This is a 10 point framework that I use when working with my clients to help them be more creative. It describes the behaviours that promote and support creative thinking. It can be applied by a team, organisation or a leader looking to generate a creative environment – or by an individual who wants to boost their personal creative energy. Adopting these behaviours is helpful whether you are trying to come up with new business and product ideas, find ways to improve processes and systems or you are writing songs for that difficult second album!
Connect & Receive
Inspiration for creativity can come from anywhere and anyone. Maintain an open mind when you encounter new ideas and experiences. Read, listen, observe and experience as openly and receptively as possible. Actively seek out new information, ideas and experiences to expand the library of knowledge that you can call upon for inspiration. Network and seek out contact with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds in order to enrich your knowledge pool. Look for and be open to opportunities to collaborate for mutual gain.
Explore the boundaries of a situation and rephrase the issues. Be curious and inquisitive – question assumptions and restlessly seek to improve. “Could this be done better?”, “What if this was done differently?”, “Why do we do things this way?” are the types of questions to ask. Be willing to challenge the status quo and work across boundaries to get things done.
In a strong creative process nothing is taken for granted and there are no “sacred cows”. Make full use of a range of techniques to allow yourself and other participants to fully explore and understand the issues they are addressing. Look to expand the range of creative thinking and problem solving techniques at your disposal. Don’t just rely on a small handful of trusted standbys.
Be willing to explore your own boundaries. Creative thinking is enhanced greatly by a willingness to take some ‘risks’ with your thinking and your behaviours. So, try out new things and see where they take you.
Have some fun! Understand and embrace the value of playfulness. Generate buzz and energy. Play with ideas and try new things. This leads to spontaneity and flexibility. Creative games, that are fun and engaging, also exercise the creative ‘muscles’. Seek to “have fun” and derive enjoyment from the work environment. This doesn’t mean you don’t take issues seriously or ascribe any less importance to your work – quite the contrary. There is a strong correlation between enjoyment and creative productivity.
A major inhibitor to creativity is the filtering that people impose on ideas – both their own and other people’s. All ideas are valuable, regardless of whether or not they are ultimately used. The more good ideas you generate, the greater the chances that you will generate a truly great one.
Use approaches that encourage ideas and build upon them. Adopt and encourage the mindset that there are no “bad” ideas. Don’t “tear down” ideas but nurture and build upon them. Use each idea as a springboard for the creation of others.
Be positive and upbeat. Look for the opportunities in a situation and encourage others to do the same. Aim high in your planning and goal setting – barriers and obstacles are often not as large as they appear.
Of course there is a time and place to be realistic, to explore the validity of ideas, understand risks etc. – once you have a good creative flow of ideas to evaluate.
Use both intuition & logic
Effective creative thinking springs from a powerful fusion of both logical and more ‘intuitive’ thinking. Of course, apply logic to probe and explore situations, to derive probable cause and effect and to test sanity and robustness of ideas. However, value tacit knowledge, hunches and intuition both in yourself and others. There are often good, underlying reasons for “gut feelings”.
Recognise that resistance to ideas and initiatives can often be at an emotional rather than a rational level. In those circumstances, use of logic is unlikely to sway opinion. Therefore seek to empathise with and understand emotive reactions.
Make time & space
Original, insightful thinking and creative plans require breathing room. They need time and space to evolve. Of course, in business, there can be very real constraints on valuable time. However, there is also a tendency to artificially force the pace in order to appear productive and busy.
Don’t create artificial pressures and try not succumb to them. Be prepared to cycle through the thinking and planning process several times if necessary. Understand and accept that you may explore avenues that do not bear fruit. Be patient and allow some latitude for experimentation. Do not block avenues simply because they do not appear fully viable at first glance. Accept and encourage risk taking in yourself and others. Allow for mistakes and seek to learn from them
Adopt & Value Different Perspectives
Explore situations from a number of different angles. Adopting alternative points-of-view and using different frameworks and metaphors stimulates valuable insights.
Not everyone approaches issues with the same mindset. So, intentionally adopt different modes of thinking to engage others in the process and maximize their contribution. These modes can be visual and aural, as well as textual or numerical. You can employ stories, imagery, music, metaphor and fantasy as appropriate.
Challenge your thinking. Deliberately adopt different perspectives and modes to break the usual mould. Extend this to others, encouraging them to challenge themselves and each other.
Motivate & Energise
Given the right stimuli and support, everybody is more than capable of producing new ideas and contributing to their development. Make every effort to ensure that you and any others involved enjoy the process, want to be involved and participate to the full.
Promote team working and idea sharing and discourage knowledge hoarding and plagiarism.
Look to harmonise objectives and have shared goals. Create an environment that is fun to work in – where satisfaction is gained from an enjoyable work environment and achieving the respect of others. To encourage initiative taking, minimise any form filling and bureaucracy. Make it easy to kick-off initiatives and to share ideas.
Clearly there need to be controls to ensure resources are being used wisely and that risks are being managed. However, these should not be brought in so early that they stifle initiatives. Be willing to take and sanction risks – to make and allow mistakes. Encourage new ideas and initiative. Set challenges for yourself and others. Encourage a desire to challenge and improve.
Ultimately, we are aiming for “creativity with a purpose”. So, strive to ensure that you and your collaborators remain focused on the ultimate goals and that the creative process is managed towards meeting these. This does not mean there is no scope for exploring alternative approaches. However, being mindful of the need to allow “time and space”, also watch-out for “paralysis by analysis” and, if necessary, pull attention back to the primary focus.
If running a team, set the context and the goals for them but allow freedom as to how those goals are achieved. In group working, adopt the mindset that, “The approach that works is the right approach.” There is no one set way of getting individuals and teams to be effectively creative. No one creative group process is quite the same as another. Adapt the approach to meet the needs of the situation and aim to imbue the group with that same spirit of flexibility.
Reflect & Learn
Continually review and evolve your approach to creative working. Actively encourage and be open to feedback. Seek out the latest thinking on creativity, innovation, problem-solving, collaboration etc. (from business, science, the arts and elsewhere) and consider how it might be applied in your context. Be unafraid to try out new approaches if you believe they would be beneficial.
I find this framework works well for me personally and when working with clients. Each of these 10 behaviours has the potential to seriously boost personal and team creativity or to unblock a stalled creative process.
What works for you? What problems have you had with personal or group creativity and how have you overcome them? I would love to hear from you.