Things for teams to try: Improving Creativity

Not in a “creative” function? Don’t worry, it's not what we do but how we approach it which is key to improving creativity at work. Here are some things you and your colleagues can try.

10 Creativity - team

1. Play!

We can do serious work without having to do it seriously. By taking a playful approach we fuel our imagination, creativity and problem-solving capabilities. We collaborate more. We take risks. We push ourselves to leave our comfort zone and explore a different perspective or solution. We often out-perform precisely because we feel less is on the line if we get things wrong.

So how do we cultivate play at work?

  • Make time for designated "play" sessions, especially around complex problems or for horizon scanning in decision making
  • Play the "alien game" to explore scenarios that mirror real life situations. For example, imagine your team has landed on an alient planet and is asked to solve problems and recognize opportunities facing its inhabitants. When your environment is foreign and remote, you're more likely to come up with fresh ideas.
  • Sing together! It's an aerobic activity that increases oxygen in the bloodstream, creates positive energy and connects you to others.

2. Move your body to move your mind

We become unquestioning about where and how we do our work - but changing up our environment and our pysical posture can energize us and fuel creativity. If COVID-19 taught us something - it's that many of us can work anyhow from anywhere! Some of our favourite ways to raise levels of creative activity include:

  • walking meetings - especially for controversial, sensitive or frontier conversations
  • working from a different team - move your work station to another team and learn how they see the collective work you do
  • meetings in parks - nature has a calming effect, making us more relaxed in the way we think and work together
  • bring plants to the office - then you'll have to get up from your desk to water them
  • find ways to get some physical activity into your daily commute

3. Build a cognitively diverse team

In Rebel ideas: the power of diverse thinking Matthew Syed makes the case that in most contexts it's better to hire for diversity than the best. Unless you're facing a fairly simple recuritment need (i.e., building a spint relay team where four Usain Bolt's will give you the best chance of winning Gold), then you're better to hire people who are cognitively diverse.

The challenge is that we're attracted to people who are similar to us. When they mirror our perspective it validates our worldview, corroborating the way we think. This is good for simple problems, but for complex problems we need to work at the edge of what we see as possible.

Some of the best solutions are not ideas that have got incrementally better; they are the result of recombinant innovation. This is where ideas from two separate domains or intellectual disciplines are brought together. It took until 1972 for humankind to bring luggage technology together with wheel technology to design the wheeled suitcase! The two technologies had long existed, but it needed a joining of minds to make an interdisciplinary design.

4. Explore what it feels like to be creative

We've seen teams improve creativity in functions that many assume to be least creative - such as a quality assurance team, who have to be very systematic in their approach.

Running workshops, as the QA did, can help a team to explore what it would feel and look like to work more creatively. Often a workshop surfaces new things to try, especially in how individuals and the team approach issues and solve problems. The results are commonly about fine tuning the team's creative process and sometimes also about creating the space for creativity.

Another organization we worked with used hack days to help revive people after a set back. They reliably saw a bump in overall happiness when people had been gifted the opportunity to step out of their day-to-day and think outside the box together. Plus the business benefited from all the innovation too.

5. Make your job description a "living document"

We're keen advocates of ""living job descriptions"" which we evolve through our experience. One aspect of work that never stands still is what we learn. The more we do a particular job the more we learn about ourselves and the nature of the job.

Just as the practice of job crafting increases our sense of influence at work, it's also a way of approaching work and its tasks more creatively.

Task crafting (e.g., the order in which tasks are done), relational crafting (e.g., forging relationships to anticipate the challenges another team will have), and cognitive crafting (changing how we perceive tasks and the meaning we give them: “I’m an Ambassador”), all improve our creative process.

The practice of revisting job descriptions regularly, with a view to thinking about how we might ""craft"" our jobs differently, will spark all sorts of ideas about how to meet expectations while making the process of work more enjoyable.

6. Improve how you fail

Keep pressure for results down and encouragement for failures and successes up! A culture of failing fast improves creative process because it enourages us to try things we would otherwise avoid doing for fear it doesn't work out. If we can frame fails as opportunities to learn, and approach them with curiosity, we tend to be in a more positive frame of mind to absorb what they can teach us.

Friday Pulse should help the team get into the habit of exploring what didn't go so well with the prompt to share frustrations each week. This practice can be enhanced by specific sessions to explore what went well and what didn't at certain milestones through the year - e.g. end of a busy season, culmination of a project, launch of a new client.

And remember to be kind to each other and yourselves! Improving how you fail requires a lot of self-compassion. Imagine your best friend presented you with the same mistake you've just made yourself. How would we talk to them about what went wrong? What sort of reassurances would you offer them? Now, say those kind words to yourselves!

7. Learn some liberating structures

If you want to strengthen your creative process, find new ways of including and unleashing the imagination of everyone.

On their website, Liberating Structures have lots of ideas to strengthen how you meet, plan, decide and relate to one another.

From Helping Heuristics to Nine Whys to What I Need From You to 1-2-4-All, simple instructions make these meeting structures super simple to pick up and use.

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