Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How to Get Creative Ideas from a Non-Creative Team

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.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

15 Tips on How to Build Creative Company Culture

Global economy is going through a change and it is very probable that in future we will witness creation of new economy models that will have their effect on the existing, no longer sustainable distribution of wealth and power. In this rapidly changing future, small and middle size companies will have to embrace creativity and innovation if they want to stay in the game and remain the leading force of any country’s economy.

Illustration by Frits. Please visit’s photostream and web page. Thank you.

In the near future, having visionaries and innovators in the team will become the key asset for any successful company. You may well argue that it is not that easy to find such people, that they belong to a small group of exceptionally talented individuals and that if it was easy to think like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, every company would be like Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook. And yes, you are absolutely right. You will hardly be able to find someone like them in the human resources market. The trick is not to look outside, but inside your company. Look for the creative people among your own employees! Develop creative culture inside your own team! Instead of looking for one exceptionally creative brain, cherish the creativity of your own people and you will discover not one, but a whole array of creative heads waiting to share their creativity with others.

As the owner or a MD of the company you have the responsibility and power to influence the future of your business. Creative culture and passion for innovation could become the main strengths of your company and the pillars of its long term growth and success. Here are some useful tips on how to convert virtually any company into a creative one.

1. Choose priorities: creativity or profit
Creativity should become the number one priority in your company. If you are looking for quick and profitable solutions, you will end up creating average products that bring more or less profit. On the other hand, if you decide to pursue excellence in creativity, you will be offering amazing products and services that will make up for all the other mediocre opportunities that you have previously missed. Once you have built the reputation of a creative and innovative company, people will come and buy from you without you even asking them to do so. Just let me remind you of the excitement before the launch of any Apple product.

2. Provide clear definition of your mission statement
Every single employee in your company must understand the company mission statement. This way they will realize the purpose of their work and their creative efforts within the company.

3. Be passionate and determined 
Believe in what you preach. Give yourself 100% to the cause. Be honest if you want to be accepted. Lead by providing the example. Do not manage – inspire!

4. Respect your employee
All members of the team need to be recognized and appreciated for what they are as contributors to your business success, no matter how what position in the company hierarchy they occupy. Nurture individualism and autonomy during the working process. Your employees need to have autonomy, but at the same time they should be fully responsible for the job they are doing. When giving out tasks, define the goal that you want to achieve and let your people find their own ways of making it.

5. Introduce freedom of creative speech
People should be encouraged and inspired to freely share their ideas. There should be no censorship in the creative process... EVERYONE is welcome to contribute with their ideas, from the couriers and drivers to the top managers.

6. Promote group thinking and group work
Organize brainstorming sessions, shift team members when you are distributing tasks/projects and give team members opportunity to work with different people – this will help them get to know each other, learn from each other and inspire each other.

7. Provide a chance to learn
Creativity can be taught. There are many courses that teach people different creative techniques. Give your employees opportunity to acquire skills that will help them become more productive and proficient in what they are doing. Start a company library; buy new, interesting and informative books; provide access to useful and inspiring magazines... If necessary, provide a life coach for those that show the greatest creative potential.

8. Create culture of innovation
Always look for alternatives, improvements, and non-standard ways of solving problems. Many of ideas that your team will come up with will be unfit, some of them will be excellent and a few will be brilliant. Sometimes one brilliant idea is all it takes to make huge business success.

9. Work AND play
Work process should be fun. Fun adds to better mutual understanding and building of team spirit, it creates passion for work.

CREATIVE TEAM - Photo by tifotter. Please visit tifotter’sphotostream. Thank you.

10. Create tribal spirit
Your employees should feel members of one big family. Different as they are, they are the biggest value of your company. They should be proud of each other and of the company they are working for.

11. Celebrate together
Celebrate every victory of your team. Gather together for one hour toast at the end of a particularly successful day. Celebrate together birthdays, public holidays (Women’s day, e.g.), personal victories (awards, child births, diplomas of your employees)...

12. Provide little perks
Award your employees with concert tickets, membership cards, free coupons... These things will not cost you much and they will serve as powerful tokens of your appreciation for the contribution they are making.

13. Facilitate creative opportunities
Show maximum understanding if some of your employees need  temporary breaks from work to finish their studies, or undertake some specialization programme. If some of your employees need scholarship to finish a course, offer them financial help - people appreciate those things and when the time comes, they are willing to give back twice as much.   

14. Appreciate failure
There is no success without failure. Ask any successful person and they will confirm that they have failed in life but that their failures made them stronger and even more determined to go on. It is perfectly OK to fail as long as we learn from our own mistakes. Your employees should not fear failure because it will kill their desire to create new and unusual ideas.

