Do we need some kind of permission to be creative? To live and do business outside the box? I mean, it’s not that small business creativity has to be so wild and far out—it just has to be. I meet a lot of small business owners who deal with creativity as an afterthought. Well, just because our companies are small doesn’t mean our ideas and our solutions have to be tiny, too. Of course, creativity and innovation don’t have to be over the top, either.
Fast Company just came out with their 2011 100 Most Creative People in Business. It’s a diverse list with dynamic stories that inspire me (and hopefully you, too). Whether you are designing a physical product, redefining a company, writing stories and jokes, or figuring out a new way to communicate your political or corporate message, it’s the creativity that makes a company, a brand, an idea stand out.
And creativity works for small businesses too. In the beginning every business was a small business, so why should we act like creativity is something for the big boys? From some of my favorites on the list, I learned a few things that we can use in our businesses.
Connect the Team
Musician Bruno Mars, No. 48 on the list, keeps a production team around him. When he gets song ideas, he gathers the trio and the three of them make music. Each small business has a rhythm of its own. Identify your key creative team members and carve out some space for the ideas to bounce around the team. That’s how Tiny Prints (Laura Ching, No. 60 on the list), an online stationery company, took off. The team was already in place, meeting weekly and just looking for a great idea.
We cannot do it by ourselves. It takes a (dynamic) team to build our small businesses and make them last.
Protect the Mission
Educator Sal Khan, No. 7 on the list, created Khan Academy, a video library for students. According to its About page, the academy’s goal is to provide “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” While Khan Academy is a nonprofit and by nature mission-driven, it’s no different for for-profit businesses. We are all driven by a mission of some kind; our companies should be too. Define the core problem you solve, the people you solve it for, the process you use to get it done and how you could improve on it. Use your team to put it all together.
Embrace the Change
Plan out your best ideas–and then leave room for change. Comedian Conan O’Brien, No. 8 on the list, has a staff of writers, and he constantly reviews and rewrites what they provide. Even after they hash everything out, he may change it and add to it on the air. Preparation is powerful, but so is having the guts to make the right kinds of changes. Prepare ahead of time, but leave some space to read your audience (your customers) and adjust to the moment.
Honor the Inspiration
Oprah Winfrey, No. 12 on the list, sits among 12 oak trees in her yard for inspiration, while Arianna Huffington’s (No. 10) ideas come from naps. Conan’s inspiration seems wild and overwhelming to me, but it works for him. Find your inspiration and let it work for you.
It’s creativity that solves the problems that others will not and/or cannot. It’s the systematic way of protecting creativity that allows you to build a business around it. Speaking of systems, Conan debriefs after every show to see what works, and the Middle East media outlet Al Jazeera (Wadah Khanfar, No. 1 on the list), has an online system in place that allows citizens to submit content about what’s happening in their country. It’s good to make room for creativity and to set up systems that maximize all the voices and ideas around you.