Innovation is the lifeblood of any successful company today. For many companies, however, the pursuit of innovative ideas is missing a key element (something typically not associated with business professionals): creativity.
Nurturing your creative self is the only way to truly unlock your strategic mind and bring your business skills to bear in new, meaningful ways that can benefit your entire organization. Here are 10 tips to help you unlock your creativity at work:
1. Get visual. Regardless of your role, industry or responsibilities, visualizing data and ideas is an incredibly powerful tool to get your team thinking. Get off the phone, go in a room together (a virtual room will work, too) and use a whiteboard until your hand hurts.
2. Throw out the rule book. The next time you get your team together to brainstorm, create and enforce a “no holds barred” idea session. Nothing is off the table; nothing is outside the realm of possibility. Avoid words and phrases like “but,” “how would we” and “we can’t.” If necessary, designate someone to police those phrases and keep everyone honest.
3. Work backward. Figure the goal or ideal scenario 10 to 15 years down the road. Start there and work your way backward. Don’t worry about the “how.” Focus on the “what.” Your road map will literally unfold itself.
4. Make a game of it. At the start of your next meeting try a game to get the creative juices flowing. Have everyone write a random idea down, crumple it up and toss it onto the center of the table. Pick one idea at random and build it out. Or switch roles. Ask those assembled, “If you were me, how would you tackle this problem?”
5. Write down absolutely everything. No thought is too small, and no idea is too “out there.” Anything can potentially have value to your business. You never know what word or phrase is going to spark the next word or phrase, which could then lead to your next big idea. Get it all down on paper. Find somewhere prominent to keep ideas displayed, such as an idea board or whiteboard.
6. Take mental breaks. A lot of business leaders view social media and other distraction sites as time-wasters, instead of recognizing them for what they really are: mental breaks. It’s practically impossible to nurture creativity in a tired, burned-out brain. Encouraging mental breaks is the key to developing employees’ creative side and boosting morale.
7. Take a trip to happy hour. We tend to spend our workdays chained to our coffee mugs. But did you know that a little bit of alcohol can help with brainstorming too? A single beer can relax your brain, making you less focused on the negatives, and less likely to squash your good ideas. The next time you need a good brainstorm, find the nearest happy hour and get to work.
8. Get physical. Engaging in a physical activity can help unlock your creative mind, particularly if your job is primarily sedentary. Go outside for a run, walk, bike ride or whatever activity suits you. (I’m a motocross guy, myself.) This will relax your mind, and afterward you can attack a problem or idea with a fresh brain. Inspiration might even strike mid-stride.
9. Play to your strengths. It’s a common misconception that creativity exists only in people with specifically “creative” roles and skills and that the more analytical among us are too dull and logical. In fact, any skill can be used creatively. Are you an Excel wizard? Throw your ideas into a spreadsheet to categorize and dissect them and watch the brainstorm develop.
10. Get the words out. The hardest part of any brainstorming session, alone or in a group, is getting the ball rolling. The easiest solution? Just talk. Or write. Start getting words out or down on paper, even if they’re borderline nonsensical at first. It’s all about getting over that initial hurdle, so the ideas can start flowing.