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3 Ways to Think Outside the Box

Posted by Nadia Goodman | October 29, 2012
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/224807

When employees arrive at a brainstorming meeting at MBooth, a communications agency in Manhattan, they see confetti strewn across the table, posters with prompts like, "Tell me an idea inspired by the word electricity," and a picture of Ryan Gosling with the caption, "Hey girl, what would get me to shop here?" They are given a marker and ten minutes to write ideas on the walls.

The unusual experience is carefully designed to help them think outside the box. 

Andrew Rossi, MBooth's creative director, is responsible for making the agency a hub of innovation. He stepped into the role in 2009 when fresh ideas were starting to run dry. "Clients stay with us for a long time," he says. "We were thinking about the same clients over and over and (our ideas) were just getting stale."

Related: 3 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity

Rossi started researching how creativity works and overhauled MBooth's creative process, earning an award for '2012 Creative Agency of the Year' from the Holmes Report.

Here, Rossi shares three tips that can help your company come up with original ways to reach your business goals:

1. Set parameters to focus your ideas. Ironically, too much freedom can hinder your creativity. Boundaries help your memory function, giving your ideas more depth and breadth. "Too many times, people start off really broad," Rossi says. "That's a lot of pressure. It's easier to anchor an idea somewhere." 

As you brainstorm, focus your thinking by asking specific questions. For example, if you're looking for new marketing strategies, list ten things you could do on Facebook or five ideas that involve crowdsourcing. Play with a variety of prompts and write down whatever comes to mind, no matter how loosely associated. 

2. Search for random inspiration. To think outside the box, you need to trigger your brain to make connections it normally wouldn't make. To do that, look for inspiration that seems entirely unrelated to the problem. 

Related: 3 Creative Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Rossi often prompts his team with unexpected words, like pineapple or sparkles for a car company. "Nine times out of 10, the ideas people are excited about are generated by the ridiculous random prompt," he says. To find prompts, look at popular photos on Pinterest and trending words on Twitter, or click 'I'm Feeling Lucky' in a Google search.

3. Aim for quantity, not quality. While you're generating ideas, turn off your internal editor. Exhaust your good ideas and start throwing out suggestions that seem absurd or wrong. Remember, you can always make a bad idea better after the fact.

Rossi finds that speed and friendly competition help people churn out ideas without judgment. Once, he put 100 one dollar bills in the center of a table and told his team they could take one every time they said an idea. "In 15 minutes, we came up with 100 ideas," he says. "Fifty of them were really interesting." 

Related: How to Develop a Culture of Innovation

How do you help your team think outside the box?