Vincent Nicolas, the author of this article, has taken part in several open innovation challenges through Agorize – including the Boost My Op’ challenge from Total and Air Liquide, in which he was selected for the final.
There’s just one place on Earth where everything is possible. Where you can build, destroy, start again, create – all in a fraction of a second. I’m talking about our dreams, of course. We all have it in us to be creative, and our dreams are a daily reminder of this fact. Creativity is a necessary part of our lives, both personal and professional – it’s what makes us feel alive. And what allows us to innovate.
So the question is, ‘How do we become more creative?’ Both at university and in the business world, we see creativity not just as a necessity, but also as a holy grail. Kodak is a prime example of this fact, and its decline is the proof. Finding new and innovative ideas has become a key challenge for businesses, both in terms of maintaining their activity and expanding it. Here’s a simple way to become more creative and innovative in business.
1. Find sources of inspiration
To develop your creativity, you need to know where to find inspiration. Creativity is something you build, something you work on. It doesn’t just come knocking at your door – you need to be proactive. Waiting is one option – but let me suggest another, one that involves more research and curiosity.
Are you looking to develop innovation within your company, your SME, or even for a current project? There are resources at your disposal, and most are even free.
Source #1: The internet (is your friend)
Firstly, a website like TED is a mine of information, whatever sector you work in. You can find talks by famous people (including Bill Gates) as well as young geniuses who are revolutionizing tomorrow’s world. For example, Boyan Slat (born in 1994) is the founder of the company Ocean Cleanup, and is planning to clean the oceans with an innovative waste collection process. If you’ve never heard of him, then it’s a sign that this site is for you. Whether you speak French, Croatian, Czech or just English, the videos feature subtitles, so language is no barrier.
YouTube and Facebook are also great sources of ideas if you know how to use them properly (just make sure you don’t get stuck on kitten videos). For example, on Facebook, liking pages such as Tech Insider, Une innovation par jour and Rude Baguette, to name just a few, will reveal the surprising potential of the inventors and entrepreneurs that they put in the spotlight.
Source #2: Events and human contact
Do you prefer to get out and about, meet people, and get away from your computer screen? Great – that’s what the trade shows, conferences, exhibitions and even breakfasts organized by companies are for. There are events for every sector and on every subject – you’re sure to find relevant ideas for your business activity. For example, there are exhibitions dedicated to innovation (such as the CES), entrepreneurship, sustainable development and energy. The EventsEye site lists current and future exhibitions from all over the world.
You can also go to conferences. TED (yes, we’re back to that again) organizes conferences worldwide – and the cherry on the cake is that you can even organize your own event if you want to bring a group of people together to talk about a topic. It’s a powerful tool to help you collect hundreds of new perspectives and ideas while expanding your network (and your sources of inspiration too).
Source #3: Nature and the environment
Lastly, the final source of inspiration is… all around us. Nature is bursting with surprises and inventiveness – to such an extent that scientists are now using it as inspiration for their innovations in a discipline known as biomimetics.
Not convinced? Here’s a few examples that should change your mind. Researchers are currently taking inspiration from mussels’ byssus (the thread they use to attach themselves to rocks) to create a glue that resists extreme conditions, such as those found in the sea. Byssus is also used in medicine for stitching wounds, as it prevents bacterial growth. Take another example – shark skin has inspired new swimming costumes that slide through the water better, helping swimmers to set new speed records. Biomimetics is a booming field in today’s world, and it’s applied to a wide range of sectors, including agriculture, energy, innovative materials, and construction.
As you can see, there’s no shortage of sources of inspiration to boost your creativity, so what are you waiting for? Now you know where to look, let’s move on to the best ways of finding inspiration.
2. The three stages of research
The method I’m going to tell you about is the one I’ve tried and tested following my own studies and research, and I still use it today. But feel free to add your own personal touch – it’ll only make it more effective.
