied—you can read my blog on that here—but I’m talking about figuring out how to think creatively.
How do we become people who live in the tension of needing new, fresh ideas for our livelihood?
How do we endure in that space?
It’s not easy—honestly, it’s easier to copy someone, or to riff off of an idea.
It’s harder to think, but it’s not THAT much harder … and I hope this blog gives you some ideas!
- What integrative thinking is, and my favorite book about it
- The 3 mental shifts I had to make to start being more creative
- 18 ways I’ve tried to implement rhythms of creativity into my life/business
And more! Let’s hit it.
You’re made to be a creative problem solver.
It’s a misconception that creativity comes in silos. That genius sparks and prodigies just make. Steve Wozniak in his Los Altos garage. Thomas Edison at his workbench. Mozart at his piano.
“This poetic myth is beautiful, to be sure, but this myth is also what leads many people to cut themselves off from creativity, and to define themselves as ‘not a creative person.'” –Creating Great Choices
Creativity CAN be curated—you just need to own up and realize it’s not a “born with it” trait.
I genuinely believe all humankind has a thread of creativity. Some people just learn—by nature or nurture—to cultivate it more than others.
“Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close a sale, it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem, it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.” -Twyla Tharp
We’re all creative. We’re just sensitive and keep ideas to ourselves, according to a study by professors Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin.
I’ve had a friend in the creative industry tell me before that her biggest fear is that she isn’t creative. That she’s always worried she copies others—and to be honest, I have seen her do that.
She’s vocalizing something a lot of us as creative entrepreneurs worry about, I think.
Like I said, none of us are immune to inadvertent copycatting—it takes a LOT of work to shield yourself and pull ideas from your own brain.
But in order to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, we need to be able to connect countless dots.Creativity is not just for artists. -Twyla Tharp Click To Tweet
The good news is that you CAN orchestrate your days, time, and calendar to be MORE creative … you just have to work at it. You have to get off your phone. You have to, ahem, THINK (remember doing that?).
Let’s talk about how to do that.
3 Mindset Shifts I Made to Be More Creative
So hopefully I’ve argued how you are creative, even if you think you’re not. And you’ve heard me say how I have to really work at this, too.
Even if you think you can only ever come up with good ideas for your calligraphy business if you create Pinterest boards of wedding suites from other calligraphers … or that you can only ever write great Facebook ad copy for your photography course if you mad-lib what other photographers are doing in Facebook ad copy … etc. … you CAN be creative. You CAN be an outlier in your industry.
But how can we get OUT of groupthink? OUT of the echo chamber of ideas from others in our industry?
I’ve found 3 big buckets of ways that work well for me, so I’ll tell you those 3, and then hand over a batch of mini-ideas to kick-start your own creativity.
I’ll go in order of how I learned them.
1. Draw from the most unlikely source you can think of
The first thing I’ve learned to do is to pull ideas from other industries.
Back when I worked at Jackson Spalding, a full-service communication & PR agency, we used to have big team brainstorms. Stay with me—this is bizarre, but once or twice, we did brainstorm called “how do you get a cat off the roof.”
Yes. We’d actually sit there and list out ways to get a cat off of a roof. ????
“We can put a dog on the roof with it!” “Let’s make a line of all sorts of treats that lead to a REALLY good treat on the ground.” “What if we go sit with it until it comes to curl up in our lap, and then come down a ladder?”
Make the weird list.
Then, you look at a clearly defined professional problem. Let’s say, for example, how to get more wedding photography clients in the Dallas market.
Apply your cat-off-a-roof-ideas, and see what happens.
The line of treats becomes a Facebook ad retargeting campaign of how-to videos for brides in collaboration with all sorts of vendors you know.
Sitting with the cat becomes going to a local university’s sorority chapter meetings and meeting/sitting with women, giving mini-photography workshops for chapters, where many of the senior members are getting engaged.
See what I mean?
So, look to outside industries. Weird industries. This is called integrative thinking, and Creating Great Choices is a killer book on the topic. Get magazines you’d never pick up at the airport. Work in a co-working space for a day that is built for corporate, not creative industry, clientele. Don’t listen to the podcasts your peers are probably listening to. Read books you don’t see other people reading. Go get inspiration for a sales page by seeing how Tesla sells cars on their website copy.
2. Act as if there’s time to think
If we act as if there’s no time to think, there WILL be no time to think.
