Are you looking for a new way to generate ideas to solve your problems? Do you have a culture in place that accepts that all ideas are important ideas? Do you think of yourself as a creative person? What about your team?
David Kelley, CEO of legendary design firm IDEO, spoke about the importance of building creative confidence. He relayed a classmate’s experience early on in elementary school, being ridiculed by a peer about the project he was trying to create. As a result, his classmate immediately shut down and quit the project, feeling discouraged about his peer’s opinion. Kelley went on to talk about how we can often “opt-out” of being creative due to this kind of experience – we tell ourselves that we’re not creative, so, therefore, it’s somehow true. He stressed how wrong this is and how important it is for us to understand and realize that we are all naturally creative – we’re not divided into “creatives” and “non-creatives.”
In creative workshops with accounting professionals, I always stress the need to think about more than just facts. Accountants are very facts-oriented people. The challenge is to get them to see more to their profession than just the facts and figures. Many of them feel just as Kelley described, that they somehow aren’t cut out to be creative or that they aren’t capable.
However, the important thing for all of us in technical professions and a few other professions that are generally considered “not creative” is to realize that – indeed, we are creative! Creativity is, simply put, your ability to generate ideas. And we all certainly do that, and the more, the better! So, remember, your involvement in the creative process is just as real and just as important as anyone else’s.
IMPROV BEYOND THE STAGE
Business schools across America have taken note of the importance of idea generation and creative thinking in the business world. For the past several years, programs have started offering courses that help students not only learn ways to promote freer thinking and brainstorming, but to adopt principles of improvisation in order to facilitate this creativity. One of the most powerful principles of improv is found in the practice of the “yes, and…” approach.
Bob Kulhan, an influential promoter of getting improvisation into business schools across America, summed up the idea of “yes, and…” in a Slate article, “When they’re collaborating onstage, improv performers never reject one another’s ideas—they say “yes, and” to accept and build upon each new contribution.” “It’s a total philosophy of creativity,” says Holly Mandel, founder of the performance school Improvolution and its corporate-targeted offshoot Imergence. “Yes, and” creates; while ‘no’ stops the flow.
It’s this “yes, and…” principle of improv that gets ideas churning up and out of people’s heads. This is not only applicable for others, but for ourselves as well. We are often our own harshest critic – a critic that is quick to dismiss our ideas as ‘stupid’. We need to silence that critic in order for creativity to surface! In reality, there are no stupid ideas – every one of them leads somewhere, and it’s especially important in brainstorming to let all ideas rise. In creativity workshops, I stress the importance that no idea is a bad idea. All ideas lead to a better idea. Therefore, ALL ideas are important. So, whatever is in your head, let it out! Even if the inner critic is shouting at you – shout it down and let the idea out! Ideas (good or bad) lead to better ideas. No ideas lead to nothing.
GETTING THOSE IDEAS OUT
Remember, when we are brainstorming ideas, we are looking for quantity not quality. You can’t create and criticize in the same space. Successful ideation requires divergent thinking, which is a process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. Once we have completed the generation of ideas, we then change to convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is where we take those ideas and organize them and take steps to see if we can arrive at the correct solution. In other words, you can now become the critic!
There are many exercises that you can employ in your brainstorming process. One of my favorites is outrageous opposites. If you have a problem to solve, step one is to brainstorm traditional approaches in solving the problem. Step 2 is to brainstorm outrageous ideas in solving the problem. When you are finished, look at the outrageous ideas and see if there is anything you can expand on. For example:
Number of participants: 1 – 20
Problem: Recruiting seasoned staff for our company
Traditional approaches: Monster.com adds, Indeed.com ads, hire a headhunter, offer a referral bonus to current staff, etc…
Outrageous approaches: hire a blimp to fly over sporting event, place ads in restrooms, have an open house, create a fun YouTube video about your company, etc…
Review your outrageous approaches and see which ones might actually work for your organization. There is a regional accounting firm, Withum Smith + Brown, that did fun YouTube videos to help increase the moral in the company. These were actually so good that seasoned staffed from other accounting firms applied for positions with their firm. Here is a link to one of those videos https://youtu.be/ZCs7O6cJgiQ.
Another favorite brainstorming exercise is called “Kill the business.” Instead of thinking of ways to grow your business, this is an exercise that focuses on ways to put your company out of business. Your team is looking at the company’s weaknesses and listing them as a small, medium, or large threat. Once these weaknesses have been identified and categorized, then answer a couple of questions:
What did we not think about before that we can see now?
What could attack us now and how can we quickly eliminate the threat?
Which one is the most important weaknesses that we must fix?
This is an eye-opening exercise that will uncover opportunities that you may not have discovered using conventional thinking.
There are a number of resources where you can find brainstorming exercises. Here are a couple:
- SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas. By Keith Harmeyer and Mitchell Rigie.
- Improvisation for the Theater, Third Edition, Viola Spolin (these exercises can be debriefed from a business perspective).
IMPLEMENTING A CREATIVE WORKPLACE
In the end, the workplace needs leaders that inspire and encourage the expression of creativity. John Dragoon, CMO of Novell was quoted in Forbes saying, “Truly creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are openminded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.”
This doesn’t happen overnight, but if the leadership encourages the generation of ideas, some of them are bound to produce impressive results. Not all the ideas are going to work, no matter how much product testing and field work a company conducts. Some ideas will go nowhere, but if you have no ideas, you certainly will go nowhere.
When it comes to creativity and generating ideas, all are needed, and all are wanted. While what comes out might be a bit rough, with a little polishing and fine tuning, the result can be quite extraordinary.
If you would like to discuss having me facilitate a brainstorming session for your organization, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and in the subject line put “ALL IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT IDEAS.”