Business Owners Toolbox Blog Discussions and articles to help the small business owner solve the challenges they face as they grow their business.

September 24, 2009

When Do Companies Stop Being Creative?

(From my response on

A. As I look around at the small business owners I’ve worked with (including myself) here’s what I see:

1. Creativity comes in all kinds and sizes of business, and so does failure of creativity.

2. Failure of creativity follows shifts in the attitudes of the owner and other key people


• Owners get dragged out of creativity by the demands of running the business day to day. This has a lot to do with your own management style. “ I can’t find good people that I can trust.” “I got into this business to do what I love; now I spend all my time as a damn manager.” Thus you are continually pulled back down into lower-level tasks, and can’t focus on creativity, vision, strategy.

• Lack of support. Nobody is pushing you to take the creative leap, nor problem solving how to overcome the hurdles. No-one following behind, handling the details, executing the vision.

• Lack of systems; seat-of-pants management. Thus your “franticness quotient” increases exponentially with growth.

• Ill-fitting systems. E.g., accounting or project management or sales tracking systems that don’t give needed performance information to the owner.

• Constraining systems. Too much “by the book” or “bean counter mentality.” Of course the owner has put these into place, but then starts believing in them.

• Failure of vision. A creative owner gets beaten down, burned out. You have one good idea, but stick with it long after the window of opportunity has slammed shut. Or you fear taking the needed next step. “Tried that, got beaten down, it didn’t work, now I’m gun shy.”

• You get out of touch. You drift into an eddy out of the current of new ideas and technologies. This can be related to age, but there are many creative codgers out there.

• You get too comfortable. The balance between work and life tips toward Maui.

• Physical/mental impairment. Alas, this eventually catches up with us. If you’re smart, you’ll go out at the top, handing the creative reins over to the young whippersnapper you’ve groomed—and whose ideas you probably hate.

What’s the answer? First, see if you spot yourself in the above list, and own up to it. Then you can tackle the problem.
— My book can help you tackle this challenge: How to Grow Your Business without Driving Yourself Crazy.
— If you were a member of one of our business owner groups, this would be a perfect challenge to bring up to your group of peers. This is valuable because it’s often hard for us to see and acknowledge our part in this process.

— Call or email me. I’d be glad to talk with you a bit about this at no charge.


  1. I agree. Creativity is just so important and you mention that a problem could be the lack of support. I think that’s true. I am currently working in a hardware store and other peoples support can help so so much.

    All the best and keep being creative

    Comment by amanda kristina — September 24, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

  2. Thanks, Amanda
    And the creativity I’m talking about isn’t just the “creative industry” like an ad agency. In a hardware store creativity can show up in the way things are merchandised, what lines are selected, how good customers are rewarded, how top employees are rewarded, and many other ways. If people there get support and encouragement, they are more likely to come up with creative ideas, and this helps the store thrive.

    Comment by mvh — September 24, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  3. For our business (IT Consulting) a challenge is finding ways to express that creativity outside the firm. Often the ideas are big and complex and small business owners assume the benefits of a creative IT solution do not apply as well to businesses their size. If we can show a way to save time or reduce downtime or make technology more useful we succeed and often it is because we found a more creative way to show the benefits. Internally you HAVE to support ideas as they come up even if you do not share the level of enthusiasm, nothing kills creativity faster than shutting down an idea out of hand. Thanks for the article.

    Comment by Shawn Westerhoff — October 1, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  4. Agreed.
    For selling creative IT solutions to small business, you’ve got to focus on the benefits to them–in very concrete terms. Cost vs. benefit. As a small business owner myself, I have a finely tuned sense of when a costly technology solution will pay off for me–and when it doesn’t make sense. Many techies (present company excluded, of course!) slip too easily into extolling features and tech details, thus losing their prospective customer.

    Internally, you point up a big dilemma: We want to stimulate creative solutions by our staff, but we sometimes grit our teeth, thinking, “Oh, I just know that won’t work!” or “Yeah, yeah, I knew that years ago.”

    I was talking with a client yesterday. He related how he brings his top managers together to brainstorm on new product ideas. He gives them all kinds of support. But they come up with such pedestrian ideas.

    They succeed by being laser-focused on a particular project. Then he wants them to switch gears and free-associated on wildly disconnected ideas. It’s a tough transition to make.

    In years past, I taught Creative Problem Solving classes that addressed this, and were aimed at getting ordinary thinkers to come up with extraordinary solutions.

    How do you catalyze staff creativity yet channel it into the most useful directions? I’d love to hear how others accomplish this.

    Comment by mvh — October 1, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

  5. Thanks Biz Dr, this is good article, It reinforce me that I will continue what I have been doing, no work schedule, traveling around the world see the different views ideas. We just booked for london, Italy trip mid november. Thank you for your all the suggestion and support all those years.

    Comment by yoshi tome — October 1, 2009 @ 11:21 am

  6. Thank you, my friend. You are the poster child for “how to grow your business without driving yourself crazy!”

    Comment by mvh — October 1, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

  7. Felicia Vallera replied to me on LinkedIn on 12/17:
    Great article. Thank you for NOT adding: #10. Lawyers (the traditionally-minded kind who don’t understand the realities of small businesses).

    Thanks, Felicia!
    No, your #10 did not occur to me. It would seem to me that if lawyers get in the way of a company’s innovation, it’s a symptom, not a cause. Running a business is always a balance between

    a) the creative, innovative, “Let’s go for it! Let’s take a chance!” and

    b) the conservative, defensive, “Let’s make sure nothing bad happens. Let’s hunker down and protect what we’ve got.”

    When the culture tips too far toward “b” it is due to the mindset of the top people. They may adopt a defensive legal strategy and hire lawyers to implement it. Like the recording companies suing teenagers over illegal downloads, rather than looking (like Apple has) for creative ways to take advantage of it.

    The lawyers get the bad rap, though!


    Comment by mvh — December 17, 2009 @ 6:59 pm

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