This is the hardest one for me now as a small business owner (you wear all the hats, right!?), but I learned this in the PR agency, too. You have to clock hours and set them aside JUST for thinking.If we act as if there's no time to think, there WILL be no time to think. Click To Tweet
We live in a world that’s so results focused, but here’s the thing: taking time to think is a CHOICE!
If you think you can’t be creative or figure out a solution to a problem, that’s my first question. How many devoted hours are you spending trying to figure it out? Trying to get quiet, listen to your thoughts, and outline different ways you may solve it?
Give yourself room to play, space to think, and permission to mess up and try stuff.
Did you know most CEOs say they’re in so many meetings that they cite they don’t have time to think about the business? Fascinating. #youhadonejob <– and I struggle with this, too! We have to remember to MAKE time and whitespace to think. Otherwise, it will NOT happen!
3. Limit the voices that are coming in
The last way I’ve shifted my thinking and learned to be creative is to limit the voices I experience. Duh, I know. But it’s helped immensely!
Cannot recommend 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You enough … so stinking good, and a stud reminder that our iPhones affect the way our brain is wired.
I’m a big fan of unfollowing. Unsubscribing (hello, Unroll.me!). Limiting. Besides actual friends, I try to only follow people I want to learn from, and honestly, I don’t really scroll on Instagram ever.
Again, you kinda have to push yourself here, because it’s more comfortable to listen to the noise. We’re more at ease consuming than creating.
But let’s nix the consumption, cut the crap and the noise, and see what happens.
18 Practical Ways to Be More Creative in Your Business
Okay, at this point, I’ve HOPEFULLY convinced you that because you have breath, you’re creative. ????
I’ve also told you 3 big shifts I had where I realized I didn’t have to copy the obvious just to succeed at the game.
Now, I want to tell you 18 practical, tangible ways I cultivate creativity as a creative small business owner. I know there are countless creativity tips out there, so I’m only including practices I do in my own business, because this is what’s worked for ME.
1. Create an environment that gives you joy. Candles, background music, and essential oils diffusing makes me settled and joyful. Good read on this? The Lifegiving Home by Sally Clarkson.
2. Schedule 1 self-care field trip a month. Little things, like working from a coffee shop across town, going to the bookstore to grab some magazines and a coffee, going on a walk in a park in another part of the city, etc.
3. Make a vision board and hang it above your desk or in your office. Here’s mine!
4. Next time you go on a trip, grab a magazine you’d not typically buy. I had a mentor in my first job challenge me to do this—as a little 24-year-old, I’d be thumbing through Fast Company with wide-eyes … I got hooked!
5. Read a book or join a book club that pushes you to read things you’d not typically read. Michael Hyatt’s LeaderBox is my favorite current way to do this.
6. Read fiction. This Psychology Today article talks about how those who read fiction are better at reading emotions than others.
7. Join your local art museum. Wes got me this for Christmas this year! I want to start going to more galleries, too.
8. Work from your local library one day—it’s FREE!
9. Take a walk, go for a run, or hop in a workout class. C.S. Lewis, Charles Darwin, and J. R. R. Tolkein were all big walkers—read Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang for more on that.
10. Document every idea you can think of. I make lists of everything, something I explain in my AW Shop Stewardship Series Guide here.
11. Take a Friday afternoon off work and plant something—your own personal garden party!
12. Quit listening to the podcasts your peers listen to, and listen to something totally different.
13. Watch something that you normally wouldn’t … a documentary or an old film, and after, think of one thing you can apply to your business from that
14. Take a nap—back to that book Rest, there are fascinating stories about creatives (Dali, for one) who would hack their REM cycle and paint from that … wacky, right!?
15. Clean your workspace, wink.
16. Play hooky from your daily routine for a day
17. Sign up for a class in something you’d not normally study. Jessica at Design House of Moira takes French lessons, ballroom lessons, and all sorts of fun things to keep on edge with her creativity.
18. Set up systems (workflows, parameters, email templates, frameworks, gratitude journaling) so you have bounds in which to work, and can get more time back to be creative. I LOVE systems, and you can find a few of them here:
- How to set up email templates
- My morning routine: 7 things I do every morning
- My reading routine
- “Rules” about what I don’t do—and 10 things I don’t do
- How I make sure we take a sabbatical each year
Whew! I know there are a kazillion ways to find creativity tips, but I wanted to give you some ideas I’ve ACTUALLY done on days when I don’t have a single idea left in me.
I hope that helps! Like I said, I have to work at being creative and thinking differently, but it CAN be cultivated.