Economic success is more than ever dependent on innovation, adapting, beating the competition and standing out from the crowd (Worthington 2005). Moreover, in our economic climate, the fate of our recovery is not only place in the hands of the consumer but also in the hands of businesses. Entrepreneurs can and will help the recovery, especially in the UK (Worthington 2005). The ability to create, innovate, revolutionise and develop are not just ideals, they are starting points and the foundations for most business start-ups. It is a crowded market place, so what makes you and your product different? This process, all involves creativity and innovation. As such, it can be assumed that entrepreneurs need to be creative and innovative in order to start their entrepreneurial journey. But what is creativity? How does one become creative and think of a business idea, in everyday life?
The notion of success and especially, the success of an entrepreneur is often treated like a secret and some unidentified formula. It isn’t. Entrepreneurs are ordinary people. They don’t follow a set of stages in order to be successful; it is hard work, luck and an idea. The idea doesn’t have to be mind-blowing or brilliant, there just has to be an unanswered need and a created solution to fulfil it.
A key barrier, to my business journey so far, is the concept that an entrepreneur has to be innovative and creative. I have often found myself thinking “I can’t start a business because my idea isn’t good enough” or “I’m not really an ideas person”. This partially based on my idealistic view of what an entrepreneur “should” be rather than what they actually are (Burns 2011). My view of someone who is creative was someone who is artistic, has lots of brilliant ideas and makes them into a reality. Someone who literally spends their day tripping over excellent solutions to problems. When I was a child, I really struggled with creativity in the artistic sense. I can’t draw, I’m not musical; I can’t physically create things of beauty, therefore I considered myself uncreative. Consequently, until recently I waited for the idea for a business to come to me; I’ve always felt I’ve had all the business skills to make a successful entrepreneur, but if only I had the idea. Within my early business life, I sat back and watched people thinking “I wish I could have thought of that”. But then I realised, innovation is within everyone’s reach; you just have to try and open your mind to the possibility. Creativity is a challenge you can set for yourself.
As I’ve developed, I’ve realised innovation and creativity in the business sense, spans a range of skills and abilities. Anyone can be creative, including me. When I was a child, my introversion would lead to hours spent inside my own head; considering different possibilities, different scenarios and situations and constantly questioning everything. I was brought up to challenge and to develop my own opinions. As an only child, from an extremely middle class background, I rebelled in order to stand out, be different; I embraced my quirks as my USPs. I became creative in the sense, I saw things differently and I challenged the status quo.
Consequently, I am creative or more correctly, I became creative through increasing my self confidence in my own ideas. I accept I’m not going to have that eureka moment and suddenly feel overwhelmed by divine inspiration; I’m not going to develop a new product. But what I can do is identify problems and gaps in the market; I seek to solve them and fill them. Like my Father, I seek out effective and efficient processes; I look at services and routines and seek to revolutionise them. I’ve developed this skill, by taking time out of my day to think and to discover. As such any budding entrepreneur should set time aside to be creative and to question, a form of business mediation. Not just to reflect, but to consider the “what if?” Of course, this has involved the creation of a lot of TERRIBLE business ideas. My time spent as a business consultant, working with start-ups and idea incubation, taught me that entrepreneurs often have many terrible ideas, before having a good one. I remember working with one gentleman who wanted to create a Russian vodka importing business and had done a lot of research into it. Speaking to him about his idea and critically looking at, he wasn’t deterred. Weeks later, he came back with the skeleton idea for “stuff 4 unit”, which has been a runaway success. Consequently, innovation isn’t just about getting it right; it is about being open to the creative process and willing to try.
Another aspect of my creativity is my self-confidence in my own ideas. This self-confidence, drives me forward to consider and explore, shaping them up into the best idea possible. Many aspects of entrepreneurship are considered to be genetic traits (Burns 2011), things you are simply born with. But, I couldn’t disagree more. The ability to change and develop into who you want to be is a far more important factor. As a child and an early teen, I was the sort who gave up when things got difficult, I panicked and was unable to systematically deconstruct a problem and I was not confident in my own ideas. Today, the reverse is true. I seek out challenges, I love deconstructing things and I’m very confident in my own ability. My mum always taught me as a late teen, that (aside from her), no-one else was going to be my number fan, so I may as well take that role and champion myself into success. If I don’t believe in myself and my own creative ideas, then why on earth would anyone else? As such, creativity is not a personality trait; it is something that is developed.
A crucial aspect of creativity, is what Clutterbuck (2013), expounds as psychological safety. This is a key element to creativity. As an individual, you must feel safe and comfortable to explore ideas and to innovate, without reproach. This process involves thinking of ridiculous and unworkable ideas, having them deconstructed, but working through the process in order to develop the innovation process. This is even more crucial when working with others and bouncing off their creativity. It is a fine line, between critically looking at their ideas and pulling them unconstructively a part. Within any organisation, my academics and my own business, I want an ethos where every single person feels like they can make a different; they are more than just a cog into the corporate machine. Consequently, I want their ideas and input. But I also want them to respect my ideas too.
Zwilling (2013) in his article puts forward several ideas surrounding entrepreneurship and creativity. He discusses corporation’s perceptions of creativity and how as a business, we often perceive how to innovate, which has led to business incentivising creativity, changing the ethos of their company to foster creativity and that creativity is restricted by resources. As such, innovation is labelled as something that needs to be encouraged, needs to have a certain facilitative factor and that not all people can do.
Being an entrepreneur, starts with the ability to create and build on ideas. Instead of focusing on the idealise entrepreneur, we should be looking at how to encourage innovation. However, like with any output, creativity and idea generation is different to everyone; it is a skill that can be developed over time. Business idea generation is daydreaming; dreaming and developing a perception of your idealised world, with something you have created in your mind in it (Zwilling 2013). To boost creativity and innovation, we need to promote more of this day dreaming and considering the “what if?”
There will always be people in the world that can take ideas and make them into a reality. But there may not always be new ideas and innovation. To ensure progress, we should not encourage this elitist view, that innovation and entrepreneurship is for the gifted few. Businesses and success start with idea generation, a process that is accessible and open to all. There isn’t a successful formula to developing a good business idea or a method of promoting idea generation, it all comes from self-discipline. For me that starts with my little note book, a quiet space and a pen. The more I’ve opened myself up to the business idea process and believed in my ability, the list of business ideas I’ve thought of has been remarkable. My notebook is full of terrible ideas, with no practical application or any hope of success, but then once every so often, there develops a good idea, with enterprise mileage (Zwilling 2013).