A lot of businesspeople make the mistake of thinking there’s no room for imagination and creativity when it comes to entrepreneurship. Business, after all, is about hard, tangible facts: market research, revenue projections, financial modeling, etcetera and so forth.
The thing is, entrepreneurship is all about imagination and creativity. Crafting a business from ground up is a creative endeavor. And having a vision for the future – based on an idea of what is possible – is nothing more than pure imagination.
In short, if you can’t imagine the future, and be creative in the process, you probably won’t succeed as an entrepreneur.
Fortunately, imaginativeness is a skill that can be developed, just like anything else.
Three Types of Imagination
In a study published in in the Academy Management Journal, researchers at Washington State University found that there are three imaginative skills that correlate to more success for entrepreneurs.
These three types are:
- Creative: Making connections between seemingly unrelated data to create meaningful relationships
- Social: Understanding the needs of others and projecting how to address those needs
- Practical: Identify problems that require solutions, and generating ideas that can form the foundations for these solutions
What they found about these types collectively is actually pretty surprising: as a whole, imaginativeness outperforms other factors when it comes to coming up with better business ideas and making better decisions – factors like motivation, experience, and knowledge.
In other words, if you rank high in the three areas of imaginativeness, you’ll come up with more ideas than others – and those ideas will be better. And as any successful entrepreneur knows, most of making it in business is coming up with plenty of good ideas.
How to Develop Your Business Imagination
There’s no magical formula for developing a skill other than the tried-and-true process of learning how to do something and then doing it – a lot.
According to Grit by Angela Lee Duckworth, success is a product of finding something you’re passionate about and deliberately practicing it through perseverance. That jives with what Malcolm Gladwell found in Outliers, where he shared the oft-quoted 10,000-hour rule to master a skill.
If you want to be more imaginative, either creatively, socially, or practically, you have to immerse yourself in those worlds.
You can practice establishing patterns, for example, by gathering data and looking at how the pieces fit together. You can come up with better ideas by starting with a problem or a definite need, and then figuring out how the need is met now – even if current solutions are terrible. Then, that gives you a platform from which you can be creative by imagining how to make those currently insufficient solutions better. (That’s innovation, by the way, and it’s the stuff of which fortunes are made.)
You can build social imaginativeness by taking deliberate interest in people around you and exploring what they need and why they need it. Developing empathy is a skill that will serve you well in life, not just in entrepreneurship.
If you want more imagination and creativity, it won’t magically happen. You have to exercise it, because like with any skill, it’s a muscle – and muscles have to be stretched and flexed and worked out before they’ll grow.
View yourself as a creator, and you’ll have the mindset to start thinking like one.
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