Entrepreneurs Need to Stop Sabotaging Their Creativity

Culturally, creativity is something that we talk about from a very early age. Toddlers are given crayons and asked to draw pictures. Preschool teachers encourage their young participants to finger-paint. Elementary school students are expected to pay attention in art class. And while we first notice the focus on imagination and innovation at a young age, the importance of creativity extends far beyond coloring books, finger painting, and grade school homework assignments. It’s an essential element of everyday life – particularly for entrepreneurs who want to launch and grow business ideas. And when creativity wanes, success often drowns in the wake.

The Importance of Creativity in Entrepreneurship

The human brain is a limitless idea factory. It’s capable of thinking up new designs, exploring novel concepts, and shunning what seems impossible or impractical from the outside looking in. It’s a creative organ that’s at its best when it thinks and produces.

Perhaps creativity is best described as imagination personified. It’s the process of tapping into unique and original thoughts and turning them into reality. And while most people think about creativity within a liberal arts context, it’s not reserved for music, painting, drawing, poetry, or performing arts. Creativity also plays a catalytic role in entrepreneurship. In fact, it’s what sets the table for innovation, which many would argue is the bedrock for entrepreneurship.

While an entrepreneur needs more than just creativity to be successful, it’s an integral component. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Creativity drives innovation. The most successful and sustainable businesses in the world are started by entrepreneurs with original ideas. Whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Blake Mycoskie of TOMS shoes, or any other ultra-successful entrepreneurs of our time, they all have one thing in common: Their ideas are deeply rooted in rich creative thought.
  • Creativity encourages thinking. The last thing you want is to get so caught up in the day-to-day operations of running a business that you make choices without giving any second thought. When you prioritize creativity, it forces you to think critically about everything. This gives you an opportunity to see issues from fresh angles and unique perspectives.
  • Creativity maximizes engagement. When creativity is prioritized, it’s impossible to approach business challenges passively. It forces you to dive into the nitty-gritty details and fully engage with what you’re doing. This leads to greater familiarity with your ventures and more valuable takeaways.
  • Creativity establishes a competitive advantage. Just because you launch a unique business idea today, doesn’t mean it’ll still be unique tomorrow. If you experience any degree of success, the copycats will show up to play. But creativity is your secret weapon. By continuing to embrace creativity, you establish a competitive advantage that nobody can replicate with your brain.

It’s rare that you see a business flourish without some emphasis on creativity. While a company can survive for a few months, or perhaps even a few years, a lack of innovation ultimately gives competitors the opportunity to swoop in and steal market share.

The same goes for entrepreneurs – i.e. the people behind businesses. A lack of creativity eventually erodes how business owners think, innovate, lead, and grow. In the end, this staleness leads to a feeling of being stuck, burned out, and uninspired.

The 4 Factors That Stunt Entrepreneurial Creativity

Every entrepreneur is unique, but if you put a hundred of them underneath a life-size microscope and study what makes them tick, you’ll inevitably come to the conclusion that they all share similar traits and penchants. And if you take the time to home in on innovation – or the lack thereof – you’ll discover that there are certain factors that consistently and overwhelmingly stunt entrepreneurial creativity. If you can identify which ones are thwarting your own creative thinking and proactively address them, you’ll increase your chances of success. Take a look:

  1. Poor Morning Routines

You might think your workday starts when you walk into the office, but the reality is that it begins the moment your alarm sounds in the morning. And it’s entirely possible that your morning routine – whether formal or informal – is sabotaging your creativity for the rest of the day.

Here’s the thing: Regardless of what you think, you’re a morning person. There’s ample research to show that the prefrontal cortex portion of the brain is most active and ready to be creative immediately following sleep. This is true for a couple of reasons. First off, your mind has spent the previous seven or eight hours subconsciously absorbing the information you gathered the previous day and making useful connections. Secondly, your decision-making capacity is at the highest point it’ll be all day. (More on this in the section titled “Decision Fatigue.”)

How you handle your morning dictates how the rest of your day goes. If you squander the hours before work watching the news or scrolling through Instagram, you risk depleting your creative reservoirs. If you spend this time following a well-optimized plan that limits distractions and puts you in the correct frame of mind, you can do almost anything.

Any good morning routine begins by waking up at the same exact time. Whether it’s the Monday of a big client meeting or a lazy Saturday at home, waking up at the same time trains your brain to always be in the right frame of mind.

Upon waking, stay away from technology and spend some time quietly thinking. Some people like to meditate, pray, journal, or exercise. Do something that allows you to spend time with your own thoughts.

The next step is to get organized and to limit the number of choices you have to make later during the day. This may look like creating a to-do list, packing your lunch, or sending an email to your assistant to handle anything that could disrupt your flow.

