business

By Meredith Wood

Small business ownership comes with its fair share of challenges. In facing them, you may occasionally find yourself stuck in a rut and struggling to see a path to future growth.

In these instances, it’s common to be encouraged by those around you to “think outside the box.” But what does that really mean?

As it turns out, creativity isn’t just a quick fix. One wacky marketing stunt isn’t going to sustain your business long-term. But encouraging and nurturing innovation as a way of life in your company can.

Once you decide to approach things with a truly creative and open mind, issues that might have crippled you before will become mere speed bumps on the road to growth and success.

So just how do you go about breaking out of your routine and seeing your problems through a new lens? Here are a few tips on how to get started.

1. Practice Divergent Thinking

The concept of divergent thinking is that of creating multiple solutions for a single problem. Instead of trying to hone in on the one “best” solution, this method gives you a chance to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.

Next time you’re faced with a client issue or a marketing conundrum, trying sitting down and listing every single thing you can think of that might help you find a way out of it—no expectations or judgment applied…just put everything out there. You might not land on one single perfect fix, but with such a broad set of options, you’re likely to find an innovative way to combine a few thoughts or ideas into a plan that works best for the situation.

2. Embrace Failure

You’ll never win if you don’t try, right? Give yourself permission to fail—and fail big—without punishment. If you give up creatively approaching problems after one (or two…or three…) missteps, then you’ll be stuck forever in a cycle of mediocrity. There are lessons to be learned in moments of failure that couldn’t be gleaned in any other way.

The more you seek out and encourage creativity in your company, the more risk you’re taking of seeing those flops, but the insight those failures can provide will inevitably lead to bigger, bolder thinking going forward. And that’s where you’ll find the true innovation that sets you apart from the pack.

3. Diversify

While it’s great to pursue creativity on your own, encouraging it in your team and surrounding yourself with like-minded peers can only increase your chances of success. Bringing in people with diverse skill sets and backgrounds to help you brainstorm ideas allows you tap into a variety of thought processes and will result in a more robust set of data to work with. Just make sure that everyone is on the same page before beginning; there should always be a common goal and motivation shared by the entire team.

4. Branch Out

In the same way that diversifying your team can contribute to generating a richer bunch of ideas, diversifying your own experience can do the same. You are naturally going to operate from a place of personal comfort and knowledge when approaching any problem. But shaking yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new things is a great way to broaden your creative vision in business.

Consider opposing opinions, dip your toe into a new industry or field, or work with a non-profit to see how differently they handle operations. You’ll be surprised how much it will open your mind to new possibilities!

5. Toss the Assumptions

This can be a hard one, but it’s vital. Every business that has successfully innovated in its field has flouted the status quo. No one is handing out awards to companies that operate in lockstep with all of their competitors. So forget the rules. Forget “the way it’s always been done.” Break free from the tyranny of expectation, and turn those assumptions on their heads! It will truly allow you to truly think about and see things from a new perspective.

Deploying creative problem-solving in your business can feel difficult at first. You may not even consider yourself to be a creative person, but taking the steps above can help you get started on the road to a more innovative kind of thinking.

Shake things up a bit and give yourself permission to explore all the options, no matter how silly it feels. Soon enough, there won’t be a single problem you can’t face!

Meredith Wood is the Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans that matches business owners with the best funding providers for their business. Prior to Fundera, Meredith was the CCO at Funding Gates. Meredith is a resident Finance Advisor on American Express OPEN Forum and an avid business writer. Her advice consistently appears on such sites as Yahoo!, Fox Business, Amex OPEN, AllBusiness, and many more. Meredith is also the Senior Financial and B2B Correspondent for AlleyWire. @fundera.