For most creative people coming up with new ideas, being innovative or ‘think outside the box’ is pretty easy, it’s part of their DNA!
Often they struggle with too many ideas, rather than too few!
Often I am rather surprised how conventional many creative businesses are when it comes to doing their business planning or working on their business.
What creative techniques can you use to develop your creative business? To become more creative in creating the business you want?
And what do you do when you get ‘stuck’ or the ‘blank page’ hits you?
When and where are you at your most creative?
It is incredibly helpful to know when you are at your most creative. That is personal for everybody, but very often it is when you are actually not trying too much!
Keep a journal for a while and make notes to identify when and where you are most creative, and then when you feel down use that to trigger yourself into a more creative mood.
Often repetitive work that you do with your body (e.g. gardening, cooking, ironing, walking, dancing) get you into a more creative mood.
Anxiety, worries, negative emotions, and self-sabotaging voices are often absolute creativity killers. Thinking too much in general doesn’t help! Get out of your head and into your body, and your creativity will flow much easier.
But funnily enough many creatives need a bit of stress and a bit of time pressure to get out of their procrastination mood!
Creative techniques to create your business vision
Your business vision is about the bigger picture, about the WHY of your business: WHY do you exist? And why is that important to you?
A simple but effective creative technique to create your business vision of what you want to achieve is to create a collage:
Collect images of the kind of products or projects that you want to work on, the kind of space you want to work in, the kind of lifestyle you want to create, the kind of clients you want to work with. Just get a big pile of magazines, and cut out what appeals.
Working with images is much more intuitive, and by bringing together different images you start seeing deeper values. When you discuss your collage with others specific themes or topics will emerge, that will help you to write down and communicate your business vision to others.
Having a business vision collage visible in your workspace is a powerful reminder of what you want to achieve on a day-to-day basis, and will help you with ongoing decision making.
Creative techniques for business modelling and planning
When I help my clients with business planning I often start with ‘planning with the end in mind’. This means that you start at the end, and then work backwards from there.
You look at the big picture of what you want to create, the legacy you want to create: The Why.
Then set sub-goals of how you will achieve that big goal.
It was Stephen Covey who described this in his bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In particular he uses a technique called the 80th birthday speech. Imagine somebody gives a speech, what would you like them to say, what would they mention, what would be important events over the years, who would this person be?
Take time to write down this speech – yes, you! This is a very powerful exercise (often an emotional one too) to find out what is really important to you.
The two business planning tools that I personally use most often are:
big paper and sticky notes!
Over the last couple of years I have run lots of business planning workshops as a business adviser. I have found that if people sketch out or brainstorm about a business plan on large piece of paper (A1 or wall paper are ideal!) they start to ‘see’ the big picture much easier!
Here is how you can do it:
Take a big piece of paper. On the top right put end of the year, and divide the top row then into the various months between now and then. The left hand column are the different aspects of your business, like this:
Jan July Dec
Again: ‘start with the end in mind‘ e.g. formulate end goals for the year e.g. I want to have a turnover of £35K and a salary of £25K, I want to hire an assistant, I want to create 2 new collections this year, I want to participate in 100% Design.
Make sure that your end goals are so called SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound), which basically means that you need to put a number on it.
From your end goals you then start using the sticky notes to break down these bigger goals into smaller goals and actions. Each action or goal goes onto a sticky note, which will make it easier to move them around. For example to achieve the financial goals, you will need to do 2 trade shows and 4 craft shows, getting 10 new retailers or shops, and ideally an agent. Each of these ideas you put onto a sticky note.
So the next question is: ‘how will you achieve that?’ So each time you break down your bigger goals into smaller goals and actions, till you really get down to the nitty gritty. What do you need to do to do those 2 trade shows? You need to research the various trade shows, you need to apply, you need to develop a collection, etc.
Use colour and arrows to link goals and actions, and soon you will get a very clear picture of what needs to be done and when, what your really busy periods will be, what actions need priority etc.
Another one of my favourite creative business modelling techniques is the Business Model Canvas, developed by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur, as described in their book Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers. The BMC shows the main business areas such as Customer Segments, Key Activities, Key Partners, Key Resources.
Again working with sticky notes you can very quickly ‘sketch’ out various business models of how to generate different incomes, and how the different areas relate to each other.
Using the Business Model Canvas is especially useful if you are starting a new business, or want to examine or rethink a business model. It works well to do this exercise in a team, and want to identify fairly quickly the strengths or weaknesses of various potential business models against each other.
Approach your business planning like a game or a brainstorm, with lots of sticky notes in different colours, and within an afternoon you can quickly come up with how your business is really going to work.
You can find out more about how to do this on the Business Model Canvas website, and you can also download and print a poster-size version of the Business Model Canvas there.
Developing a product: The Walt Disney Strategy
I also love using the Walt Disney strategy for creativity, which is not a Mickey Mouse technique, but was indeed used to create Mickey Mouse!!! So what’s that all about?!
This specific technique was developed by Walt Disney to take an idea through to a marketable product in 3 distinct stages: dreamer, realist and critic.
The Dreamer is about dreaming, visioning, innovation, exploring, imagining, ridiculous ideas, spontaneity, using all the senses, free from any real world constraints or limitations.
The Realist is about being realistic, the practicalities, pragmatic, making it happen.
The Critic will examine the accuracy of the details, providing constructive feedback, making an idea robust and complete.
The idea behind this way of working is that you start as The Dreamer, then The Realist, and then The Critic. Each stage is separate, so you don’t criticise when you are visioning or dreaming! It is a great way to come up with wonderful ideas, but also include realism and critical thinking to your design process.
You can do this by yourself, but ideally when working in a group or team. You can find more details about how this process through the link, or online.
How to solve creative problems? Six hats!
Very similar in its process of structured thinking is Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, which is especially used to solve creative problems or if a team can’t agree.
The idea is that you work in a group and wear one of the 6 coloured hats, whereby each hat represents a specific perspective (e.g. green hat is about creativity and exploration, the white hat is about information and facts). It is a great approach to literally see a problem from different aspects and solve it from that particular viewpoint.
Edward de Bono is an expert in creative thinking and many of his books provide useful theoretical background and practical exercises to develop your creative thinking.
What to do if you are creatively really stuck?
If you are really stuck creatively then I would recommend The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self by Julia Cameron. She wrote this book in 1992, describing a 12-week programme to unleash your creativity step-by-step. There are two techniques she specifically recommends:
The Morning Pages which you write every morning first thing in long-hand for 12 weeks without reviewing them.
The Artist Date which is a creative activity that you select and do every week to excite you and your ‘inner child’.
You can find the details of The Morning Pages and The Artist Date here. On the Julia Cameron website you can find now a 12-week video course, as well as other people who will join you to go through the book together and to create support and accountability.
Some resources for creative thinking that I recommend:
The Creative & Cultural Skills Council’s Business Survival Toolkit gives a great overview and details of lots of different creative management techniques you can use, at whatever stage your business is in.
The Mind Tools website offers a great overview and lots of short articles about a wide variety of business management tools.
So, what do you use to boost your creative thinking for your business? When and where are you at your most creative? What do you do when you are stuck? Add your comments and suggestions in the comments below.