Creativity is not always rocket science.

Being creative isn’t the easiest thing for many people. Even the best writers face writer’s block sometimes. But when it comes to starting or running a small business, the ability to be creative is pretty crucial. Tapping into your creative nature can mean coming up with new solutions to problems, reaching higher levels of business flexibility, developing new innovations and even staying afloat with great ideas and business plans that might not have occurred to you otherwise. Creativity in your endeavors can lead to success where others might fail, but how can you simply be more creative? It sounds as potentially difficult as willing yourself to be more tall.

Paul Thagard, a philosophy professor and author, wrote a great article for Psychology Today about whether creativity can be taught, or at least stimulated. He examines the habits of scientists and researchers who are successful at their efforts and spots behavioral patterns shared by those who seem to be the most creative – after all, in science, creativity is often the key to achievement. He organizes his tips into categories which we’ve reprinted below (along with our own notes for each tip), so read on for the list of little things you can do every day to inspire yourself to creative heights!

1. Make New Connections

  • Read. A lot. The more you read, the more you’ll open yourself up to new ideas and concepts.
  • Broaden yourself into more than one field. Limiting yourself means limiting your creative options.
  • Use both visual and verbal representations of ideas. This will tap into more than one area of your brain as you work.
  • Use multiple methods to approach problems, and try new methods where possible. Never stick to the “usual” way of doing things if you’re seeking to go forward.
  • Do NOT do what everyone else is doing. What would be the point of that?
  • Use analogies to link ideas together. You can often see new connections between concepts if you attempt to form analogies around them.

2. Expect the Unexpected

  • Don’t get too attached to your ideas. They might not be the best, even if they come from you.
  • See and admit to your mistakes. You’ll have trouble moving past what you’ve done wrong if you insist you did it right.
  • Recover and learn from your screw-ups. Everyone has failures – some of the greatest minds in history failed a lot before they succeeded. What they did right was taking notes from what they did wrong, avoiding repetition of those errors and never giving up in their efforts.
  • Take anomalies seriously. It’s easy to write off anomalies as outliers that don’t signify, but don’t be too quick to brush off what doesn’t fit.

3. Be Persistent

  • Be systematic, and keep records of what you do. There’s nothing worse than trying something that you’ve tried before because you can’t remember how it turned out the first time.
  • Concentrate on the subject. Creativity is stymied by distractions, so keep your mind focused to maximize your efforts.
  • Focus on key problems. Not all problems are created equal, but if you give equal weight to them, you’ll be quickly overwhelmed. Figure out what is the most pressing and direct your attention there, even if you’re tempted to spread yourself around.

4. Get Excited

  • Pick projects that are fun and that don’t bore you. Why pursue something if you’re not interested in it??
  • Get playful in your ideas and tools. Channel your inner child and play your way to thinking outside the box. Even tossing a ball around can unlock new thoughts for you.
  • Ask interesting questions. Part of getting past the traditional roadblocks to your goal is getting past the traditional questions that others have asked about it. Expand your questions to get to a new realm of answers.
  • Take risks. Being creative isn’t always safe, but reaching past your comfort zone can be liberating for the creative process.
  • Be devoted to the truth, passionate about your reputation and eager to understand. Solve the puzzles at hand by actually solving them, not by simply getting around them – you’ll get frustrated and tired, but if you maintain your eagerness to get to the answer, you’ll get there.
  • Have a taste for research and a desire for that thrill of discovery. A lot of the creative process is exploring what others have done before you, and while delving into those research depths can be daunting, the potential gratification of where that hard work might lead you should keep you motivated to pursue the truth.

5. Be Sociable

  • Build a strong team and find smart people to work with. No man is an island, even the most brilliant of creators. Think of Sir Isaac Newton, discoverer of calculus and Newtonian physics, who said of his work, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
  • Listen to people who have experience, and study those who are already successful. No matter what business you’re pursuing, there are many who have paved the road for you with their own achievements and failures. Learn what you can from them – they’re a great resource for your own growth.
  • Communicate what you’re doing with others, especially close colleagues. Some people want to keep their work a secret, but you’ll get far more creative juices flowing by talking to other people about what you’re doing, being honest about your efforts and communicating your results to those who might use them. Share your knowledge just as you benefit from the knowledge of those around you.
  • Foster different cognitive styles. Yours isn’t the only way of thinking, so encourage other styles of thought to help you get out of your rut and into creative processes.
  • Have a group of people you can fall back on. Some of your efforts will inevitably fail, and when that happens, it’s vital to have the support of people you trust. Get that social circle ready.

6. Use the world

  • Look around at nature to find inspiration. Some of the best innovations come from ideas spawned by natural observations.
  • Find environments that are rich with stimulation. Don’t lock yourself in a plain white room and expect ideas to come knocking.
  • Build instruments. If you don’t have the tools handy, make them!
  • Get a great space to work in and make use of it. Surround yourself with what you need to succeed, from work items and toys to artwork and good lighting.
  • Observe and reflect intensely. One key to really mastering creativity is being tuned in to what’s going on around you, then thinking, interpreting and adapting what you observe to the circumstances you’re in. Everything you need is around you; it may just be a matter of seeing it differently.

These tips might not all apply to your situation, but they’re consistently present among the most successful and creative scientists and thinkers, so we encourage you to try them in your own small business or entrepreneurial endeavors!