It's amazing how strikingly similar the creative process is between industries, whether you're an actor or a technology innovator. You have to go through the phases of ideation, trial and error, that "what the hell?!" moment and, if you're lucky, the "eureka!" And if you're lucky, you'll go through that process again and again.
Outside factors can significantly impact how innovative we are. I learned this the hard way a few years back when the first and only TV script I ever wrote received attention from a children's television network. They asked me to present it, along with a billion dollar toy idea. At that time in my life, I was in my twenties, working two jobs (with no money or credit to show for it), and had a lot of life issues going on that were making it difficult to focus. I also hadn't learned the value of research yet and didn't ask anyone's advice either!
But hey, I could spin around great ideas all day and that's enough right? Wrong. Needless to say, I blew it by being ill-focused, under-prepared and over-anxious (due to the fact that, yeah, I needed the money).
We love to talk about the fun parts of innovation, like the creative process. But in order to get there, we have to set ourselves up for success. Even in the best of circumstances, creativity can be elusive. How do we get to the space where great ideas are able to flow out of us? We have to take some not-so-glamorous, but necessary steps to set ourselves up for success.
It's one thing to come up with great innovations to start or grow a company. It's another thing entirely to have the capacity to implement those innovations. Personal capacity to make things happen is both overlooked and underrated, but founders ignore this issue at great risk.
Here are four areas of their lives that every entrepreneur should work on to unlock the gates of innovation.
Innovation takes a lot of stamina. There isn't an entrepreneur alive who hasn't spent night after night at their desk, or examined the same concept from a thousand angles. While they know that this is detrimental to their health, they push on anyway, believing that the end goal outweighs the means. But if you're too tired to pull off a key meeting with investors, or too sick for your creative juices to flow properly, you're in danger of blocking innovation.
So be sure to prioritize your health above all. Make time to exercise, take breaks and eat well. According to health expert and founder of HarcourtHealth, Melissa Thompson, time is not an excuse. "You have the same number of minutes in the day as Mark Cuban, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Hurd. All of these CEOs manage to oversee multinational companies while balancing the demands of their personal lives."
Avoid entrepreneurial burnout at all costs by looking after your personal health.
I learned about this the hard way. If money is a pressure nipping at your heels like a pack of blood hounds, it can lead you to make bad choices. You may want to take out a bank loan, but early business loans often require personal guarantees. Instead of alleviating some of your financial burden, you're piling on the pressure, placing your personal assets (or those of others) at risk. You wouldn't be the first entrepreneur blinded by passion to go down this route, but try to keep your personal and business finances separate.
Investors and potential partners run background checks, including personal financial information. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, less than half of all loans applied for by small business owners are granted. The main reason for this is usually because of bad personal credit. But, it's actually easier than you might think to build up a healthy business credit, even if you're recently starting out.
You can establish your business as a separate legal entity through internet sites like Legalzoom and RocketLawyer. You can set up a business checking account and start building up your credit history by taking out a credit card and always paying on time. Whatever you do, keep your personal and business finances separate, so as not to take on liability or damage your personal credit.
And while we're talking about personal credit, it's probably worth noting that you should be looking after yours. "As a business owner and entrepreneur, maintaining good credit is incredibly important", said Scott Smith, President of CreditRepair.com. "Your credit score is essentially the measure of how reliable you are financially. A healthy credit score can help your business secure loans, suppliers, and even clients."
At the end of the day, you can be creative all you want - but if you appear to be unreliable, no one will give you the platform to be innovative.
I mentioned that the four steps weren't glamorous, but personal education is probably the exception. I'm not talking about your college degree or MBA. Formal education helps, of course, but informal education (especially about areas of expertise necessary for your business) is crucial. The best leaders are dedicated to continued learning. Just ask Susan Peters, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at GE, or Bruce Jones, Senior Programming Director at Disney Institute.
According to a Harvard Business Review report, entitled "The Best Leaders Are Insatiable Learners," a leader's ability for "self-renewal" and ongoing personal education is vital. That might mean stepping out of your comfort zone, picking up new skills you think you're too old for, or being open to the opinions of others.
But, trust me, lifelong learning is a must, because things change so fast and people with open minds are far more likely to cultivate to innovation.
Many innovators get so caught up in their area of expertise that they become completely null and void when it comes to interpersonal skills. That's okay when you have a strong management team who can compensate for each other's weaknesses. We're not all budding salespeople after all, or highly technically savvy. But, even if you do have a strong team to rely on, you never know when you'll find yourself at an opportune moment alone with a potential backer. You'll be glad you worked on your elevator pitch when that time comes.
According to a study by Salesforce, 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, so learning to read and display appropriate body language is crucial. Workforce Solutions conducted a survey revealing that 60 percent of employers believe applicants for jobs do not demonstrate sufficient interpersonal skills needed for the positions. While colleges and universities churn out sharp minds capable of solving problems and thinking critically; they aren't able to interact well with their superiors, clients or colleagues.
Interpersonal skills, like persuasion, communication, relationship building, and understanding how to read people and hold their interest are vital. All these skills help to expand your emotional intelligence and give you the tools you need to become a better leader and cultivate healthy relationships with others. Emotional intelligence, in fact, is becoming more important than cognitive intelligence, since your IQ only accounts for about 20 percent of your success in life.
This might seem like a lot to process, but properly preparing yourself to embrace innovation can mean the difference between success and failure. Can you really imagine that successful business innovation can come from an entrepreneur who is sickly, with a FICO score of 500, lacking in basic knowledge, and can't interface with other people? Neither can I.