As managers and owners within our business organizations, we are always looking for ways to encourage and empower our employees to be creative both in problem solving and innovating products and services. A recent McKinsey Quarterly article speaks to the idea of sparking creativity in teams and how that can be accomplished.
The authors of ‘Sparking Creativity in Teams: An Executive’s Guide’, direct attention to the necessity for people to be exposed to methods of breaking free of pre-existing views and established paradigms. One of the ways to accomplish this would be to move people out of the office, store or workplace to look at successful efforts made in other realms that might have some applicability at ‘home’.
“These experiences were transformative for the employees, who watched, shopped, chatted with sales associates, took pictures and later shared observations with teammates in a more formal idea generation session. By visiting the other retailers and seeing firsthand how they operated, the retailer’s employees were able to relax their strongly held views about their own company’s operations…identify new retail concepts…and changing the design of stores…”
These methods of sideways thinking can help to kick off an innovation effort by challenging orthodoxies and assumptions about one’s own business. One executive noted that often innovation was simply “putting lipstick on a pig,” just making something look new cosmetically without really paying attention to any of the foundational elements.
Real creativity is sometimes about understanding and challenging core beliefs in order to see new opportunities. ‘Sparking Creativity in Teams’ cites a Harvard Business Review article which points to a number of techniques that can be used to get past deeply held opinions and ideas to discover innovation, particularly associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and networking.
An exercise I used years ago when I was teaching a creative problem solving course was to have teams find a solution to their problem by randomly selecting a word in the dictionary. Trying to tie this random selection to the problem generated amazing connections and out-of-the-box thinking. Some of the solutions were quite brilliant and surprising.
Another technique for creative thinking is to imagine artificial constraints (eg. What if you could only serve one consumer segment? What if the price of your product had to be cut in half?) to spur some adrenalized problem solving and idea creation.
Whatever your methods, it pays to bring your employees together for some of these thought fests. It is deeply enjoyable and can generate buy in, engagement and very creative output.