Entrepreneurs sometimes experience difficulty overcoming hurdles because of their leadership style, which is often driven by the assumption that they need to proceed as they have been told rather than creativity. However, startups distinguish themselves primarily by their leadership’s ability to “think outside the box” and deliver something new and exciting. Because leaders can quickly fall into existing patterns of thought, thinking outside the box requires cultivation and active attention. Fortunately, entrepreneurs have a lot of options available to them relative to fostering creativity and creating an environment that embraces change, including the following:
1. Read outside of your field.
Entrepreneurs need to be learning constantly to stay ahead of the curve. Typically, they will stick to books and articles that relate directly to their area of interest. While it is important to remain apprised of developments in your field, you do not want to restrict yourself too much since people in any given field tend to approach problems from the same vantage point and, in general, think similarly. But, by exposing yourself to reading materials from outside of your wheelhouse, you can potentially encounter a different way of thinking, and in doing so, open your mind to the possibility of approaching problems from a different point of view. Such a shift lies at the heart of innovation.
2. Find new mentors.
Most entrepreneurs understand the value of mentors. These individuals can provide great insight and forge important connections. With great mentors, you can avoid many of the common pitfalls that have stunted entrepreneurs who came before you. As you advance in your career, you may want to consider engaging mentors that have taken different paths than you. These individuals will have a different point of view and will likely give you much different advice than your usual mentors. Ideally, you should connect to someone outside of your industry entirely. Just as with taking up a book you would not normally read, this exposes you to new and different ideas, as well as novel frameworks for approaching how to think about the world. Plus, new mentors may have very different, but equally valid, ways of answering a business question.
3. Question everything.
People tend to grow into routines quite easily. However, that does not mean these routines are actually the best way of doing something. To think outside the box in everyday situations, you need to begin questioning how and why you do certain things. Try to analyze actions at regular intervals so that you build this questioning into how you approach problems. Over time, you can bring this same curiosity to the workplace and begin to examine workflows to see if they are as efficient as possible. Once you start to question things that are taken for granted, you can open up new conversations that could lead to exciting discoveries and key changes down the line.
4. Relate what is seemingly unrelated.
Another great exercise for training your mind to think outside the box is identifying relationships. Steve Jobs explained that connecting things lies at the heart of creativity. Many of the most revolutionary ideas in recent decades have simply resulted from the novel connection of existing ideas. On a daily basis, you can challenge yourself to think about how to relate seemingly unrelated ideas. Write down two objects, ideas, or something else and spend a limited amount of time thinking about how to relate them. At first, the exercise may prove difficult and fruitless, but over time you will likely experience a shit in how you think about these different objects or ideas. This new mindset will carry over to into your leadership style.
5. Pursue learning each day.
If you keep an open, receptive mind, you will naturally approach to your work more creatively. A great way to achieve this is to hold yourself accountable to learning something new each day. You could focus on something like a language or choose different subjects along the way. What you learn does not necessarily have to be related to your work. The point is to foster an inquisitive mindset. You could even identify an accountability buddy. You and this person could set aside a few minutes each day to share with each other what you have learned that day. Taking time to teach also exposes you up to approaching things from a new perspective since you will need to figure out how to explain the novel concept in the most effective way based on your audience’s background and experience.