Time for Innovation: How to Inspire Your Team’s Most Creative Thinking

With the right rituals and tools, you can inspire your team’s out-of-the-box thinking.

Julia Tsoi
Oct 1, 2020 · 5 min read
Illustration of creativity
Illustration of creativity
Credit: Hiwow

a design strategist, I work closely with the business owner to design programs and interactive sessions to unleash teams’ creativity. The client often shares that the team is comfortable with their current environment yet dares to challenge the status quo and develop original ideas. Day in and day out, every day seems to be a loop for them, and the leaders sense the vital need to break the routine.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” Steve Jobs

Everyone is born with creativity. And it is all about how we can knock and open the door for them to come in. So being a facilitator, we create a safe environment for people to embrace the discomfort and develop the craziest ideas.

Below I have summarized five ways to inspire participants to think out of the box and be ready to innovate.

1. Set the scene

Warm up the room. Tell your participants the goal of brainstorming is to go for quantity, not for quality. Be open to the wild idea and give no limit to themselves.

Do tell stories:

  • Honeypot and helicopter: How might honey and bear lead to the solution of the frozen ice on the power line
  • Urinal flies: How might adding a small sticker on the urinal could save profound clearing cost
  • Mirror Mirror: How might a mirror stop people’s complains about the waiting time of the slow elevator

There is nothing called stupid ideas. Let people trust the process and develop as many ideas as possible.

2. Create urgency

People tend to chill and procrastinate when they have extra time — it is human nature for comfort. So do make sure you build the urgency to squeeze peoples’ creative juice out.

A time timer
A time timer
Time Timer

Always timebox your ideation session. Let people see the clock ticking. Get a time timer if possible. I often like to use silent ideation, pairing up with focus music to generate as many ideas as possible.

If it is in a virtual setting, I love love love using the timer in Mural to let my participant know the time is running and they do not have all day long to work.

Timer in Mural
Timer in Mural
Timer in Mural

The little set-up like this would motivate your participant to focus on quantity rather than quality, preventing them from overthink when stretching ideas.

3. Oblique strategy

Another tactic that I have been using for years is the Oblique Strategy. I first heard about it in 2018 when I was in the Apple school. We were advised to use this approach to push for original ideas for our app.

During that time, our team was designing a game to help comfort frustrated people, and we were stuck at the point to come up with big ideas. Hence the oblique strategy came in.

The rule is simple: You go on the website and keep clicking on random statements until it triggers your aha moment or sparks new thoughts.

Oblique Strategy : disconnected events
Oblique Strategy : disconnected events
Oblique Strategy : Do nothing
Oblique Strategy : Do nothing
Oblique Strategy: Turn it upside down
Oblique Strategy: Turn it upside down

I remember we came across a message “water.” It provoked me with a classic riddle:

What kind of things would only get dirtier if you wash it?

And the answer is — water.

Eventually, we proceeded with the ideas and built our first iOS game called “Wash the Water.” None of us could see this coming from one random word we found online.

4. Crazy 8

This is a well-known method initially from the Design Sprint. Each time when we run it with our participants, the room would end up with numerous new ideas and, most importantly — laughs.

My version of Crazy 8 always comes with sticker notes.

  • Step 1 — Everyone gets a white paper.
  • Step 2 — Sticks 8 sticky notes on the paper.
  • Step 3 — Spend the first 5 min to ideate 4 ideas on your own sheet. Draw it out!
  • Step 4 — Pass the paper to the people next to you and simultaneously receive the paper from the other side: Times one minute and ideate one idea on the new sheet.
  • Step 5 — Time’s up. Rotate again and repeat until everyone draws on everyone’s papers.
Crazy 8
Crazy 8
Ideation in EY wavespace, Credit: Author

Make it entertaining. Let people enjoy your process as if they are playing games. Good vibes would lead to the openness to dreaming up new things.

5. Combo invention challenge

I recently learned this approach to evoke out-of-the-box thoughts.

Bonkers Combo Invention Challenge
Bonkers Combo Invention Challenge
Credit: Dominic Wilcox
  • Step 1 — Prepare a list of random objects.
  • Step 2 — Pick 2 of the objects and combine them into a new item/concept.
  • Step 3 — Voilà — A brand new ideas!

I invented my talking jeans and cuddly bear wallet during the session! Fun, isn’t it?

Image for post
Image for post
Credit: Author

Final thoughts

People always claim that they are not innovative enough. I don’t buy it. We were all kids before. And we were able to dream big and draw things that no one ever sees.

It is time for us to wake your inner child and let that creativity flow.

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking the rules, making mistakes, and having fun.” — Mary Lou Cook

So let’s go. Have fun. Embrace the discomfort and open up the door of curiosity again.

You are born to do this.

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Julia Tsoi

Written by

Design Strategist in Tech | Ex-IBMer | Apple Developer Academy Alumni. Bird without legs and I would always fly high. https://juliatsoi.com/

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +771K people. Follow to join our community.

Julia Tsoi

Written by

Design Strategist in Tech | Ex-IBMer | Apple Developer Academy Alumni. Bird without legs and I would always fly high. https://juliatsoi.com/

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +771K people. Follow to join our community.

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