Many entrepreneurs are naturally strong when it comes to some of the vital creative traits, in particular, coming up with ideas. However, a 2016 Harvard Business School study found the failure rate of US start-ups after five years was over 50 per cent and over 70 per cent after ten years.
In Australia, roughly one out of twenty start-ups are a success, which means they fail 95 per cent of the time. While the reasons are varied, it is clear that to be successful as an entrepreneur your creative strengths need to extend beyond the production of new ideas and a tolerance for risks.
It is essential to understand the difference between creativity and Creative Problem Solving. The former is an act of creation focused on the generation of new ideas. The latter, Creative Problem Solving, is the science of creativity which is backed by over 50 years of research into our natural creative processes. It goes well beyond the production of novel ideas. It covers the full gamut of the creative process from dreaming of a better way of doing things through to implementing an innovation.
Those that are truly skilled at Creative Problem Solving are not only able to generate ideas but have strengths across the full spectrum of the Creative Problem Solving process. Here are some things you can apply to help you become more than just an ideas person and become a competent, creative problem solver across all aspects of your life.
Learn to honour questions
Most people have heard of the concept of the left and right brain. The left brain is known for processing lists, maths and answering things like email. The right brain is known as our creative brain, and it is known for making unusual connections and has a love of intricate patterns. We now know more about how the mind works, and it isn’t that straightforward with each hemisphere dedicated to a type of thinking. However, as a metaphor this concept of left and right brain style thinking is beneficial.
In this society, we tend to honour left brain style thinking when it comes to our thinking about work and success. For example, the ability to quickly come up with an answer, handle an objection and rapidly decide what the right thing to do are all examples of traits we admire. They fit in with our current mental models of what business success is. We don’t hear successful CEOs say, “You know the longer this business goes on, the more I realise how little I know.” Yet Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the less I know.”
However, don’t fall into the trap of believing that one brain’s style of thinking is the superior mental processing mode. Both types of thinking are needed, it is just that we tend to favour left brain thinking in business that trips us up.
Right brain thinking is essential as it favours asking questions, pondering possibilities and allowing time for things to emerge instead of jumping to conclusions. These are all critical, creative traits that are rarely encouraged in business. Asking questions is often seen as weakness – who wants to admit that they don’t know something? However, creative people honour questioning as it goes to the heart of learning. Moreover, to be successful in business and life, we need to be continually learning.
Ask yourself, why did you become an entrepreneur? To work like a dog or to have the freedom to pursue your calling and, hopefully, make a great living doing it? Naturally, it’s the latter, and you cannot achieve that unless you periodically stop to question not only what you are doing, but why. Is this path that you are on the best one to take you to where you ultimately want to go? These types of questions are often best asked in a more expansive environment than an office. Go for a walk, visit the nearby park or find a lovely secluded table in a favourite café. Alternatively, go to the beach if you live near the ocean or spend some time in the outdoors. Countless studies have proven the more time we spend in nature, the more creative we become. It will help you to remember that you work to live, not live to work and all the questions you need to continually ask to ensure you keep that ethos front of mind.
Remember when you started this journey, how exciting everything was? You had huge hopes and dreams and probably an insanely optimistic confidence that you could achieve it all. Then the reality sets in, and your faith starts to waver. That is a natural part of the creative process. When we begin to share our dreams, people will start to question them, and doubts will appear. You cannot control how people react, but you can control your reactions. This is the time to get curious because these doubts are like cryptic clues. They are giving you insights into what feedback you want to take on board and what you need to jettison.
However, you won’t always know how to classify the feedback. Should you trust the seasoned investor even if you are not entirely sure you agree? Alternatively, is the customer or consumer, always right? There is no easy way to judge which feedback to take on board, so get curious. Ask why? Not in the defensive mode of, “Why don’t you agree with me?” Instead, take a leaf out of Sherlock Holmes’ book and think about not only what they are saying, but why and what they are not saying. Also, never assume you know. Instead, ask them why.
The more you understand other’s points of view, the more you will get an insight into the bigger picture of the operating environment. This knowledge will help you to better judge which feedback to take on board and which to gently set aside. The more you understand the bigger picture, the better able you will be to judge which feedback to listen to.
Developing your curiosity muscle will also make you emotionally stronger as you will no longer be worrying about what people think and be focusing on finding out the why. This is a much more resourceful headspace to be in and why creative problem solving is a life skill, not just a business skill.
Don’t fall in love with your ideas
Many entrepreneurs are naturally skilled at generating ideas and can produce them as easy as popping popcorn. The secret for people like this is not to get too attached to their ideas too early. It is called premature judgement, and if you want to be a skilled Creative Problem Solver, you need to learn how to have a multitude of ideas – not just one or two. As Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner, said, “To have a good idea, you have to have a lot of ideas.” Creative problem solving takes time and effort. I recommend that when you think you cannot produce any more ideas, force yourself to generate five more. You will be surprised at how capable you are, and those last ideas are often where the gold is found.
If you are someone who doesn’t naturally love producing a ton of ideas, you are in luck. From the start, you are going to have to leverage the creative problem solving skills of those around you. That means as your business develops and grows, you will already be in the habit of strengthening your creative muscles and of those around you. The lone creative genius is a myth. Our creativity blossoms when it comes into contact with others. It helps our ideas to morph, develop and grow.
Learning how to cultivate your creativity and of those around you, will transform you from a creative person into a creative leader. A creative leader provides the space for everyone to contribute and share their ideas. They also empower their people to act on their ideas to improve the environment for customers and co-workers. If you want to live a more creative and productive life, make your work a place where everyone loves to bring their best self, which is their creative self, to work every day.
It’s not easy being an entrepreneur but it’s a journey worth taking. Just remember, when things get tough to pull on all your creative resources to get you through it. That includes asking more questions, getting curious about the world around you, making ideas a collective effort so everyone in your business can make an impact and make sure you’re the author of your story and not the voices in your head that like to compare you to some mythical version of success. It’s a cliché to say honour the journey, but there is more to living than financial success. There are freedom, joy and space to live creatively. If you acknowledge the latter, the success will come.
Creative problem solving is a gift
As an entrepreneur, you may or may not be blessed with an innate ability to generate ideas, but if you want to realise your full potential and of those around you, you need to become skilled as a creative problem solver. The ability to visualise, develop and implement solutions while taking everyone with you – rather than just come up with ideas – is the mark of a true entrepreneur. Fully achieving your vision is what matters most. Don’t sit with your dreams – chase them.