How to Develop Your Team’s Creativity — For Any Type of Job

Larry Kim, founder of WordStream, believes that novel thinking will be a key workplace skill by 2020. And he may be right. A 2014 Forrester survey found that 82% of software decision makers felt that creative companies gain greater business benefits like market share and revenue growth. And companies like Google have invested heavily in encouraging creativity in their workforce.

Ok, you may not have Google’s “creativity budget” to build special workspaces or game rooms for relaxation. But regardless of your industry or size, you can coax out your team’s natural ingenuity with a few simple strategies. A recent article in the Guardian reports that 6 of 10 employees say they would share more ideas at work if they were rewarded for doing so.

Ask “why” when there’s no reason to.

One of the great questions behind innovation is “why.” Just getting your team used to asking the question and exploring the answers will take you a long way to finding those “out of the box” ideas everyone covets.

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And it’s most powerful when your group starts to question their most basic actions. Anabel Acton, writing for TheMuse.com, suggests, “Look at everything you do without thinking and start noticing what you do and asking why? Consider whether there might be other ways to do it. You can grab a buddy to review it, especially one who doesn’t do that job and comes with a fresh perspective.”

Surprise the senses.

Novel surroundings get your brain thinking in new directions. That’s why it’s often helpful to go for a walk or get out of the office when you’re stuck on a problem.

But you can bring novelty inside the office as well. Jason Demers, writing for Entrepreneur magazine, suggests mixing up your sensory environment. Bring in interesting art for the walls, play different kinds of music, introduce scents. These are not for everyone to love, but to shake things up so people can get out of their mental ruts.

Indulge curiosity.

Curiosity feeds creativity. It’s the drive that leads from “why” to “aha.” Most people don’t feel they have the freedom to indulge their curiosity at work, but you can change that.

Erica Anderson, author of Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future, suggests asking employees what interests them, then giving them related tasks to keep their curiosity high. As they get deeper into the subject, their interests and ideas will grow.

For example, if you have an ice cream parlor, one employee may be interested in understanding why people buy more ice cream on Sunday than any other day of the week. Another may be interested in understanding efficiency and looking at the order, serve, payment process you currently use.

They may discover new ways to bring in business or lower costs. Or they might just become engaged and committed at work. It’s a win either way.

Learn each other’s jobs.

Cross-training is a great way to shake up your team and get them thinking in new ways. Your accounting manager might have a novel perspective on operations. Or the product manager might get some cool ideas from learning about HR.

Besides introducing people to new ideas, cross-training helps a team understand each other’s roles and work better as one company.

Collaboratively tackle problems.

Sometimes just talking over problems with another person can get the imaginative sparks flying. Yoni Ben-Yehuda, chief marketing officer of Web design agency Blue Fountain Media, prefers to pull together cross-departmental teams to tackle tough challenges. He feels the different perspectives encourage more interesting solutions.

Even if you’re working on a small problem, getting ideas from someone outside the situation can open up possibilities you hadn’t considered.

Take some risks and enjoy the success and the failure.

Creativity is not about 100% success. It’s about trying something and seeing what happens. When you give employees the latitude to try new things, not all will succeed, some will only partly succeed.

But if you fail once and never try again, the message is “don’t color outside the lines at this company.” The key is to celebrate what you learned and continue practicing.

Give people time to unwind on breaks if possible.

David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, shares recent research into how we achieve insights. It seems that we’re more likely to get that “wow” moment when we’re happy and relaxed.

It also helps to quiet the mind and stop focusing on a problem. When you do something else for a while, the brain opens up new possibilities. If you’ve ever solved a problem in the shower, you know what I mean.

At work, you can give employees access to outdoor spaces, quiet areas, and even video games that let them disconnect and focus on non-work activities for a while. “Light bulb” ideas can often pop up during these down time breaks.

Enjoy the ride.

Most people would not list their workplace as their most creative environment (unless you work in an artist’s studio). So encouraging creativity means waking up long-suppressed natural curiosity, and it takes time.

Some folks will love it; others will be skeptical. But as a company leader, if you remain consistent, reward efforts to think differently, and enjoy yourself, your team will get there as well. And who knows what kinds of innovations you may cook up along the way.

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