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Hurdling the Creative Roadblock

Creativity can be expressed in many ways – one may be a gifted artist, an exceptional storyteller, a brilliant musician, a talented writer or an imaginative inventor. But usually a person’s creativity usually does not manifest itself in every outlet. Take me, for instance. My creativity comes out through my writing, but do NOT ask me to draw you anything… you’ll think it was produced by a Kindergartner.

Have you ever looked around at your team and realized that you have no idea what their creative outlets are? If you want to maximize the creativity of a team, you need to identify their creative strengths. And in order to do that, you have to really know your team. If given an hour to spare, what would each one like to do? Where would each one like to go? What are their creative outlets? What inspires them? Knowing these things about the members of a team you are leading can provide you with the opportunity to allow each individual to use their own strengths to generate ideas.

It has been my experience that the more you try to force creativity, the harder it gets to be creative. Some of the most brilliant ideas I have had have come when I don’t need them anymore (or yet). Crafting a collaborative idea collection in some format – a web portal, white board, corkboard, Pinterest board, wall of sticky notes, etc. – that each member of the team can contribute to and be inspired by is a great way to harness all those random great ideas generated by the team that don’t have a particular use/message/channel yet. Such a collection can be very useful when it comes time to launch a campaign for a new product or to a new target market.

Inspiration for creative ideas can come from anywhere. Often “thinking outside the box” requires getting your butt out the box. Heading out of the office and into different environments can kick start creativity. It could be as simple as heading to a park or a nice outdoor space, or you could orchestrate a real field trip for your by taking them to a museum or concert, or on a hike or tour of some kind. If you have done your research about your team, you could take this a step further. You could send each member of your team out to do whatever or go wherever inspires them – and if you want to reward them, pay their way.

Another way to encourage creativity is to remove all the rules (budget, time and resources don’t apply) and get the team together for some brainstorming and free association. Get everyone thinking and talking. Recognizing people publicly for their creativity, no matter how small the creative endeavor, can also cause creative juices to start flowing on the team.

There are many theories about rewarding people for creativity. Some think monetary rewards work, others think they stifle creativity. Providing a reward to a team member for their creativity can inspire further creativity, but it doesn’t have to be in the form of cash. A reward that is tailored to the individual is the most motivational because it shows that leadership not only appreciates the effort made by the employee, but appreciates the employee him/herself. Want some examples of this kind of reward? OK! How about a donation to a charity the team member cares about, or tickets to a game played by the employee’s favorite team, or a new book by the team member’s favorite author, or tickets to a concert the employee would enjoy, or dinner at the employee’s favorite restaurant. I could go on. But the fact that leadership has taken time to get to know team members shows the company’s investment in its people, and will inspire employees to invest right back by upping their work ethic and creativity levels.

A post on American Express’ small business blog Open Forum highlights three interesting ways to inspire your own creativity that are not exactly the most mainstream approaches, but I love them, so here they are:

  • Think when you’re tired. A recent study that indicated that some of the best solutions came from thinking things through at “non-optimal” times.
  • Put yourself in an environment with moderate noise levels. More noise actually bolsters creativity more than quiet environments.
  • Have a couple cocktails. It’s no wonder why many a great idea has been written on a bar napkin!

Now, who wants to meet for a drink?

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