A more personal post from me this week, as I recently had a bit of a milestone in my business. But it teaches an important lesson about staying creative.

It’s important to keep investing in yourself throughout your lifetime. And by investing in yourself, I mean continuing to gain new knowledge and experiences, both directly related to the work you do and those outside of your domain.

This is vital for enabling your brain to form new associations between disparate ideas (one of the true roots of creativity). It’s also one of the best ways to prevent yourself from falling into routines and bad habits, where you process the same information and use the same parts of your brain day after day, ultimately making it harder and harder to think outside of your comfort barrier.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

My time in San Diego

Nick Skillicorn with Frank Kern

Nick Skillicorn with Frank Kern (Feel the Kern 2016)

Two weeks ago, I attended a conference in San Diego, California which was a weekend to learn new sales techniques for entrepreneurs like myself. It was hosted by Frank Kern (pictured right), who is one of the best sales teachers in America right now, especially for people selling online.

I will freely admit that sales have always been something I haven’t been completely comfortable with (especially when I first started my company and I had no idea what I was doing).

Now usually the sort of conferences I go to are in the field of creativity or innovation because that is what my primary business is. It’s fun to meet other practitioners and learn about what they’re doing in the industry, what is working for their clients and often having and healthy (and sometimes heated) debate about how one theory is better than another. It’s also important to keep learning new insights from the field, some of which may end up useful in my own work.

Plus, it’s a fantastic way to meet potential clients.

But just as I advise to my clients, you need to sometimes take the plunge and admit to yourself that there are areas that you know you can improve, and doing something about it. I did this by buying a high-end sales training product from Frank Kern, which set me back several thousand dollars. And while that included access to this live training event, it cost more than another thousand for flights from London, hotel accommodation and expenses.

I did this because I believed that by actually making an investment to address aspects of myself as an entrepreneur which could be improved, it would pay dividends several times over in the long run.

And based on the quality of the training and insights I received while I was there, I’m now much more confident already in knowing how to put together compelling sales messages. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I can feel the improvement already. As an added benefit, the people you meet at conferences like this are often looking to achieve the same things as you, and so now I have expanded my network.

I also got to spend some time in California, which is a lovely place. Even though coming from a frigid London spring, I was surprised by how cold the air was! The photo at the top is of a hike I took in one of the nearby national parks. And below are two memories from the San Diego Zoo, which really is a worthwhile visit if you’re interested in animals and conservation.

Panda eating bamboo in San Diego Zoo

One of the highlights: Panda eating bamboo in San Diego Zoo.


Nick is a loudmouth in San Diego

One of the lowlights: The Zoo didn’t have very nice things to say about me (or one of the Tasmanian Devils)

You don’t have to spend thousands

After spending 12 months solid doing consulting work last year, I’m fortunate enough to have a successful business where people pay me for my expertise.

But don’t interpret this as that investing in yourself needs to be like investing in real estate or mutual funds. Money isn’t the point here, far from it.

Investing in yourself is all about continuing to grow as a person by gaining new knowledge and expertise. Sometimes it is targeted at improving a specific skill, like what I just did with my sales skills. Sometimes it’s about staying aware of what developments are taking place in your industry, such as by reading trade journals, attending workshops and conferences. And sometimes it’s about investing in your personal self, such as with hobbies, travel or other activities.

This doesn’t have to be expensive.

In fact, some of the best investments you can make in yourself are incredibly cheap, or even free: books.

When I first started Improvides (my innovation and creativity consultancy) in 2013, I didn’t have much money to invest. I was on an extremely tight budget trying to build up a company and network in an industry where nobody knew me. But I did have two resources that allowed me to gain an almost limitless treasure trove of useful insights and lessons which would help me build the foundations of my work. One was the internet, which was fast but the information could be quite unreliable. And the other was the library.

For only a few pounds, I registered at the British Library in London and spend several days a week for about two months there. I would bring a packed lunch and read and take notes for about 6-7 hours, gaining the knowledge and evidence that would ultimately form the basis of some of my most powerful insights.

This allowed me to access hundreds (or thousands) of pounds worth of knowledge for free.

Nowadays, I can afford to buy the books on the subject I read. In fact, here is my reading list for the next couple of months, excluding those on my kindle waiting for me:

books on creativity that I'm reading

Each time I read another book, watch another documentary or speak to a new expert, I get a bit of a rush as this new knowledge begins to lodge itself across the various networks in my brain, occasionally sparking a Eureka moment, othertimes just reinforcing or sometimes contradicting other knowlegde I already had.

This is one of the most important things you can do for yourself to keep getting ideas throughout your whole life. Don’t let your learning stop after school or university.

It can only make you better.

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What are you currently doing to invest in yourself? I’d love to hear it so let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.