Ask a dozen people and you’ll probably get a dozen answers.
Sales is a popular response. After all, if an entrepreneur can’t sell customers on his product, team members on the vision, or investors on the potential, the business won’t go anywhere.
Hiring is considered another critical skill. Getting the right people on the bus, in Good to Great speak.
But the most important skill of all?
It’s not sales, or hiring, or programming, or anything like that.
Creativity is something I’ve struggled with, but now realize it is the fuel for the entrepreneurial fire. Like oxygen — without it, nothing will burn.
Every business, every project, every side hustle starts with an idea — a creative spark.
Until you create something, you’ve got nothing to sell, nothing to inspire others, nothing to dent your universe with.
I’ve had hard time coming to grips with the profound importance of creativity — I mean, I’m not an artist or a musician; who am I to be singing the praises of creativity? In fact, just last year I was rejected for a local side hustle opportunity for not being creative enough!
I definitely consider myself the left-brained, analytical, logical type. I love my straight lines and my Excel spreadsheets.
I’m not creative, I thought.
You may have heard the argument that creativity is systematically stamped out through our cookie-cutter education system. The common illustration of this is the experiment of asking a group of 1st graders how many of them are artists, and watching a classroom full of hands shoot up, and then asking the same question to a group of 8th graders and listening to the crickets.
For years I bought into that argument, because my definition of creativity was too narrow. Sure, I’m not composing sonnets or painting original murals, but I AM creative — I’ve written books, hundreds of blog posts, and built websites — I just didn’t recognize those works as creativity at the time.
And the thing is, and you are creative too.
Like any skill, creativity can be exercised and improved upon with practice. In James Altucher’s Choose Yourself he calls this “The Daily Practice.”
The skill is inherent in all of us. Kind of like how you probably already have 6-pack abs; they just might not be visible yet, hidden under a layer of fat.
Here are some ways to bring that creativity to the surface that work for me.
This one is tough because it’s time consuming but I think it’s worth it. Both fiction and non-fiction. It puts your brain in a different world and can uncover ideas you never even knew were there.
2. Listen to podcasts.
Some of my most creative moments have come while listening to podcasts.
There’s just something about hearing from other entrepreneurs that helps spark new ideas and projects — even if you only act on a small portion of them, it still gets the juices flowing and it feels great!
You can start with The Side Hustle Show :)
3. Change your environment.
Sometimes a change in work location can spark creativity.
I normally work from my home office, either on the treadmill desk or sitting at a regular desk. But changing it up could be as simple as working from the kitchen table or on the outside patio.
Bonus points for getting out of the house completely and going to the library, a coffee shop, or a co-working space. A different environment triggers a higher sense of alertness.
Can’t get to the coffee shop but like the ambient noise? Try coffitivity.
4. Drink coffee.
As a former lifelong non coffee-drinker, I finally see the appeal in this magic elixir. I still don’t drink it every day, but when I do I feel like I could take over the world.
In Jumpstart Your Business Brain, author Doug Hall observed a measurable creativity boost in his coffee-drinking students compared with their non-caffeinated peers.
But try it.
5. Chat with your 6 degrees.
Set up lunch dates (or better yet, coffee dates!) with people in your network you don’t normally see. The conversation will be fresh and an outside perspective on your business can fuel some ideas you never really thought of.
While in Vegas recently for Affiliate Summit, I was able to meet up with a couple people who had left a comment on my site or listened to the podcast and it was awesome.
For whatever reason, swimming has always been a great stress-reliever for me. I think it might be because the time in the water is isolated and quiet, leaving me alone with my thoughts (which can also be dangerous!).
There’s no music or conversation, and no scenery other than the black stripe on the bottom and a turn every 25 yards. It’s the perfect place to workout your creative muscles at the same time as your other muscles.
7. Attend conferences and meet-ups.
Surround yourself with like-minded (and differently-minded) people and learn from them. I like to attend industry events just to see and hear what other people are working on.
Even though there’s a time (and sometimes financial) cost to attend, I always walk away with some new creative ideas.
Why does creativity matter?
It’s what makes us human. It’s what makes us entrepreneurs.
The process of creation, of creating something that’s your own is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. And if there’s a business opportunity in there somewhere, all the better!
What do you think? Is there a more important skill for side hustlers than creativity? How do you exercise your creativity?