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The Creativity Lie

April 2nd, 2012 · No Comments · Ideas

Big Ideas:

  • Everyone wants to be more creative and innovative, however, they are too afraid of doing something different because it might lead to failure.
  • Try the Question Framework Exercise to help you discover new business models.

The Creativity Lie

Everyone wants to be innovative, creative and forward thinking. Of course, we all do. It is obvious that the the opposite is boring, safe and easier. Why would we choose a path that we know is inferior? The reason is that we don’t really want to change. Change is hard. It is much easier to lie. We tell everyone how creative and special we are. Perhaps if we say it often enough we might actually believe it.

That is a problem with all this positive psychology and motivational garbage we consume. There is this prevailing belief that if tell ourselves how smart, happy, rich and creative we are, then it will come true. That is like never practicing a musical instrument, yet calling yourself a talented musician while expecting to be a rock star one day.

In my experiences, people who are searching for innovative ideas to help propel their art or business, almost always reject new ideas as being too crazy. I hear things like, “our industry is different,” “our clients are not like that,” “that won’t work” or “that is not the way others do it.”If you say anything to that effect, you don’t really want to be creative. You want to play it safe, avoid risks and any chance of failure.

When you are looking to do something unique and special, it is hypocritical to outright reject an idea because it is extreme or different from your way of thinking.

Not all ideas are good, but how will you know which are good, unless you try something new and substantially different from what you have ever done before?

How to Become More Creative

When you hear a radical idea, your first reaction should never be to discard it. The more radical the better, because it helps you think in a different way. Extremes help you question your assumptions and come up with solutions that you would have never thought of with the old constraints.

When you don’t understand an idea, you should work extra hard to understand the thought process and assumptions that lead up to that insight. Surrounding yourself with people that agree with you will only lead to more of the same course of action. You want the heretics on your side, so don’t be afraid to listen to them.

Here are some crazy ideas.

  • Sell computers more expensively than everyone else and form a virtual monopoly by restricting resellers and not licensing production to other companies. That is what Apple Computers did, going against every other company in the industry.
  • Get airfare costs down to less than 20% of competitors. Discount airlines from EasyJet to JetStar have done this all around the world.
  • Remember back when everyone was saying that advertising doesn’t work online. Google’s billions of dollars of revenues prove the pundits wrong.
  • Free telephone calls. Skype anyone.
  • Unlimited storage space. My first computer had 16 kilobytes of RAM and I had to save files to a cassette tape. You can get terabyte harddrives for a $100 now. That is a lot of bytes!
  • Fred Smith got a C in business school for his FedEx idea. Perhaps his professor should have invested instead?

Questions to come up with creative ideas.

What if you gave your products away for free?
What other ways could you make money? For example, bands give free songs online to build an audience for their concerts.

What if you doubled the price?
People place higher value on more expensive things. Selling cheaply might actually hurt sales and profits. What would you have to change about the product to double the price? Often marginal expenditures on the service and delivery of the product can command premium prices.

Can you change the format?
Most people won’t pay anything to see a live band in a grungy bar play cover songs. However, there are thousands in every major city in the world that will happily pay $50 or more to see musicals, live theater or comedies. If I had a band, I would focus on creating a visual show. People want to ‘see’ bands, not ‘hear’ them.

Could you turn your product into a service?
IBM famously realized that the profits were in IT services not in computers, so it got rid of its hardware business. Most car companies make more money from financing then they do from automobiles.

What if you made your product much smaller?
You can get guitar effects processors and mixing console apps on your iPhone. Small creates new industries.

What is the best way to sell your product?
Selling through an established distribution channel is much easier than trying to create your own. It is hard to sell software from a website, but most people have little hesitation buying through the Apple Apps Store.

What are people searching for?
Solving problems your customers already have is much easier than mass advertising to a general audience. Become an expert on Google keyword research.

Action Items

  • Ask yourself if you really want to be creative or you just want to keep doing what you have always done. Don’t waste your time thinking about creative solutions if you and your company are unwilling to implement them. It is okay to be risk averse and play it safe. It is likely that the market will force you to react sooner or later, so just keep some financial reserves for when that day comes.
  • The next time someone comes up with a completely crazy and unrealistic idea, give it some thought. What conditions would have to happen for that crazy idea to work? Can you foster those conditions? Is the idea so crazy that it actually might work. How can you do a minimally viable test project to evaluate the idea in the marketplace?
  • Do you seek advice from people that disagree with you? You can’t get good ideas from those that feel they must always support you.
  • Try the Question Framework Exercise to question what your business is about. If you don’t invest time in re-inventing your business model, you most certainly won’t.

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