Getting a team to boost their creativity can begin with something as simple as asking them to look differently at their socks.
It begins with asking each team member to take the most boring socks they own, then write “creative” or “fun” on each one.
This is what Scott Berkun refers to as “creative defiance,” or making something interesting out of something boring.
Berkun, author of “The Dance of the Possible: The Mostly Honest Completely Irreverent Guide to Creativity” says that creativity isn’t something you’re born with – it’s just making interesting choices every day. That’s something we all do, whether it’s choosing how to arrange a desk or deciding what to wear to work.
“I think that it probably the biggest misconception – that being creative is something magical and something you’re born with,” he says. “That’s not true. It’s usually about finding a solution to a problem.”
Another barrier to unleashing team creativity is that too many team members – and their leaders – are so focused on being more efficient that they cannot allow themselves to simply think and explore new paths.
“Creativity is rarely efficient. It always involves taking chances and trying things that might work but might not,” he says.
He explains that another obstacle to creativity is that we’ve been taught that there is one right answer, and it can be achieved with the right formula. “That might work for math problems, but not when it comes to ideas,” he says.
Berkun offers some ideas on how leaders and their teams can increase creativity:
- Start a journal. “The act of preserving your ideas is critical because humans have terrible memories,” he says. While it might feel like a burden in the beginning, it will become easier and patterns will begin to emerge. For example, one team member may notice that she’s more creative first thing in the morning, while another finds he comes up with ideas while stuck in traffic. Team members need to be assured the journal is for their eyes only, so they feel more comfortable jotting down ideas. “You may be surprised by some of what you put down, but that should fascinate you: you are getting to know your creative instincts and your subconscious better than you ever have before,” he says.
- Be bored. Let team members have down time where they allow their subconscious mind to mull over ideas they’ve thought about and come up with new ones. Encourage them to try yoga, taking walks or even letting their minds wander while doing the dishes or taking a shower.
- Don’t be snarky. Don’t say “that will never work” when someone proposes an idea. Instead, ask what Berkun calls “clarifying” questions such as: “What problem were you trying to solve?” or “What other attempts have been made to solve this problem?” This helps provide feedback in a positive way.
- Build in deadlines. Motivation can suffer when a team feels like it isn’t making progress, no matter how many ideas are proposed. It’s better to put together a rough prototype of an idea by a certain date, get feedback, and then try another version based on the feedback to improve. “Every team needs small milestones and then let them experiment in between,” he says.
- Let everyone play a part. Leaders must support each team member’s strengths. One team member may be better at coming up with the big idea in the beginning, while another team member’s strength is getting everything organized further into the process. Leaders need to enforce the idea that creativity flourishes when everyone puts their individual strengths to work. Eric Allenbaugh, of Allenbaugh associates, says that when an influential person proposes a solution, it’s not uncommon for other team members to acquiesce rather than suggest additional options. “These typical conditions can result in the team pursuing an Edsel while ignoring a Mustang,” he explains.
Jeffrey Baumgartner, author of “The Way of the Innovation Master,” suggests that it’s also important to switch up team members since after about two years, they get to know each other too well. That leads to “predictability and possibly even boredom,” he says.
Like Berkun, he says teams need to be given more space to think. He suggest team visits to art galleries, science museums or even a group walk in the woods. “Very little corporate creativity blossoms in cubicles or stuffy conference rooms,” he says.