The Creative Small Business and 4 Ways to Get There

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.

outside the box

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.


Jamillah Warner Jamillah Warner (Ms.J), a poet with a passion for business, is a Georgia-based writer and speaker and the Marketing Coordinator at Nobuko Solutions. She also provides marketing and communication quick tips in her getCLEAR! MicroNewsletter.

7 Reactions
  1. Hey Jamillah, just wanted to drop a line and tell you that I think you are an awesome poet and it is good to see creative people making such an impact in the business world

  2. I love that the idea of a team was highlighted – I’ve found that I’m much more creative when I have someone to bounce ideas off of. Brainstorming alone is tough, so it’s definitely useful to have others help grow ideas!!

  3. Excellent post – creative businesses have to be approached in a different way from other endeavors, thanks for this great run-down.

    Gene Marks

  4. Smart! Most people seem to believe that most of the great ideas out there are sparks of genious coming out of a simple person. To become great ideas, they need to be tested and approved and reworked. Doing everything by yourself happens…but then again, so does winning the lottery.

  5. Not only were all big businesses small at one time, most of them were the result of a creative spark by someone or a team of someones, a way of looking at a situation and seeing a better way. I’m glad you creating space for creativity — a lot of work gets done when not working — and the idea that creativity may be the product of a team. I’d add that acknowledging mistakes and analyzing what went wrong can lead to some creative new products and services.

  6. Jamillah Warner

    Thanks Jason…:)

    Samir said, “I’ve found that I’m much more creative when I have someone to bounce ideas off of.” Me too but sometimes that’s a living person in the room, their book, a song, etc.

    And I talk to myself–that seems to help…:) BUT I usually end up in front of somebody learning from their response. Give and take is–amazing.