Ask the experts: how to be more creative – as it happened

Join us on this page from 1–2pm on Wednesday 19 April to talk to our expert panel about how to come up with great ideas or pivot your business

Powered by article titled “Ask the experts: how to be more creative – as it happened” was written by Emma Featherstone, for on Wednesday 19th April 2017 13.32 UTC

Tips and tricks for coming up with new ideas

A quick round-up of some of the panel’s favourite ways to get creative:

We frequent have brainstorms with post-it notes. In some of them all of the team is involved. In others only part of the team. When we do a brainstorm in our weekly team meeting, then one team member generally presents a challenge, and then the rest of the team works in small groups (2-3 people) for 3-5min to come up with ideas. At the end everyone shares what they have come up with. The aim is to do them quickly.


My favourite way of innovating so far has been the ideas stock market we ran in 2016. In short, we asked everybody to come up with a new idea they felt could improve our service to customers. These ideas were then collated . Each employee was then given an amount of "money" they could invest in the idea. At the end of the month, the highest valued idea was implemented. This was great because it enabled everyone in the company to be involved and the idea was bought in to by everyone before it had even began.



My new favourite way to come up with ideas is all about activity – walking meetings, running with the team or in the gym. It helps that the people I’m currently working with are also into working out so they don’t mind a before or after work spin class before we start talking about a project. This probably won’t work for everyone but being out and about definitely helps me.

Growing your business in a changing market

Testing out your ideas often leads to growth in a business – some might seek outside investment to launch a new product, for example. Natalie Campbell offered her advice on protecting your enterprise as it grows:

Risk assessment should be given as much time as creative planning and cultivating a culture where you learn from any shocks or negative things in the business will help you get over what can be personally and emotionally draining. I can’t stress enough how important cash in the bank is – make sure you understand your money in and out as you can weather most things if you have financial reserves. Chase large clients that pay late or under long payment terms and only commit money to projects when you’re sure the ROI -if lost – can be covered.


Creating a culture of innovation

Reader amynottm asked the panel how they encourage innovation in their businesses, whether large or small.

Developing a culture of anything in a small business needs to be a part of the way you recruit, train and support people to do their job. Having a generic recruitment process then expecting people to think, act or being ‘innovative’ tends not to work. I recommend three things:
1. Define what you mean by innovation – is it connected to new products and services or do you mean an entrepreneurial mindset. If so, make a point of referencing this in job ads and assessing this at interview stage. Set a task or challenge to help people show their skills/understanding
2. Make innovation real. If you have a working environment that screams blue carpet and ceiling tiles with ‘face time culture’ to boot it’s highly unlikely people will bring their innovative selves to work. The environment must stimulate the behaviour and motivation.
3. Performance manage or reward innovation – sharing examples of where it’s worked well and any lessons learnt from where things have gone wrong. If people see it in actin they are more likely to follow through themselves. But you must have a positive approach to things not working as this creates a learning and open culture conducive to innovation.

Hi Amy,
I agree with Sarah that it is important to recruit and collaborate with people who share your purpose. Innovation is something we do on an ongoing basis, and the team (or ‘pack’ as we call it) is creative and full of ideas. When we have a challenge then the team works on it together. Sometimes we organise brainstorm sessions with post-it notes, mainly as part of our weekly team meeting, where we for instance brainstorm ideas for new content. During these sessions the team has come up with really good ideas, and someone in development might have a really good idea for video content.

Challenges – There is a lot of good ideas in the pack, and with a small team we only have the resources to test a limited amount of ideas… It is important we priorities ☺

Hi Amynottm

Thanks for the question. This is something we take quite seriously at Hiscox. Being an insurance company it can be hard at times to innovate. Whether you have a large or small team it is still possible to innovate, its the how that is the difficult part. At Hiscox we have created a team called "Futures" and this is quite simply a team that looks at how we can be better in the future. The key part is breeding the innovation with in the team, the more you try to innovate the easier you and your team will find it. Somethings will not work but its important to have the courage to do it and show your team that sometimes it’s ok to fail.

Being creative in times of economic uncertainty

The Brexit vote has brought uncertainty for some small businesses. Should entrepreneurs keep testing out new ideas in times of political or economic change?

