ContrailOne thing I have learned about growing a business through my own experience cofounding 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 a lot of competition. You need to stand apart and show people what makes you special.

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 three tips that have helped me the most in my effort to stay creative:

1. Creativity Is About Synthesis – Not Originality

Creativity is usually associated with “thinking outside of the box” and similar cliches, but the fact is that few ideas are 100 percent original. The most brilliant – and profitable – business ideas are usually variations of already existing themes, rather than completely new concepts. This idea was driven home for me by one of the most successful innovators of all time, Steve Jobs, when he said: “Creativity is just connecting things.” According to Jobs, what sets creative people apart is that “they [are] able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

To illustrate this idea: 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 synthesizingof 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. If you want to be creative, you need to consider putting existing elements together in new ways.

2. 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 especiallyDrive effective is using music and other sounds to help me focus. For example, I’ve personally been using the Noisli app, which creates a variety of sounds and background colors to stimulate your creativity.

3. 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 your organization and its products/services. To take advantage of these, you must constantly keep your eyes open for new opportunities.

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. The act of creating is a personal process that’s not exactly the same for any two people, but you can certainly help spark your own creativity by employing certain practices and internalizing certain ideas.


A version of this article originally appeared on BusinessCollective.

Yan Revzin is the cofounder of Fortune Cookie Advertising, a nontraditional and out-of-home media placement company selling advertising space within fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants throughout the United States.

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