Removing Individual Barriers to Creative Thinking
In my business, and in yours, the most valuable resource I have is human creativity, imagination and original thinking. Yet, helping your employees realize their full creative potential is no small task. Every individual comes to the table with past experiences that shape their thinking and their behavior.
In the two decades I have spent leading multi-disciplinary teams, the greatest lessons I have learned stem from my quest to understand how to help individual personalities bring their best creative selves to the table. As a leader, it is impossible to understand what blocks every single person in your organization from generating great ideas. But it IS possible to be cognizant of differences.
Here are three techniques that I learned to employ over the years to produce fruitful creative discussions:
Give Ideas Time to Build – Stop Brainstorming!
I used to believe that, for somepeople, any activity that requires them to come up with ideas on the spot will shut them down. I now believe that this does not apply to somepeople – it applies to allpeople. Ideation through brainstorming is not effective. (Don’t just take my word for it -- Andrew Tate wrote a great blog on this too: https://www.canva.com/learn/brainstorming-is-bad/).
What is effective? In my teams I try to break it down into three separate meetings:
- Meeting 1: Frame the challengeyou are trying to solve well in advance. What exactly are you trying to fix/improve/change and why? Allow time for the team to ask questions and wrap their head around the problem.
- Meeting 2: Over the next three to five days have everyone write down their ideas and bring those ideas to the meeting ready to discuss. This is the meeting where you want to try to iterate on each other’s ideas. One person’s solution may spawn thoughts on how to approach the problem in a completely different way. One or two solutions may rise to the top. Discuss them. Applaud them. Revel in them. But whatever you do – don’t settle on them.
- Meeting 3: Give the top solutions a week to settle in your minds. Have everyone write down the critical questions surrounding each solution. In this meeting, nobody should feel like they are “defending” a solution. This meeting is about getting all the “what if’s” out on the table and making a good idea great.
This was a painful lesson for me.
There was a time in my organization when all of the ideation came from the UX and creative teams. We were celebrating the completion of a large project when I overheard one of our programmers say “you know what they should have done…” and proceeded to lay out what would have been a fantastic revenue-generating feature that was within scope of the original project. When I asked her why she didn’t bring that idea to the table in the first place she responded “Nobody asked me and by the time we got to implementation stage I felt that it was too late”.
From that day forward we always invited the entire team to the table. Be consistent in inviting them and soliciting their ideas and feedback. State up front that you want ideas from everyone and explain how the team benefits from different ways of thinking and doing.
Understand Levels of Comfort with Conflict.
Some people are afraid of any type of conflict (perceived or real). They don’t feel safe challenging ideas or authority. It is important to understand individual perceptions of conflict and authority within your organization. One person’s “healthy debate” may feel like an argument to another.
First, understand your personal disposition toward conflict. As the leader, you create the context for how people behave in your company. How are you setting the tone for how your team approaches conflict? Are you running away from tough issues or addressing them head-on? How do you respond to critical feedback and new ideas? Are you approachable and open?
Teach your team how to disagree with respect and confidence.
Encourage them to listen with a goal of understanding.
Create a culture where people feel welcomed to ask more questions to better understand.
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