Creative people are curious and strongly aware of their surroundings. They ask questions and aren’t afraid to do things differently. They are open to all ideas, believing that everyone is worthy of at least initial consideration, and they seem to have a high tolerance for ambiguity. However, some people resist creativity and ambiguity; they are uncomfortable in uncertain environments and don’t know how to use their creative skills to survive. This is not surprising when one considers that many schools do not challenge students to be creative, encouraging them instead to follow a structured plan laid out by the professor that includes coming up with only the expected correct answers. That is the antithesis of creativity.

Entrepreneurship is a creative, non-scientific, process. From generation of the business idea to development of the market plan to management of the growing business, it is creativity in all aspects of the venture that sets the most successful new business apart from those that merely survive.

What Creativity Is 

Creativity has been defined from both a functional and an outcome perspective. The functional perspective dominates the literature and proposes that creativity is the production of novel and creative ideas. The outcome perspective is a more applied approach that emphasizes the generation valuable, useful products and services, procedures, and processes. The earliest research on creativity focused on the individual, in much the same way that early research on entrepreneurship focused on the entrepreneur. Research looked at personality factors and cognitive skills such as language, thinking process, and intelligence. Then they examined the context in which people are creative and found that a number of environmental settings are conducive to creativity, among them absence of constraints, presence of rewards or incentives, and team effectiveness. 

The newer models of creativity incorporate organizational variables, including policies, structure, culture and training. However, little is really known about the specific conditions that promote creativity in individuals within organizations. Furthermore, research reveals that creativity occurs at both an individual and a group level and is a matter of choice on the part of the person involved.

Creativity As a Process

Most researchers have looked at creativity more as an outcome than as a process, so the models they describe are static. However, one group of researchers has proposed that time is an important variable in the creative process and that creativity is not a linear process but an iterative, chaotic one. Indeed, research suggests that certain definable patterns and activities occur in any creative process. These patterns are connection, discovery, invention, and application. The example of Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest inventors of all time, is a good way to investigate the creative process in more depth. 


A connection occurs when two ideas are brought together using such devices as metaphor, analogy, symbol, and hypothesis. Da Vinci saw a connection between the branches of trees and the canal system he was developing for the city of Florence, Italy. He verbalized this connection as a metaphor: canals are tree branches. It is interesting to note that nature has been the metaphor for many an invention, including Velco (inspired by the sticky burr) and the entire field of nanotechnology, which has brought about the development of microscopic machines and processes whose functions are based on processes often found in nature.


 Once a connection has been established, the inventor explores it in depth. Da Vinci did this by drawing three branches, examining them closely, and conducting experiments. Through this exhaustive research, he learned how trees manage the flow of nutrients and water through their systems. This gave him a better understanding of how water flows through canals. Discovery frequently occurs when we look at something that already exists from a different perspective.


Inventions are the products of effort once a discovery has occurred. They usually arise out of needs in the market, but they can be unexpected as well. Da Vinci’s insight into the inner workings of tree branches enhanced the development of hydraulic devices to control water levels so a boat could cross a bridge. His other inventions led to a means to create a waterway from Florence to the sea.


Going beyond the initial invention to other applications, da Vinci came up with ideas for mills powered by wind and water. It is interesting that many inventors never see beyond their initial inventions. The highest levels of creativity can occur only when an inventor considers all other possible applications for the invention in a variety of industries and situations.

Challenges to Creativity

Creativity tends to occur naturally, but entrepreneurs often unintentionally erect roadblocks that prevent them from following the creative path which include:

  1. No Time for Creativity

Entrepreneurs are often so busy that there is no time to think and contemplate, and this can keep them from exercising their creative skills. Most people rely on routines to keep their lives organized and under control. But relying on routines too heavily can prevent an individual from taking the time to generate new ideas in response to changing environment.

No Confidence

Taking the familiar path out of fear of being criticized will keep entrepreneurs from fully realizing their potential. They will be continually held back by the need for their ideas to seem acceptable and rational to others. Rationality is not a prerequisite either for innovative ways to seize opportunities or for receiving a patent on an invention.  Ludicrously irrational inventions notwithstanding, many of the products in use every day would not have come about if the people who invented them hadn’t had the courage to go against the general thinking at that time.

No Creative Skills

All of the aforementioned roadblocks can stifle creativity, but individuals who believe they are not creative are doing themselves the greatest disservice. They are dismissing ideas before even trying them out. Anyone can learn to become more creative and develop creative skills.

Removing the roadblocks

 The creative journey begins with keeping a journal of one’s thoughts and ideas. Many entrepreneurs keep this type of journal with them at all times to record what pops into their heads. They may not be ready to work on a particular idea at that very moment, but they still jot it down so that they can return to it in the future.

There are a number of things that can be done immediately to remove the roadblocks in the path to more creative thinking. The process starts with preparing an environment that makes it easier to think imaginatively and then moves to some techniques for enhancing creative skills.

