How To Summon Creativity & Slap "Status Quo" In The Face |

How To Summon Creativity & Slap “Status Quo” In The Face

“I’m just not creative.  Leave creativity to artists or musicians”

Are you one of these people?  People who feel that creativity is limited to the lottery of the gene pool?

The truth is we all have the ability to be creative.  Creativity is a muscle.  You simply have to know how to flex it.

How we try to be creative

There are endless ways people try and induce creativity.

  • Drugs
  • Exercise
  • Eating better (or worse)
  • Endless research

among many, many others.  The problem with this is that these do enhance creativity.

To a point.

I fully agree that the more clarity you have from eating better and exercising will help you be more creative.  It also goes without saying that a high amount of experience in very different fields (online marketing, violin playing, Mandarin speaking and windsurfing, for example) will only help creativity.

How is this done?  It sounds counter intuitive, but the best way to enhance creativity is to constrain yourself.

The problem is that this approach is inconsistent.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  So how does one solve the problem of inconsistent creativity?  What is present when creativity is rolling?  What’s missing when you can’t be creative for the life of you?

The problem of choice

A major block to creative work is the problem of too much choice.  With the internet giving us answers in seconds and businesses catering to our every obscure need, creativity seems to be less important than it was in the past.  Solutions to our problems are seconds away, so it doesn’t make sense to try and be creative.

The problem with this, of course, is if you don’t ever look for creative solutions you’ll only end up regurgitating what’s already out there.  Sure, you’ll plod along and fix this; change that, but the game changing idea that would disproportionately benefit your business is not likely to happen.

Make being informed your job.  NOT your obsession.

It’s your duty to know as much as possible about your field.  You should know who the big players are and what their respective strategies entail.  You should also know who the up and comers are and their core strategic differences.  Be informed about where your industry is going.

You’ll have to be careful, however, that when so immersed in the general thoughts about your industry you don’t succumb to groupthink.  There are many reasons why Warren Buffett has such a legendary record of success, but one of the most important decisions he made was to recognize groupthink on Wall Street and stay away from it.

Constrain yourself

It’s certainly not easy to remain an informed insider and a creative, forward thinking professional, but this is the most impactful balancing act you can do.

How is this done?  It sounds counter intuitive, but the best way to enhance creativity is to constrain yourself.

When does creativity appear?  When you’ve got so many options that there’s no pressure?  Or when you have real constraints blocking a conventional strategy?

Creativity stems from pressure.  You have to force your mind to solve a problem in a way that it hasn’t before.  Draw an imaginary box around your problem, and use constraints to come up with new ideas.

A thought experiment

I used to do this when I was involved in the spa business.   I would think about my competitors who sold basically the same service I was selling.  Then I would ask myself the following questions.

  • How would my business change if I had 10 competitors? 1? 0?
  • How would I stay in business if I had 25% of my regular workforce? 10%?  200%?
  • How would I advertise if print media wasn’t available?  TV?  Internet?
  • How would I advertise with only 10% of the budget I’m used to?
  • How would my business continue if my operating budget was slashed in half?
  • What are my core competencies?  What do I do best?  What do I do worst?
  • If my current customers stopped purchasing from me, where would I find new customers?

The point of this exercise is not to promote early hair loss.

The point is to force yourself to think your way out of a problem.  Sure, the problems you imagine may be hypothetical at this point, but in the future, who knows?

Slap “status quo” in the face

Whether business is going very well or not, this type of strategic exercise shows only benefits.  You won’t always come up with fantastic ideas or a game changing new direction, but it forces you to consider the unknown and deal with it.

A skill is something you have only after hours and hours of work honing your craft.

If the status quo of your business is ‘Good enough’, ‘I make a living’, or ‘It’s going fine’, then how on earth do you expect to be innovative?  How can you expect creative ideas when you have no leverage on yourself?  Creativity stems from pressure: get enough leverage on yourself and you will come up with new ideas.

Apathy is the killer of creativity.

Many of the constraints you put on yourself will never happen.  But if they do, the head start you’ll have on your competition could be the difference between staying in business and going out of business.


Creativity is a skill.  I like to think of skills in the following way.

Talent is something you’re born with.  An innate quality.  “God” given.

A skill is something you have only after hours and hours of work honing your craft.

Constrain yourself often.

Learn unrelated things.

Constrain yourself some more.

and watch your creativity soar.

  • i agree – we all have the opportunity to be creative and the way we are educated does not focus enough on this skill development.

  • Thanks for the comment Skyler. I’m curious, does the education system, by its very nature, hinder creativity? Standing in lines, hand up to ask questions, the same format over and over, etc. I wonder what can be done to promote creative work in schools.

  • Tania

    I’m definitely one of those people who believe (believed? Haha) that people were either born being able to be creative or not…I always used that as my excuse of why I couldn’t be creative, I just figured it wasn’t part of my personality…I like your thoughts and it’s leading me to believe that maybe, just like leaders, creative people can be born or made!
    As for the schooling comments…I think in some situations it may hinder creativity like you say but throughout some of my post-secondary education I think it encouraged it. One of the things I liked about group work in my business classes was when we got to analyze cases, get together and brainstorm new ideas and solve problems. I felt it was a great environment to discover creative ways to solve real life world problems that have already occurred (like how could company A have avoided this bankruptcy etc…)
    Great topic 🙂

  • Tania

    could have * rather

  • Thanks for the response Tania. I was the same for a long time. I fully agree that creative people are made, not born, but like everything else some are more apt to be creative than others.

    Cool example!

  • Claudia

    I agree that forward thinking and being prepared is important to “stay ahead” of the game in business and in life. I think that the ‘god given’ talents some people have define their creativity. For example – artists, sculptors etc. Some great points here for business creativity though. Well done.

  • Maria G

    I think that having access to endless amounts of information
    and solutions can definitely hinder our ability to come up with creative ideas.
    We end up modifying existing ways of doing things to fit our unique situations
    rather than focusing on the issues from within and coming up with potentially
    innovative ideas. I agree with the benefits of constraining yourself by doing scenario
    analysis. This isn’t done enough at school or at work. Understanding how a business
    will change when things don’t go according to plan (whether better or worse) not
    only makes you more prepared, but may result in new strategies you hadn’t considered before.

    • Information is at our fingertips, 24/7. It’s to the point of saturation. I agree with your point about school. The one main class that was all scenario analysis was by far my favourite course and the one where I learned the most.

  • Maria G


    To promote creativity in school, I think instructors should do more of scenario analysis….getting students to some up with ideas after different business variables have been changed individually or simultaneously.

  • Alex L.

    Very well written, Jeff. Looking forward to more articles from you.