24 ways to jump start group creativity

Creativity Techniques

picture of think jar collective designSimply put, the key to increasing creativity in any organization is to make it start acting like a creative organization. Suppose you wanted to be an artist: You would begin behaving like an artist by painting every day. You may not become another Vincent Van Gogh, but you’ll become much more of an artist than someone who has never tried. Similarly, you and your organization will become more creative if you start going through the motions and acting the part. The following are 24 suggestions to encourage you and your colleagues to jump start creativity in your group.

1. ONE-A-DAY. Ask each person to try to improve one aspect of their job each day, focusing on the areas within their control. At the end of the day, people should meet and ask each other what they did differently and better than it was the day before.

2. IDEA TICKET. In advance of a meeting, frame a problem or issue to address. Ask each person to bring, at least, one new idea or suggestion about the problem as their ticket of admission to the meeting. Have the people write their ideas on index cards and collect them at the door. No one gets in without a ticket. Start the meeting by reading everyone’s contribution.

3. BRAINSTORMING BOARD. Put up a bulletin board in a central area and encourage people to use it to brainstorm ideas. Write a theme or problem on a colored card and place it in the center of the board. Provide pieces of white paper on which people can write their ideas to post on the board. E.g. suppose you have difficulty closing a particular sale. You could describe the sale situation on a colored card, post it on the brainstorming board and ask people to post their ideas and suggestions.

4. IDEA LOTTERY. Have a monthly “idea lottery,” using a roll of numbered tickets. Each time a person comes up with a creative idea, he or she receives a ticket. At the end of each month, share the ideas with the staff and then draw a number from a bowl. If the number on anyone’s ticket corresponds to the number drawn, he or she gets a prize. If no one wins, double the prize for the next month.

5. CREATIVE CORNER. Provide a special area for people to engage in creative thinking. Stock the area with books, videos on creativity, as well as learning games and such toys as beanbags and modeling clay. You might even decorate the area with pictures of employees as infants to suggest the idea that we’re all born spontaneous and creative.

6. ICONS OF CREATIVITY. Ask people to display items on their desks that represent their own personal visions of creativity in business. For example, a crystal ball might represent a view toward future markets, a bottle of Heinz catsup might represent a personal goal of 57 new ideas on how to cut expenses, and a set of jumper cables might symbolize the act of jump-starting your creative juices to get more sales.

7. EVERYONE’S A CONSULTANT. Ask each person to write a current job-related problem or concern on a blank sheet of paper. Examples: “How can I get better cooperation from our warehouse employees in fulfilling orders on time?” “How can we overcome the low price and discount program of our competition?” After allowing a few minutes to write out the problems, ask each person to pass his or her problem to the right. That person reads the problem just received and jots down their responses. They are given 60 seconds to respond to the individual sheet. Keep the process going until each person gets his or her sheet back. Then share and discuss the ideas.

8. TOYS R US. Children do most of their important learning while playing with toys. It’s no wonder that toys have a liberating effect in meetings. They are not only fun, and a disarming way to break the ice, but they are also a deceptively powerful way to break down the barriers of conditioned thinking and responses. Bring a box of toys to the meeting. Just having toys in the room will change the feeling in the room and invite people to be more open and playful. Have the participants choose a toy and give them time to explore it. Then ask them to compare the problem or issue under discussion with the toy.

For instance, a group of employees were brainstorming for ways to improve customer service. Each participant chose a toy from a pile of toys – a pail full of Legos, a yo-yo, a toy dog, and so forth – to find the toy that represented their customer service best. The typically serious, driven employees erupted in laughter as they took turns standing in front of the group comparing the problem to a lump of play dough. The playfulness of the exercise, however, allowed them to be more bold, truthful, and perceptive about themselves and the problem than they probably would have been with a more traditional approach.

9. LET’S DO LUNCH. Encourage weekly lunch-time meeting of three to five employees to engage in creative thinking. Ask meeting participants to read a book on creativity; each person can read a different chapter and share ways of applying creative thinking to the organization. Invite creative business people from the community to speak to the group. You could ask them for ideas on how to become more creative in your business.

10. BRIGHT IDEAS NOTEBOOK. Present each person with a notebook. Call the notebook the “Bright Idea Notebook,” and ask everyone to write three ideas in the notebook every day for one month on how to improve your business. At the end of the month, collect all the notebooks and categorize the ideas for further discussion.

11. WHAT IF? Have the group create two opposite extreme ideas. For instance, what would you create if you had all the resources (people, money, time, etc.) in the world? Then, ask what would you create if you had no resources? Then try to combine the two into a practical, affordable idea.