Preparing for Innovation

Great inventors and highly creative companies own their success to having provided an environment that simulated high levels of innovation. Thomas Edison’s greatest invention was arguably not the light bulb but rather the concept of a research and development laboratory that served as an incubator for radical innovation. Likewise, Disneyland was not the greatest invention of the Walt Disney Company. Disney Imagineering, its Edison-like laboratory, is the source of its celebrated ideas. 

The environment in which a person works can either stimulate or discourage creativity. For example, suppose a business has a very rigid and hierarchical structure with many layers of management. For this type of environment to be effective, its operations must be standardized so that everyone does things in the same way. That kind of environment is not conducive to thinking “out of the box.”  

Here is another example. Picture an advertising and public relations firm that has to meet many deadlines. A fast-paced environment like this leaves little time for contemplation, which is essential to higher levels of creative thought. Even in environments like these, however, there are ways to make the setting more conducive to creativity and innovation. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Minimize Distractions: Close the door or shut off the phone to prepare to do some creative thinking.
  2. Devote some time each day to quiet contemplation: Doing this on regular basis trains the mind to shift quickly into the creative mode. It also helps to make creative thinking a habit.
  3. Pay attention to the places that inspire the most creative thinking and spend more time there.
  4. Develop a creative culture so that employees contribute to the company’s ability to innovate: 
  5. Mix people up: It is possible to achieve a more stimulating environment by mixing people up – that is, taking them out of their familiar surroundings and putting them in a new setting that forces them to think outside their normal mode. For example, a company might put a technology person in the marketing group for a month and place a marketing person in the technology group. The cultures of the two groups are typically very different, so that the marketing person will bring a new perspective to technology issues and the techie to marketing.

One entrepreneur looks for unusual places to locate his businesses because he believes that truly creative ideas can’t be generated in a typical office setting. Accordingly, he located one of his businesses in a Victorian mansion and another in an old Army building in the Presidio in San Francisco.

Identifying a Problem and Solving It

One of the most effective ways entrepreneurs have of finding opportunity is to see a problem and seek a solution.  Most people do this out of habit every day; they don’t just realize it. They can’t find a particular tool they need say, a hammer), so they substitute something else (the handle of a screwdriver). That’s using creative thinking to solve a problem.  Problems and needs are everywhere; the trick is to become more observant. One way to practice doing that is to go to familiar place, such as the airport.  Locate a spot where there is a lot of activity, and then carefully observe.  Watch what people do and how they do it, and look for sources of stress or ways to make what people are doing easier. There are many needs just waiting to be found. Brainstorming will help identify some ways to satisfy those needs and potentially produce a business opportunity.

Using Personal Network

The second most commonly cited source of new venture ideas is business associations. A personal network – a circle of friends, associates, and acquaintances – not only is a rich source of innovative ideas but also opens the mind to new ways of thinking and new possibilities. Contacts within a personal network can help individual put together ideas that might not have been considered because the individual was relying solely on her or his personal experiences. Contacts help refine ideas and can direct an individual to resources in testing the business concept. Personal networks arise not by accident but from the concerted effort of entrepreneurs to go out and meet new people on daily basis.

Making Time for Creativity and Innovation

When potential entrepreneurs don’t see themselves as creative people, it is often because they don’t take the time to exercise their latent creative skills. To enhance the chances of successfully becoming an entrepreneur and spotting that great opportunity, it is important for individuals to make time each day for creative thinking and to identify when their minds are relaxed and more open to new thoughts.  

When is one’s mind most open to creativity? Is it while jogging, floating in a swimming pool, lying in a hammock, riding on the subway? Music help some people become more contemplative. Writers often find that the music of Mozart is good for clearing mental blocks. The important thing is to schedule at least twenty minutes a day in a place that inspires the mind to wander with no distractions. The best new ideas evolve not because they were forced to happen but because the individual placed himself or herself in an environment when these ideas could flow easily.

Thinking of Opposites

Great ideas often spring imagining the opposite of what is normal. For example, think about what could be done with a telephone. At one point when AT & T was brainstorming some new marketing tactics, the marketing people asked themselves what a telephone is not. It’s not something that can be eaten, so they came up with a way to eat telephones – chocolate telephones to be exact, which they sent to their best customers.

Another example can be found in the paradox of recessions.  Most people regard recessions, or economic downturns, as negative events, but looking for what is good about a recession is a useful creative exercise. A recession brings about many more needs and problems in which to find opportunity. For example, during a recession, many people lose their jobs and go back to school to retrain themselves for new careers. Educational entrepreneurs know this, so they start private schools offering courses and workshops to people who want to take a new direction in their careers or need retraining after losing a job. Publishers know this as well, so they develop books geared toward retraining and refocusing careers.

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Bernard Taiwo

I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.

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