Everyone wants to be more creative but sometimes coming up with good ideas is easier said than done. If you could use a dose of inspiration, take some cues from Alex Shlaferman, founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based Vante Toys.
The 21-year-old NYU dropout is a self-made millionaire who earned his first $10,000 at the age of 11 by selling a DVD of himself teaching a levitation trick. At age 15, he began pitching kitchen gadgets at state fairs across the country, making up to $8,000 a day. After saving $30,000, Alex launched his toy company in 2010, spent three years building relationships with major retailers, set up a factory in China, and turned Vante Toys into a multimillion-dollar company that now employs 40 full-time staff members. His latest invention, Wallet Ninja--a credit card-sized multi-tool that functions as a screwdriver, iPhone stand, bottle opener, and more--has reaped nearly $10 million in sales since hitting the market nine months ago. He has also inked deals with more than 25 major retailers and top distributors in more than 25 countries.
Here's what he says you need to do to get a creative edge.
Come up with an idea without worrying about how you'll make it work.
As a child magician, Shlaferman found the secret to inventing the coolest tricks was coming up with the most absurd idea, then reverse engineering it to figure out how to make it work. In other words, he generates ideas without worrying about method. "You don't think of how you're going to do something first," he says. "You think of what it is you want to accomplish and then you work backward."
Acknowledge that anything is possible.
Most people need to break a barrier in their mind that limits their creativity. "People have these assumptions, 'Well isn't that going to happen? Aren't there rules to this? Isn't it supposed to be like this?' And the way I always respond is, 'Says who? You could do anything that you want.'"
Travel to faraway places, but by yourself.
Sure, it's nice to go places with friends but doing so also keeps you in a comfort zone in which you won't be taking risks and meeting new people. Shlaferman has traveled alone to several countries in Asia and South America. "When you travel alone, you force yourself into a survival mode where you have to do things and you have to meet people and you have to push yourself to figure out what's going on unless you want to be in your room all day," he says "It's the most exhilarating, inspiring, creative thing that there is."
It sounds simple, but considering the gadgets most people have in hand most of their waking hours, it's easy to thoughtlessly check out by scrolling social networks or wasting time online. "When was the last time you just sat there for a good 10, 15, 20 minutes and just thought?" he says. "Albert Einstein used to take really long walks whenever he had a problem. He would walk for hours just thinking and thinking about things."
Always take the rarer opportunity.
If you get a chance to do something that doesn't present itself every day, go for it. "The only things you'll regret in your life are the things you didn't do," he says. "So don't think too much about it. Just do it."
Instead of protecting your ideas, talk about them with everyone.
Plenty of entrepreneurs hold their ideas close to them for fear someone will steal them away. But making a good idea actually come to fruition involves a tremendous investment of time, energy, and often, money. "It's a 24/7 life dedication and to assume your friend or a stranger is willing to put in that amount of effort and has that passion for something that you are discussing is totally unrealistic," he says. "Discuss your ideas with everybody. Don't be scared, and you'll be shocked at how much insight that you receive."