Step #1: clearly identify your aim and your target audience
The first step is to identify your target audience. You want to be creative, okay, but who for (your employees, customers, suppliers, etc.)? For what purpose? For example, imagine that you work in security, and you want to develop innovative tools. First of all, you need to decide if these tools are aimed at field operators or administrative staff in the offices, because they’re faced with different realities and challenges. Very often, if you focus on who you’re targeting, it’s easier to find a solution. And chances are that other ideas will come to you – seeming blindingly obvious – about other target audiences that are important to you. Put yourself in your their shoes so you can understand their needs. The more you adopt their viewpoint, the closer you’ll get to your solution.
Step #2: identify sticking points
Secondly, it’s essential to identify the obstacles that could get in your way. Make a list of your limits (technical, financial, etc.), and take the time to clearly define them. Once you’ve done this, turn these limitations into solutions, challenges and objectives. The more aware you are of these obstacles, the easier it’ll be for you to overcome them. The greatest inventions and successes in our history are born in the face of challenges (aircraft, cars, rockets…). As Jean Piaget said, “Intelligence isn’t what you know, but what you use when you don’t know”.
Step #3: talk, discuss, compare
My final step is simple – get talking! The knowledge economy is a market that’s always active, and it’s a positive market where no one ever loses out. If I give you information or knowledge, I lose nothing. But if you return the favour, we’re both winners. The more you interact, the more you’ll learn and the more your idea will develop. It means you get feedback on a potential project (just make sure you don’t give away too much) and can refine it as your discussions progress.
So I’ve told you where to look and how to find it, but once again, the many roads to creativity are always surprising and can lead you to dozens of different destinations. That’s the beauty of it. Now let’s take a look at the state of mind you should embrace because creativity is also a question of motivation.
3. Adopting the right state of mind
Even though everything is going well and seems simple on paper, the reality is very different. It’s not enough to know where and how to look – you also need to have faith. The road is often longer than you think, and that’s where you need to make sure you have a positive attitude.
A sales manager at Total who I once had the opportunity to talk with told me that the three key pillars to success are hard work, experience and perseverance. Although hard work is no guarantee of success, it’s nonetheless an essential part. Working hard helps you to find out what you want and how to get it. Experience stops you from repeating others’ mistakes, as well as your own. That’s why it’s important to talk to people and get feedback, as I mentioned above.
Finally, perseverance is what, in my view, sets those who believe in their dreams apart from the rest. Perseverance goes hand in hand with motivation. Find what motivates you before you jump in, and try to arrive at a solution in as many ways as necessary. Don’t be disheartened. Take Harland David Sanders – aka Colonel Sanders – as an example. You might not know his name, but you’ll certainly know his franchise: KFC. Today, he’s a symbol of the American dream. Offering his famous fried chicken recipe to restaurant owners, Colonel Sanders suffered 1,009 refusals. It was only at the 1,010th restaurant that he got his first ‘yes’, allowing him to launch his franchise. How many of us would have continued to persevere after so many refusals? Just how much do you believe in your idea?
According to Shawn Achor, what makes us happy and what motivates us is the road that leads to the objective, not just the objective itself. He clearly explains this theory in a TED video that you can find on his site if you want to know more. But getting back to creativity, whatever job you’re in and whatever your aim, if you’re reading this article, remember that staying positive will mean you’ll see the world in a different way.
Einstein once said that “Anyone who can no longer feel amazement is as good as dead.” Creativity is everywhere – you just need to know where to look.
Creativity is within everybody's reach!
It’s something that entrepreneurs prove by creating companies every year. Thanks to the internet, we all have the tools needed to learn and study, right at our fingertips. As technology moves forward, we need to adapt to make sure we’re taking full advantage of it. Just make sure you don’t get lost on the way. As Frank Herbert once said, “Too much knowledge never makes for simple decisions.” Once you’ve found your idea, work hard and persevere. It’s said that we should sleep on problems, but sleep also brings dreams that, perhaps, will become tomorrow’s reality. It all depends on you.