How to Get Creative Ideas from a Non-Creative Team

10:34:00 PM

Now that I have caught your attention with this catchy headline, I will have to correct myself and rephrase it into: How to Get Creative Ideas from a Team That is Not Familiar with Using Their Creativity. I firmly believe that each and every one of us is creative - it’s just that there are those who use their creative potentials and those who believe that they are not creative.

If you think that your employees are not creative enough, you should ask yourself why is it so? The most common reasons are because:
-   they do not have the opportunity to be creative - nobody ever asks them for their opinion, they are only required to follow the rules and procedures;
-   they do not have courage to express their ideas – they fear that they are not creative enough;
-   they are not motivated to be creative – nobody listens and appreciates their ideas; when they speak their minds their ideas are often ridiculed or rejected.

Photo by brianjmatis. Please visit brianjmatis’sphotostream. Thank you.

As a team leader/manger/business owner, you should ask yourself what is there that you can do to introduce creative culture into your own team/company. I wrote about that in my previous post so now I am going to move one step further and show you how to break the creative ice and start this transformation now.

In everyday life we usually follow our daily routines without much thinking about how things could be done in different (more creative) ways. By following the same thinking paths day after day we manage to get things done in a fast, easy and logical way. Useful as it is, this way of thinking is exactly the thing that prevents us from creating new mental connections and producing creative ideas. Our mind becomes so deeply trapped in the patterns of standard thinking that it becomes extremely difficult for us to think in any other mode. In order to prepare your team for their creative challenge, the first thing you need to do is to help them get out of this web of conventional thinking.

Preparing the ground for new ideas

Gather your team and tell them that this time your meeting will be a little bit different. Instead of discussing business topics, you will be playing games! This will probably bewilder them, but that is exactly what we want to achieve. We want to displace them from their current reality and help them switch their minds to another thinking mode. Here are the games that you could play:
-   If there is a plasma screen and an Internet connection in your conference room, you can find an on-line video game and organize a short tournament. Team members will play a simple game that will not take much time to finish and their individual results will be summed up. The winner can get a symbolic prize – box of chocolate or a free drink at the nearby cafe.
-   You can also play the Identity game. Prepare stickers with the names of some well known people written on them (show-biz stars, historical personalities... or even names of the people working in the company). Place stickers on their foreheads and ask them to guess which person they represent. They will have to ask you, or other team members, questions in order to guess who they are and there will be only two answers – yes or no. When a person receives a negative answer he/she loses the right to ask again and the next participant can start asking questions about his/her identity.
-   You can also divide team members into groups of two and ask them to write new lyrics of a well known song. Give them some time, but not more than 10min, after which they will have to sing their own versions of the famous song.
-   Think of some other game activity that you believe will be entertaining for your team. If possible prepare symbolic prizes for winners.

Now that you have broken the creative ice, it is time to move on to even more challenging creative thinking.

Photo by JuditK. Please visit JuditK’sphotostream. Thank you.

Planting the idea tree

Before going to the meeting think of the topics you want to explore with the team members and define precisely the questions you are going ask them during the creative session. At the beginning of the session give each participant a set of paper slips (Post-It stickers will also do the job). Read out your question and ask them to write their ideas on the topic on their paper slips. They should write one idea per slip. Give them 5 minutes to write as many ideas they can think of. When the time expires, collect all the slips and then move on to another topic/question. This is an intensive exercise that requires high concentration and sharp focusing so do not overdo it, stick to maximum five questions.

The important thing that you have to state at the beginning of the exercise is that there are no stupid ideas! Participants should write down all the ideas that pop up in their minds. You can also ask them to sign their slips, or even better, to submit them anonymously. This will make them feel a lot more comfortable about the whole thing. It is very important to stick to a 5 minutes limit and not let people dwell too much upon each question because there is a risk that they will switch back to their old thinking mode.

If the group is particularly cooperative and inspired by the games that they played in the warm up part of the creative session, you can slightly modify the ’Slip’ method and do the ’Brainwriting’ exercise. This time every participant will get an A4 piece of paper with the question written on top of it. They will have to write down as many ideas as they can produce in a limited time period of let’s say 3 minutes. When the time is up, each participant hands his/her paper to the person sitting to the right and receives a paper from the person sitting to the left. Participants now have another 3 minutes to read the ideas written on the paper and write down their own, inspired by those already written. The papers with questions will have to go full circle until all the participants have filled them up with their creative thoughts. This way the ideas will spark one another and you will end up with long lists of ideas that will be generated by the whole team.

Picking up the fruits

Collect all the ideas on one question/topic and look if there is a possibility to group them into several categories depending on the types of answers. If you asked several questions you will have to make several groups of ideas with corresponding subgroups. The following day (the team need to sleep on their ideas!) you can organize another meeting to discuss the ideas together and select the best ones. You can also send them out via e-mail and ask participants to vote for them, offer their explanations why they have chosen particular idea(s) and ask them to contribute with any new idea that might have occurred to them in the meantime.

To build a castle, first you need to mold a brick. This creative exercise can be the first of many bricks that you will use to turn your company into a castle of creativity.

In case you feel that your creativity is being limited thanks to the existing corporate culture within your company, I suggest you read this fantastic article written by Jonathan Fields: Why Your Boss Keeps Killing Your Great Ideas.

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If you wish to further explore this topic, you can check out the selection of my favourite books about creative thinking.


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