Are you in search of New Ideas, Better Solutions, More Profits, or Greater Impact? Chances are tapping into your organization’s creative potential is key to the goals you seek to achieve.
You are creative
But we work in healthcare [for example]; we are not creative you might be saying to yourself right now. Fortunately, as human beings, we all have creative potential. Modern management systems have obscured this truth by labeling some departments/roles “creative,” thereby implicitly denying the creativity of everyone else. But every single one of us is creative and we can put that creativity to great use at work.
General Approach / a strategy underpinning creativity
One approach to unleashing the creative potential within your organization is to examine a problem or evaluate the status quo from another perspective or point of view.
Brian Eno, one of the greatest living music producers, says “The enemy of creative work is boredom, and the friend is alertness.” Nothing makes you more alert than stepping into a new context and adopting a different point of view. Eno has helped creative artists from David Bowie to Talking Heads produce some of their most iconic musical output through his ‘oblique strategies,’ prompts that encourage the musicians to take a fresh perspective on the work at hand. The musicians were sometimes confounded by Eno’s prompts – such as telling them to switch instruments between them, or cryptically stating a single, random word without directions for interpretation – but ultimately achieved creative results that pleased listeners all over the world.
Sometimes this fresh perspective isn’t prompted by a friendly co-conspirator with a common goal but forced upon you by external forces that don’t care what your goal is. January 22nd 1955 the water levels of the rivers Seine and Marne increased substantially and flooded many areas in and around Paris. Later, the French philosopher Roland Barthes wrote in the essay “Paris Not Flooded”
“Any rather ample rupture of the everyday introduces festivity: now the rising waters not only selected and displaced certain objects, they upset the very coenesthesia of the landscape, the ancestral organism of horizons.”
This displacement, Barthes argued, had the unintended but beneficial consequence of forcing a new way to look at the world around you; it invited curiosity and imagination. In other words, the new perspective provided a gateway for creativity.
These are but two examples, from different eras and different contexts, which lend credence to the necessity of breaking away from the mundane in order to stoke the fires of creativity.
How To / tips and sample exercises
Here are a handful of guiding principles and easy exercises I have seen organizations use to successfully break away from the everyday patterns of thought to cultivate creative solutions.
1) Set the stage.
Help your colleagues get into a mindset primed for creativity by i) acknowledging the importance of creativity to your organization’s work, and; ii) reminding people that creativity is an inherently human characteristic—we all are creative. Perhaps prompt them to remember their own creativity by asking “What’s something that you’ve done any time in your life that you consider creative?” Great managers should have work-related examples ready for all their team members.
2) Suspend judgement.
For productive and creative brainstorming sessions it is essential to decouple idea generation from idea evaluation. You want to keep the ideas flowing, and too much analysis or criticism on the spot may make team members fearful to offer other suggestions. Team brainstorming sessions, properly designed and thoughtfully facilitated, are a great real-time example of the link between psychological safety and creativity.
3) Use break time to recharge creative fuel.
If your team is engaged in a brainstorm session long enough to necessitate breaks, be sure to leverage those breaks to maximize creativity. Some examples include:
Rotate chairs in a new direction or ask people to switch seats upon returning. Don’t neglect the physical dimensions of perspective.
Encourage people to find a random book or magazine, turn to a random page, and read that page to themselves during the break.
Move! Physical activity, even gentle stretching or a walk around the block, stimulates your entire body and affects your breathing; oxygen is crucial for brain function, including creativity.
4) Change the frame.
Reframe the brainstorm question by changing/adding one word. This is especially powerful when you add an emotional dimension. For instance, instead of asking “how do we solve Problem X for our customers?” ask “how do we solve Problem X in a way that will delight our customers?”
5) Add a design constraint.
Similar to the adage “necessity is the mother of invention,” adding a constraint to the problem you’re working on can bring about new and different ideas. Why? Because it shifts your perspective on possible solutions. The constraint does not even need to be a realistic one – remove an everyday technology, imagine a vastly different physical environment, even disregard a law of physics – just as long as this constraint spurs new thinking, you may imagine a novel solution you otherwise would not have.
So next time someone at work says something like “What do we know about creativity? We’re just program administrators [for example],” you can respond with “What can an mid-century philosopher and a music producer teach us about cultivating creative problem solving within organizations? Quite a lot actually!” And then get into the work of breaking away from known contexts and default perspectives, using these or other exercises, and start tapping into your team’s creativity. Good luck!
Notes and Resources
· Tom & David Kelley discuss at length how creativity is a trait we all possess in their 2013 book Creative Confidence. The Kelley brothers are also Partners at the world-renowned design firm IDEO, and IDEO U offers an awesome collection of learning resources about creativity, innovation, and design thinking.
· The Brian Eno quotation is from an interview author Tim Harford conducted February 24th 2015 with Eno. Stories from this interview, along with other revealing research, are published in Harford’s excellent 2016 book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.
· Mythologies is a 1957 book of essays by Roland Barthes. The essay “Paris Not Flooded” was not included in the 1957 or 1970 editions of the book but it was included in this more recent edition with a new translation.
What are some of your favorite tips and tricks to stimulate creativity in the workplace? Leave a comment to share!