Creative Thinking Skills for Business Leaders

If someone asked you to explain what it takes to run your business, chances are you wouldn’t say, “I just sell stuff” or “I try different methods.” You may say something more like, “It takes a business plan, budgets, accounts, revenue and employees.”

So what about when it comes to your creative process? How do you define creativity? Can you clearly explain what it means to be creative? You most likely have to think about this one. But the truth is, there’s a proven structure to the creative process that can deliver effective results, even (and especially) in business.

Using Creativity to Succeed in Business

Most people are taught that there is always one right answer to every problem, which is absolutely not true. If you’ve been feeling like your business could use some fresh, new approaches to problems, you may want to consider applying divergent thinking.

Divergent thinking is the act of generating multiple solutions to a problem or multiple uses for a product. It’s essentially the foundation of all creative thinking – the idea that alternatives exist. We can use divergent thinking during brainstorming sessions, when we’re faced with a problem that has no known solutions, or when we’re faced with a limitation and need to find new uses for objects.

If you’d love to discover new, creative insights to problems you face in your business, apply divergent thinking by following these four guidelines:

1. Forgo judgement of ideas.

Divergent thinking means to generate multiple solutions, as opposed to convergent thinking, which means to decide on the best idea. When exercising divergent thinking, every idea is heard, recorded and accepted. Judging ideas, even those that have not worked in the past or that are not possible, hinders the creative process and decreases feelings of safety within a team.

2. Think of wild and crazy ideas.

Come up with the most impossible, absurd and ridiculous ideas you can think of. While this may be uncomfortable for many, it’s one of the most important guidelines to follow. If you only stick to ideas that are possible or what you’ve seen done before, you’ll never discover tremendously successful and innovative ideas.

For example, let’s say you need to reach more customers. You might suggest traditional marketing ideas, such as having a sale. But what about ideas that really push the boundaries, like dropping a million flyers all over your city, holding a parade with wild animals or lighting up the sky with your business information? Although these may never happen, they could help you connect disparate ideas or discover insights that you may not have if you would have stuck to more realistic, conventional ideas.

3. Go for quantity over quality.

Think of lots and lots of ideas – not just a few. If the problem you are trying to solve will affect your business for weeks, months or even years to come, it’s important to spend considerable time searching for solutions. Even if only 20 out of 200 ideas are doable, they will be of much higher quality than if you only invest a few minutes thinking of ideas.

4. Don’t assign credit.

Don’t pay attention to who suggested what idea. Instead, focus on building on the ideas of others. Creativity is not an individual pursuit. Everyone on your team has the ability to contribute, and coming up with creative solutions should be seen as a team effort. Assigning ownership of ideas can lead to less ideas because people don’t feel as comfortable suggesting them. People may also feel as if they aren’t allowed to build on someone else’s idea because it would be considered stealing. But building on ideas is key to the success of any company.

Simply by reframing problems, we can discover creative solutions. We often get stuck on a problem by focusing on the original question. How do I fix this? How can I get better at this? Instead, we can reframe these questions to help us take an alternative angle to solving the problem. We might ask who else has succeeded at this problem? What is the worst way to solve this problem? How might a mentor solve this problem? These questions change our focus and give us another approach to finding solutions.

Creativity and Innovation

It could be said that all innovation is the result of combining previous ideas. Look at the products around you and think of the services you pay for. What products and services do you offer and what is their history? Combining ideas is a great way to discover innovative products and services.

Take the printing press, for example. Johannes Gutenberg simply combined the coin punch with the wine press to create the printing press – which is commonly considered the most influential innovation in history. Other examples of combined ideas include the smartphone (a combination of many ideas), luggage with wheels (invented by an airplane pilot) and a laser pointer. Each of these ideas are new and useful combinations of other new and useful ideas.

One Final Note

Assumptions guide our businesses and lives more than we realize. They provide predictability in a confusing world. However, assumptions also limit our creative potential. They can stop us from considering more effective methods of living and keep us locked in outdated modes of accomplishing daily tasks. Why do we complete tasks in the order that we do? Who says the leader of a company needs to have the biggest office? When did the rules that govern your business become unquestionable? These are questions to ask if you want to overcome invisible barriers, surpass the competition, and become an innovative business.

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