It depends on the idea really, if it’s launching a new product, we tend to trial new items with VIP customers first and gauge happiness, impact and pricepoint. You can also think about scrappy ways to test new ideas (landing pages etc) to gauge click through or gather e-mail addresses that are interested in the new product.

Test anything that you think adds value to your customers or potential customers – invest small amounts and build as the proof points continue. Uncertainty can be a good thing if you plan well around it.

The risk if you’re ‘highly’ creative is that you’re having ideas all of the time – this can be distracting and you risk your offer becoming confused. I think it’s really important to be aware of your customers needs / aspirations / fears etc and to respond to those – this should be one of the key areas that informs how frequently you test new ideas. In terms of political or economic uncertainty – if you start small with your ideas then you reduce the risk. You can then make more informed risk decisions based on the environment and on how people are responding to your ideas.

How to be creative as a one-man band

This question comes from reader Zoe.

The panel suggested heading to networking events and running ideas by trusted friends and business contacts:

Hi Zoe – when I first set up my business I went from working in a building surrounded by 1000+ people to working from home with a sense of having ‘lost’ that network of people to discuss ideas with – or just having a passing conversation about something random (which sparks creativity). My learning was that I needed to find people to replace this ‘on a plate’ network with. Going to meet-ups, creating a personal board of trusted advisors, spending time reading / watching / listening to fresh new content from a variety of sources have all helped. It’s also about getting clear on why you want or need to boost your creativity. Creativity for me is about having new ideas … so what do you want to have new ideas about and why? Who are your ideas going to help or inspire? Where and from who might you get fresh / different perspectives from? Being a one-person-business can afford you the luxury of reflecting and thinking time – building this into your schedule will also fuel your creativity.

Drop people that inspire you a message on linkedin or Twitter and ask for help! Also, from time to time you’ll get folks studying or working in your sector who are happy to drop in for an hour or two to help.

Accelerator programmes also offer the type of community you may be lacking 🙂

I agree with Sara – get out and about and ask for help. I work with my freelance friends and ‘founders that float/founders without offices’ from a members club twice a week and we spend the morning helping each other with new ideas, business pitches and general sanity checks. It’s my most productive time of the week.


Submit a question
You can post questions in the comments section below during the chat. Or you can send questions in advance, or during the discussion, by emailing or by tweeting us at @GdnSmallBiz with your question.

How to join in the discussion
Make sure you are a registered user of the Guardian (if not, it’s quick to register) and join us in the comments section below, which will open on the day of the live chat.

What we’ll be discussing

Where do great ideas come from? Some argue the virtues of a good walk, others rely on group brainstorms or pinpoint their success to a light-bulb moment.

The best business ideas solve a problem, as Chris Thomason explains in his blog on creativity. If your startup does this, then you may have taken the first step towards a successful enterprise. Next you need to test demand and adapt your offering as the market, and your customers’ needs, change. You might even need to pivot your business. For some this might mean a side product becomes the core business, for others that a free model turns into a subscription-only service.

In a business, there is always a need for new ideas. You might be seeking a novel marketing approach, a fresh route to funding or a product redesign. As you take on staff, you must nurture a culture that encourages and rewards creativity. But the practicalities of running a company are also in play, including maintaining a healthy cashflow and responding to industry changes.

The Brexit vote has brought about many potential challenges for businesses, and they must innovate or pivot their business to survive. Whether it’s attracting tourists with the help of the weak pound or opening up an office overseas to avoid the effects of a potentially poor trade deal.

Questions we will aim to cover in this webchat include:

  • The tried and tested steps to creativity
  • How to innovate on a tight budget
  • How to pivot your business idea
  • How to identify, and reward, good ideas
  • The secrets of an innovative workplace
  • How to forecast and plan for market changes
  • When to invest in outside help
  • How to protect your business as it grows

Our panel

Natalie Campbell, co-founder, A Very Good Company, broadcaster and public sector non-executive director
Rikke Rosenlund, founder, BorrowMyDoggy
Sean Carney, head of direct commercial for Hiscox UK and Ireland
Sara Gordon, brand and creative director, Bloom and Wild
Katie Cannon, head of business strategy, Sugru
Sarah King, founder of We Are Unstuck

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