Creativity can be elusive. Disruption is a tall order. But what if there were ways to supercharge your creativity on a regular basis? We set out to find out how movers and shakers across different industries stay innovative and inspired in order to help you flex your own creative muscles.
From creating smart plumbing solutions to revolutionizing early childhood education in America and from producing content that cuts through the noise to put together an interactive pop-up experience, the six thought leaders we interviewed know a thing or two about innovation. Below are their best insights on fueling your imagination and inventiveness and breaking through creative plateaus.
Feed your mind
Reading often was a recurring theme across the leaders we spoke to — it’s all about feeding your mind. Talk to people, stay open to various perspectives and observe the world around you.
“Someone said if you want to be an interesting person, be interested. I think the most important thing is curiosity,” says Steve Hulford, founder and CEO of Underknown, a publishing company that leveraged the use of data to become the No. 1 science and technology video channel in the world.
Another resounding theme was getting inspiration from different fields. “The best innovation always happens at the intersection of a sector you are working in and something related, but it is not immediately obvious,” says Dmitry Shishkin, chief content officer of Culture Trip, a startup operating at the intersection of media, travel, and entertainment that was named by Forbes as one of the fastest-growing companies to watch. “I like to pay attention to bordering sectors, as the most interesting signals we should all train ourselves to be mindful of are there for the taking.”
Innovators understand that collective intelligence is a powerful tool. “I’ve learned that I don’t have all the answers. My job as a leader is to hire brilliant people who are obsessed with the customer and committed to making their lives easier,” says Erica Mackey, co-founder, and CEO of MyVillage, a company that is transforming early childhood education by bringing families and educators together to offer accessible child care services.
“Meet someone in your company who you have not engaged with before, go for coffee, talk about the books you like or the films you watch, stop obsessing on being stuck and instead try and bring a new perspective in,” says Shishkin. “Forget the hierarchical approach — stop the most junior person in the team in the corridor and ask them for help.”
Let go of perfection, swing into action and learn
“If you’re doing something that is actually innovative, then, by definition, you can’t know how people are going to respond to it. That’s why it’s important not to go after perfection when you’re innovating. You have to make sure you bring something out quickly,” says Cyrus Gorjipour, co-founder and CEO of Goalcast, a personal development brand that uses viral video content to empower millions of people monthly to live with purpose.
“People spend time tweaking grammar in decks for weeks, and the ones who are succeeding just release everything all the time, perfect or not. Most importantly, they learn and evolve each step of the way,” says Adam Bartman, co-founder of reed, a tech company that provides smart plumbing solutions to commercial properties, changing the way water is controlled and monitored in buildings.
“A creator never feels that their work is completely finished or ready, but my advice is to put your work out there, and then be open to pivoting or adapting as you learn and grow,” says Lee Davis, co-founder of HideSeek, an immersive pop-up experience inspired by childhood nostalgia.
Build on your bad ideas
The most creative people are not scared of bad ideas — they embrace them. “I have also been taught (and have really grown to like) the rule of rejecting new ideas three times — as the first ones are likely to be the laziest ones, picked up from your immediate operational memory,” says Shishkin.
Gorjipour says you should always create a minimum viable product (or the first version of your concept) and get feedback. “The first version of any product is always bad,” he says.
Do something else
Feeling stuck? Innovators and disruptors know when to take a step back. “Take a break and do something physical,” says Mackey.
Changing your environment also helps. “I think best in my car, driving. Find your happy place and try again,” says Bartman.
“Go into nature, look at the sky, read a book, pet an animal, walk to work, observe your neighborhood, make love, have a cry. Then pause and relax, and let your thoughts drift over you,” says Hulford.
Believe in yourself
In order to be innovative, you have to trust yourself and your abilities. “I want to do something significant, so staying inspired is easy. I have a goal, and nothing will get in my way. The fear of not trying to change the industry I know best is scarier than going for it,” says Bartman. Mackey agrees: “You have to believe in yourself to do big things,” she says.
When you are faced with the inevitable obstacles that come with the pursuit of creating something exceptional, use your passion as motivation to keep going. “When you’re in the process of starting a business, there are so many moments of self-doubt, but it’s that hunger and drive to share your project with the world that overpowers everything else and fuels innovation,” says Davis.
Create space to think
From spending time in nature to blocking time in their calendars for deep work, the most creative leaders know that time spent thinking is sacred — regardless of daily demands.
“Silence the noise. I definitely try to live by the ‘mind like water’ philosophy. I believe that a clear mind is the most productive, creative mind. It’s easy to let the to-dos pile up, and quickly everything feels urgent and important. It isn’t,” says Mackey. “Figuring out what strategies work for you to clear the decks of your mind is key to supercharging creativity. An example that works for me is that about once a year, I clean my entire inbox to start fresh.”
Add some structure
While a lot of the advice around creativity involves removing boundaries and thinking outside the box, Gorjipour says there are also benefits to structure, as constraints can lead to original solutions.
“I used to think that creativity was about the removal of boundaries. That the more I wanted my team to be creative, the more freedom I had to offer. But I have now learned that some structure can actually unleash creativity,” he says.
Treat creativity like a lifestyle
Hulford offered words to live by for anyone wanting to take their creative abilities to the next level.
“I have learned that creativity is something everyone is capable of. It’s a mindset and a way of life. It’s about taking in all the sights and sounds of a particular moment and listening to how that moves you. Does it inspire you? Does it move you into action?” he says.
“Thoughts come to me, and I act on some of them, and other times I let them pass. Some have turned into companies, others into stunts, and others into acts of gratitude such as a spontaneous phone call to an old friend. How [my creative process] has evolved over time is that I allow my thoughts to be free, and to go with the flow, and I see where things end up. It started in my work, and now takes place in my life.”