Author Yan Revzin is the co-founder of Fortune Cookie Advertising, a non-traditional and experiential marketing company selling advertising space within fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants throughout the United States. Follow him @fortunecookiead.
One thing I have learned about growing a business through my own experience co-founding a nontraditional marketing agency is that it's crucial to always keep thinking of new ways to be creative and innovative. No matter what you're selling, you have lots of competition and need to be able to stand apart and show people how you're special. This also holds true if you are an employee trying to impress your boss.
Over the years, I've gotten several invaluable pieces of advice on this topic, either from personal mentors or from leaders I've read or listened to. The following are the three tips that have helped me the most in my effort to stay creative.
Creativity Is About Synthesis Over Originality
While creativity is usually associated with "thinking outside of the box" and similar cliches, the fact is that few ideas are 100 percent original. The most brilliant -- and profitable -- business ideas are usually variations of an already existing theme rather than completely new concepts. This idea was driven home to me by one of the most successful innovators of all time, Steve Jobs, when he said: "Creativity is just connecting things." What set creative people apart is that "they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things."
This is not something that only applies to inventors and CEOs; it's relevant to anyone who needs to inject creativity into their daily work or to pitch a product. For example, I recently revisited a series of BMW short films (called The Hire) that featured vehicles being destroyed. While this was a highly innovative marketing campaign, the films themselves were not all that original. What was original was the pairing, or synthesizing, of two usually separate realms -- advertising and pure filmmaking. Since then, other companies have used similar tactics, but the BMW campaign was a great early example of blurring the lines between ads and film.
I always try to keep this principle in mind in my own business. It's not always necessary to be completely original, but if you want to be creative, you should consider putting elements together in a new way.
Design an Environment That Supports Creativity
I learned this from a previous boss, who always played Mozart in the office because he'd read that it boosts productivity. It's easy to forget how big a role your immediate environment plays on your ability to perform at your best. Yet everything, from the colors around you to the sounds that you hear, can have an effect on the way your brain functions.
You can't always control your environment. For example, if you work in a cubicle, that's where you have to spend your day. However, even then it's possible to make adjustments by placing photos or items that inspire you nearby. What I've found to be especially effective is using music and other sounds to help me focus. There are now apps that create ambient noise that may be even better than music. I've personally been using the Noisli app, which creates a variety of sounds as well as background colors.
You Don't Need a Huge Marketing Budget
Guerrilla marketing pioneer Jay Conrad Levinson helped teach me that effective marketing campaigns don't have to be expensive. As he put it, "Marketing is every bit of contact your company has with anyone in the outside world. Every bit of contact. That means a lot of marketing opportunities. It does not mean investing a lot of money."
As someone who specializes in nontraditional marketing strategies, I always go back to this quote. Too many businesses equate marketing with paid advertising, and while this can have its place, there are many free and low cost ways to promote. As Levinson says, to take advantage of these you must be constantly have your eyes open to new opportunities. This can take the form of informal networking or elaborately staged guerrilla marketing campaigns like flash mobs. The philosophy of the guerrilla marketer is to constantly be aware of free or inexpensive ways to connect with people. The internet -- and social media in particular -- have made this easier than ever. For example, one of the best ways to get attention is to pair a compelling image or video with a social media post.
These are some of the most valuable principles I've discovered when it comes to staying creative in the workplace, especially when running a business. By definition, creativity is a personal process that's not exactly the same for any two people. But you can certainly help spark it by following certain ideas to help guide you on your journey.