15. Create inspirational setting for your employees
Sterile office cubicles should become things of the past. They kill personality, discourage initiative and creativity. Instead, bring colour to your offices, use different and interesting furniture, create micro-spaces, encourage employees to design their working space. Bring in plants, an office pet, have a small cafeteria, terrace or a patio where employees can relax or hold their meetings in the open. Build a Thinking Room by converting one of your conference rooms into a cosy, inspiring space where people will feel liberated to create new ideas.

As you can see, some of these ideas do not take much time and money to implement. Start from small and transform your company step by step. Creating creative culture is a process that takes time, but as the first creative ideas become reality, and the first results show up, both you and your employees will realize the positive effects of this change.

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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.

Key words for this blog post:
creative problem solving, creative thinking, creativity, creativity and business, how to create new ideas, innovation, innovation in business, innovative companies

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Think like Woody Allen, Charles Darwin and Wile E. Coyote

Each of us has his or her particular mode of thinking, which is quite normal because we are all different and unique. Our own mode of thinking determines the perception of the world that we have in our mind, actions we are likely to take, and eventually, the kind of life that we are going to have. Stepping out from your mode of thinking is difficult but not impossible.

One of the worst thinkings that you can have about yourself is the one that you are not creative. It may well be that your mind is not accustomed to making lateral connections that will help you generate new ideas, but it still does not mean that you are not creative! 

There are many techniques that can help you improve your thinking. Here is one of them. It will not help you become an exceptionally creative businessman like Steve Jobs or a prodigious artist like Picasso, but it might help you learn how to think for a moment like those two guys.

Like I said, it is extremely difficult to break away from our usual mode of thinking so it is no wonder that sometimes we may feel trapped in a big bubble of thoughts that we cannot escape from. No matter how hard we try, we always end up with the list of same old ideas that we often find useless or not effective enough.

The good way to break this bubble is to pretend that you are somebody else. Imagine for a moment that you were Lady Gaga. How would she tackle the problem that you are having? What would she do in the given situation? What would she think? What would she say? How would she react? Forget about yourself for a moment and be somebody else: a famous scientist, a painter, your university professor, your boss... try to think like your father, your daughter or the cashier in your local grocery store. The possibilities are infinite and they depend on the subject or the focus of your thinking.

To show you how this technique works I have chosen to think like Woody Allen, Charles Darwin and Wile E. Coyote (yes, you can choose to think like an imaginary person, a superhero or a supervillain!). Let us see what ideas they will have in the following situations.

You are going to a very important business meeting. On your way to the client’s office a bird poops on your shirt. What will you do? How will you think?

Woody Allen
will probably become panic stricken and start walking around not knowing what to do. Next, he will tell himself (aloud of course) that he needs to calm down and think, think, think! Then, he would rush to the nearest rest room, take off his shirt and wear it inside out. Yeah, that will be the solution! Then, he would go to a meeting as if nothing has happened.

Wile E. Coyote
will look at the poop stain and ponder very, very deeply about the problem. He will decide that the best thing will be to somehow get rid of the stain. He would probably try out several creative methods of removing the stain that will result in producing a big gaping hole in his shirt. He would probably be stopped at the entrance of the building by the security and would never get to the meeting.

Charles Darwin
will most likely take this as a sign of his good fortune and head on to the meeting room having in mind new opportunities that the project will open for him.

One of your employees is constantly late for work. As his boss, you need to somehow make him break away from this habit. What will you do? How will you think?

Woody Allen
will probably try to convince the person to be on time by telling him a long and elaborate story comprising his own experience and the latest psychological research. By the end of his logorrheic discourse both of them will forget why in the first place they have gathered together.

Wile E. Coyote
will try to put a stop to such a conduct by setting up a trap for the employee.

Charles Darwin
will probably sit down, talk with the employee and look for the origins of such behavour.

You are given the task of helping a female basketball team play better in the forthcoming state championship. What will you do? How will you think?

Woody Allen
will probably work individually with each of the players during which time he will seriously be tempted to fall in love with each and every one of them.

Wile E. Coyote
will become compulsively obsessed with the idea of devising a new, groundbreaking technique of passing a ball through a basket loop.

Charles Darwin
will most probably analyse previous playing patterns of the team, classify and regroup players.

You see how many completely different ideas and approaches I have managed to discover by playing this simple thinking game! (And, yes, I was playful on purpose.)

The real beauty of this method is that you can be virtually anybody you choose! Just free your imagination and welcome all the crazy ideas that may cross your mind. The more ideas you manage to generate, the greater the chance that one of them will be useful!

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If you like this and previous posts you can subscribe here and receive my posts by e-mail, or if you prefer, you can subscribe for my RSS feeds.
If you wish to further explore this topic, you can check out the selection of my favourite books about creative thinking.

Key words for this blog post:

become more creative, better thinking, creative thinking, how to create new ideas, how to think like, think better, thinking techniques, creative problem solving


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