Remember that a morning routine is only a routine if you do it consistently. When you discover something that works, keep using it until it no longer gives you what you need. It’s okay to make tweaks to a morning routine, but make sure you give it time to stick.

  • Buffering

Regardless of whether you’re familiar with the term, you regularly practice buffering in your own life. It’s the process of building up a supply of something you think you’ll need in advance of the actual need.

In your own personal life, toilet paper is a great example. You don’t just buy one roll of toilet paper at a time – you purchase a pack of 12, 24, 36, or even 48 rolls! Why? Because you’re anticipating the fact that you’ll one day need all of these rolls. You’re buffering as a means of being efficient (only going to the store once) and prepared (if you don’t have a roll when you need it, well, it’s too late).

Buffering is about protecting against future scarcity, which is why entrepreneurs also use it in creative pursuits. If you’ve ever made a list of product ideas, headlines for blog posts, or topics for a future podcast, you’ve practiced buffering. And even though each of these behaviors seems smart, they actually stifle creativity.

When you buffer, you’re actually telling yourself that you don’t believe you’ll have any creative ideas in the future. Thus you need to come up with enough ideas now to last you for a week, six months, or a year. You’re proselytizing a creative drought. And do you know what happens when you tell your brain that you can’t do something? It shuts down and proves you right.

If you want to continually innovate and regularly produce fresh, original ideas, you have to stop buffering. Trust yourself that you’ll be just as creative next year as you are today. Force yourself to work out of a place where you have no other option but to create something now. This pressure to perform, combined with the freedom to think, will spur you on to greater things.

  • Decision Fatigue

Reports suggest that the average human being makes a stunning 35,000 choices per day. This amounts to roughly 2,000 decisions per waking hour, or roughly one decision every two seconds. And while this number is often questioned, the precise figure doesn’t really matter. The point is that people make thousands of choices every single day. Some are big and others are small, but each one counts.

Research shows that we only have so much capacity for making choices on any given day.  When our cognitive resources are drained dry, decision fatigue sets in. 

Decision fatigue is what makes a judge more likely to parole a prisoner early in the morning versus late in the afternoon. It’s what makes a quarterback more prone to tossing an interception in the fourth quarter, as opposed to on the first drive of the game. It’s also what stifles your creativity.

With each decision you make in a day, your capacity for objectivity, your willpower, and your ability to see issues from different perspectives wanes. Instead of giving the necessary thought to a choice, you simply go with the option that’s easiest, most comfortable, or least disruptive. In other words, you conform, which is the opposite of being creative.

On the bright side, you can prevent – or at least delay – the onset of decision fatigue by mitigating the number of choices you have to make in a day. For example:

  • Take a page out of the playbook of successful people like Barrack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg, who wear the same outfit every day. The less time you spend focused on what to wear, the more capacity you have to make decisions that truly matter.
  • When it comes to food, eat the same breakfast every morning. It’s just breakfast!
  • Develop a very clear framework for how you handle emails. The more you simplify your inbox, the less time you spend worried about when to respond, how to respond, what to say, etc.
  • Schedule creative tasks first thing in the morning when you still have the ability to make good decisions.
  • Try taking an afternoon nap. A quick nap – meaning 15-25 minutes can reset some of your mental space and help you build up additional capacity. You won’t fully recharge, but you will notice a quick boost. 

You need willpower, energy, and mental clarity to be creative. By proactively addressing decision fatigue, you can set yourself up to be more successful on an everyday basis. Give a couple of these techniques a try and see how they change your approach to innovation.

  • Spending Time With the Wrong People

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said something to the effect of, “You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” In other words, you begin to embody some of the same thoughts, ideas, beliefs, habits, and personality traits of the folks you’re surrounded by on a daily basis.

If you feel like your creativity is falling to the wayside, it could be that you’re surrounding yourself with people who aren’t creative. Or perhaps they are creative, but all follow the same creative patterns. Either way, this stifles your own way of thinking.

The best way to kickstart your creativity is to spend time with some new people – people who think differently than you. If you’re a programmer, don’t just spend time with other programmers. Surround yourself with painters, musicians, writers, architects, and fashion designers. Creativity isn’t segmented by industry or occupation. There’s a lot to be gleaned from individuals in other niches.

The idea isn’t that you have to ditch your current friends or coworkers, but rather that you need to spend time with new people. Constantly expand your personal and professional circles and don’t limit your relationships to people who look and think like you.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Creativity is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship. But if you’re honest with yourself, you aren’t cultivating creativity nearly as much as you should be. It’s time to identify the factors that are holding you back, in order that you can push through and continue to innovate. Where will you begin?

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