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Updated April 13, 2012
According to LegalZoom’s Co-Founder, Brian Liu, success in business stems not from a focus on disruption but from a focus on creation – the creation of something incredible.[i] Creativity is at the root of all business success stories. While a great idea may ultimately disrupt an industry, it will only do so because it was better than what previously existed. Coming up with one spectacular idea is difficult enough. But how do you maintain that creativity? How do you cultivate the initial spark and turn it into a font of creativity to last a marathon, not a sprint?
To fully nurture creativity, it’s important to dispel the many myths associated with it. When we think of creativity, we think of a solitary, confident genius and a singular “Eureka!” moment. In reality, it is anything but that.
Writer Steven Johnson explains that good ideas develop from slow hunches and take time to come into full view.[ii] Darwin, for example, had the theory of natural selection outlined in his notebooks months before he claimed to have had his epiphany. And breakthrough ideas aren’t developed in solitude but occur, instead, when people come together with different perspectives to discuss ideas and mistakes – what Johnson calls the “liquid network.” Even Darwin didn’t work in silo. He was influenced by the ideas of Malthus and other pioneering thinkers of his time. Innovation, it turns out, thrives when there’s a crowd.
Wharton professor, Adam Grant, has coined a term for pioneering thought leaders: originals.[iii] Originals are driven by creativity and are changing the world but they don’t fit the mold of what we expect a visionary to look like. Rather, they’re a lot like everyone else. They procrastinate, have bad ideas, and feel fear. However, unlike most of us, they’re not afraid to try, even though they often fail. It’s because they have so many ideas that they stand a better chance of creating something great.
Adjust the Environment
Entrepreneurs and small business owners can often feel isolated when launching their ventures. They’re either doing everything themselves or working with a very small team. That isolationism deprives you of a key contributor to innovation: the liquid network. Combat that by reaching out to thought provokers. Join trade associations. Attend conferences. Even strike up a conversation with the person working next to you. Find out what’s new in your field, what your peers are doing, and gain a better understanding of how your ideas fit into the mix. That human interaction can be a catalyst for your most creative ideas.
What happens when your business has taken off and you’re no longer alone? Assemble a team with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives because a fresh set of eyes can bring a whole new take on established ideas. And make sure to develop a liquid network within your business. Actively encourage an open dialogue where people can feel safe suggesting new ideas and discussing failures. [iv] It not only leads to great team building, it also fosters continuous creativity. Whenever possible, promote initiatives that offer a break from the routine. Even simple things like an office lunch can break the monotony. That downtime can help reduce stress and lead to the kind of moderate procrastination characteristic of originals.
By nature, humans are creative. We’re capable of thinking outside the box, discussing our thoughts, and building upon existing knowledge to generate breakthrough innovations. With the right focus, we can nurture that creativity for the long haul.
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