Creativity in a business column? Absolutely. Some might associate business with spreadsheets, but I think business more closely resembles an art project. One needs lots of creativity to build a remarkable company—to solve problems for customers, and do it in a way that’s financially sustainable. The challenge is that creativity is natural prey to three common predators: busyness, stress, and fear.
Most business owners’ days are loaded with operational tasks: doing the day-to-day stuff that nobody else is hired to do, or managing the people that you hired to do the day-to-day stuff (or managing the people that you hired to manage the people who were hired to do the day-to-day stuff!). If you own a business and have the luxury of focusing on strategy alone, you’re in a very fortunate minority. Rare is the business where the person at the top has little on his/her plate. Moreover, even if you do find some time, it can be difficult to transition from operations to creative work. Ever try to go from a management meeting to writing poetry? Our minds don’t take that turn quickly.
The solution is obvious: Regardless of how busy you are you need to make ample time for creativity; it needs to become a priority. Creativity and it’s resulting innovations are easy to ignore on any given day, but they’re absolutely crucial for the long-term success of your business. If you find that the operational tasks of your business simply take up too much of your time (assuming that all of those tasks are essential), you’ll need to either (1) find a way to automate some of them, or (2) hire help. As illustrated above, hiring help doesn’t eliminate your workload, but it can reduce it.
It doesn’t matter how much mindfulness you practice, or how much CBT you know, running a business is stressful. And when our minds are stressed, they go primal—fight or flight. Nothing really creative or artistic happens when you’re overwhelmed.
Have you ever watched a business with obvious problems spiral toward bankruptcy? Maybe you can see simple creative solutions to those problems which the owners can’t—for example, maybe they just need a better happy hour? Or they need to change their confusing signage? (I know an excellent little bakery that’s failing, I’m convinced, because people walk right by and don’t notice they’re there). There’s a downward spiral that occurs when a business isn’t doing well: Sadly, just when the business really needs creative solutions to right the ship, the Founder is too stressed to engage in creative problem solving.
To keep a mind creative, one must find a way to lower his/her stress. The actual process of this is different for different people: some play music, some go outside, some exercise, some get up early, some stay up late, some reach for coffee, some use counseling or online counseling, others alcohol (which I don’t typically recommend). However, I think the secret is to make creativity itself your stress reliever! Everybody loves to come up with ideas, it’s the most energizing part of a project, before the slog of execution. Having ongoing creativity be a requirement to your business success is a gift, because it’s an opportunity to go back to that joyful and exciting place, even if just for a little while.
You’re a highly productive person; like answer 50 emails before noon productive. So, how come you’re not making progress on your most creative, personal, and powerful projects? Your YouTube channel is inactive. Your Blog outdated. Your Twitter silent. Your book is in a folder on your computer…somewhere? The truth is you’re not making progress because you’re scared. You ask yourself: What if people don’t like it? What if it’s not good? What if I embarrass myself?
When we create something and let others to read/watch/interact with it—nothing bad can really happen. People might not like it—so what? Maybe it’s not for them. Consider this: Every best selling book has one-star reviews. Every groundbreaking piece of art, when it was first made, a lot of people really hated it.
But say you create something and it’s not very good. That’s okay, and perhaps necessary. Comedians know that to make it in stand up you need to get on stage over and over again and bomb! The ones who succeed in the business aren’t the one’s who don’t have lots of bad nights, it’s the ones who keep at it. Ira Glass, Creator of This American Life, discussed in an interview the process of developing his blockbuster show. He explained that when someone begins a radio show they usually have good taste, and it’s difficult for them to publish their shows because they know, for years sometimes, the episodes are nowhere near as good as they want them to be.
The answer is both simple and difficult. Get on stage as much as you can. Create as much as you can. You’ll get better only with practice. And I promise, nothing bad will happen.
Anthony Centore, Ph.D., is private practice consultant for the ACA, founder of Thriveworks Counseling (with locations in 9 states), and author of the book, How to Thrive in Counseling Private Practice. Anthony is a licensed counselor in Massachusetts and Virginia. Find him on Twitter at @anthonycentore or @Thriveworks.