12. STUPID IDEA WEEK. Make idea generating fun. Have a “Stupid Idea” week and stage a contest for the dumbest ideas. Post entries on a bulletin board and conduct an awards ceremony with a prize. You’ll enjoy the camaraderie and may find that the stupid ideas stimulate good ones.

13. CREATIVITY BY COMMITTEE. Establish a “creative-idea” committee made up of volunteers. The goals of the committee should be to elicit, discuss, and implement employee’s ideas. The committee can record the number of ideas on a thermometer-type graph. The company should recognize and reward people according to the quantity and quality of their creative contributions.

14. HALL OF FAME. Turn an office hallway into an Employee Hall of Fame. Post photographs of those whose ideas are implemented along with a paragraph about the person, the idea, and its impact on the company.

15. LEFT AND RIGHT BRAINS. When brainstorming in a group, try dividing the group into left-brain (rational) thinkers and right-brain (intuitive) thinkers. Ask the left-brainers to come up with practical, conventional and logical ideas; ask the right-brainers to come up with far-out, unconventional and nonlogical ideas. Then combine the groups and share the ideas.

16. IDEA QUOTAS. Thomas Edison guaranteed productivity by giving himself and his assistants idea quotas. His own personal quota was one minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months. A way to guarantee creativity is to give each employee an idea quota of, say, five new ideas a week.

17. CHANGE “Yes, but …” TO “Yes, and …” Someone offers an idea in a meeting, and many of us are tempted to say “Yes, but …” To change this mind set , whenever someone says “Yes, but …” require the person to change “Yes, but …” to “Yes, and …” and continue where the last person left off.

18. THREE WAYS. People shouldn’t waste time thinking of reasons why something can’t work or can’t be done. Instead, they should think about ways to make something work, and then get it done. Ask everyone to think of three job-related goals, targets, or tasks they think can’t be accomplished. Then ask them to figure out three ways to accomplish each of them. Then do the same thing yourself.

19. FRESH EYES. Jonas Salk, developer of the vaccine that eradicated polio, made it a standard practice to assemble men and women from different domains to his group sessions. He felt this practice helped him bring out new ideas that could not arise in the minds of individuals who were from the same domain. Invite people from other departments to your brainstorming sessions and ask them how they would solve your problems.

20. TAKE A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. Write the alphabet vertically on the chalkboard. Then ask for names of famous (real or fictional) people for each letter: A=Neil Armstrong, B=Alexander Graham Bell, C=Charlie Chaplin, D=Leonardo daVinci, E=Albert Einstein, F= Fred Flintstone and so on. Have each person in the group pick a random letter. One might end up with Albert Einstein or David Letterman. Then have each person think about how the famous person might approach the problem. Finally, have the group share their perspectives. How, for example, would Napoleon improve office morale?

21. TELL A STORY. Storytelling is one of the oldest ways to teach and transform. Such devices as parables, personal experiences, and metaphors allow people to think about things that would be difficult to approach any other way. Storytelling, for example, can help people envision the future they want and how to achieve it. Tell each person to imagine that he or she had been voted employee of the year. Then, have each one give a speech to the group, telling what they did and how they did it to earn the honor. Or, ask each person to write out their most ambitious goal for this year. Then, imagine that the goal has reached or surpassed. Again, ask each person to give a speech on the specifics of what they had to do to achieve it.

22. IDEA GALLERY. Post sheets of flip-chart paper around the room, one per participant. Participants stand silently and write their ideas on the sheets (one sheet per person) for 10 to 15 minutes. Then the participants are allowed 15 minutes to walk around the “gallery” and look at the other ideas and take notes. Now, using the other ideas to stimulate further thought, participants return to their sheets and add to or refine their ideas. After about 10 minutes of additional writing, the participants examine all the ideas and select the best ones. Another option for the gallery technique is to ask participants to draw or diagram their ideas instead of listing them. For example, how many windows are there in your house? Diagramming your house allows you to go inspect and count the windows. Creative insights sometimes occur as a result of drawing or diagramming a problem, because they help us notice certain features that may be overlooked.

23. MIXED TASTE. Ask two employees from unrelated fields (e.g., sales and warehouse) to speak for about 15 minutes each about their work. Then ask the audience for a linking question. The audience then creates and asks correlated questions that require the speakers to connect their seemingly disparate worlds. For example, how is prospecting for sales like planning where to store material in a warehouse? What signifies success in sales and what signifies it in the warehouse?

24. THANK YOU  Lastly, don’t forget to thank people for their ideas. Design your own “Thank You For Your Great Idea” cards and distribute them freely to contributors. Sign each card with a personal message. Stock up on instant lottery cards and include one or two in each card to show your appreciation.

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