For many people, creativity doesn’t just happen. And for others, while a brilliant idea may strike at times, it seems impossible to call one up on demand. Whether it's coming up with a creative design or creative problem solving, the solution to “hit or miss” creativity is developing and following a creative process that works for your team. So what’s involved in a creative process?
Probably the most critical component is time. You can’t expect yourself, or others, to develop a workable, creative idea in the matter of a few hours. Allow yourself time to follow the process and you’ll come up with an idea that is a far better solution than the first one that came to mind.
Define the Problem
Begin by clearly defining the problem. Write it down, and describe it as fully as you can. Gather whatever background information you think the team will need in order to really understand the problem.
Find a Creative Space
Find a creative space for your team to brainstorm in. An out-of-the-way conference room, coffee shop, or other private, quiet space is ideal. If possible, fill the room with comfortable chairs, tables, and comfortable lighting. Make sure to minimize interruptions—email notifications and buzzing cell phones are a no-no.
Work in a Team
Next, gather your team. Working in a team can produce more ideas, and allows team members to build off of one another’s ideas—jumpstarting even more creative solutions. Each team member will bring their own unique perspective and experiences to the group. But don’t worry—there will be time for private reflection, too.
Share the problem with the team, and allow for enough time for the team to ask questions. Let the group begin tossing around ideas. Keep it low pressure—at this point, you just want their initial ideas and impressions. After about an hour or so, call it quits. Give the team a few days to “think it over.” This is an incredibly important step. Over these couple of days, the team will be turning the problem over in their minds, and even thinking about it subconsciously—while driving, cooking dinner, etc. Sometimes, inspiration strikes when we’re not ‘actively’ thinking about the problem.
The Jam Session
After a few days have passed, get the group back together for a jam session. By now, the team will have had time to mull over the problem on their own, and the jam session will give them a chance to discuss their ideas and build off of one another’s. Schedule a large block of time so people don’t feel rushed. Before the session starts, make it clear that there are no bad ideas. You are more concerned with quantity than quality. And, make sure to appoint someone to take notes—you don't want to lose any of the ideas generated.
Now, just let people talk. You might want to put some music on, and provide snacks and drinks. Don’t rush the team—let them work at their own pace. Periods of silence are OK. Encourage team members to share whatever comes to mind, and to build off of others’ ideas. There should be no criticism—continue to remind the team that there are no bad ideas.
Have pads of paper, post-its, pens and markers available. Encourage people to jot down or sketch out their ideas, post them on the wall, or write on a whiteboard. One fun way to keep track of ideas is to have everyone write their ideas on post-its, then stick them on a wall. They can then be re-arranged to build a “thought tree” or to organize the ideas into groups. You might also consider bringing some toys along—things people can play with to stimulate their creativity. Coloring books, Play-Doh, and other fun trinkets provide a distraction for people and let them tap into their childhood creativity. Bring books and magazines—people can often find inspiration from looking through other creative works. Don't try to brainstorm in a vacuum—you should try to have resources available to help provide inspiration.
The jam session should be fun and energy-filled. Once the ideas start flowing, they’ll begin to build in frequency and intensity.
Schedule another meeting for a day or two after the jam session. During this meeting, you’ll begin picking out your favorite ideas. As the team discusses the pros and cons of each, a few favorites will become apparent. Pick out two or three, and then begin building these ideas out. The goal is to develop them more fully—which will allow you to determine how feasible and appropriate they each are. From this, you will determine the best idea. For each of the “finalist” ideas, ask the team:
- Is this idea feasible? Will it work?
- Is this a one-off idea, or will it work over time?
- Does it really accomplish our purpose?
- What are the benefits of this idea?
- What are the downfalls of this idea? Are they surmountable?
Finalize the Idea
Meet one more time to fully express the selected idea. This time, the full group doesn’t need to be present—pick a few key team members, perhaps those that will be seeing the idea into implementation. During this meeting you will work out all the nuts and bolts of the idea, and write up a plan for execution.
Don’t throw away your notes from the jam session, however—sometimes, these ideas can be recycled or repurposed for future projects, or at least used to jumpstart discussion.
Don’t forget to thank your team for their hard work and creativity. Once the idea is implemented, send an update to the team so they can see the idea they came up with in fruition, giving them a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Making the creative process fun and empowering is a great way to ensure full participation the next time you need to do some creative problem solving. You may also want to ask your team what they liked—and didn’t like—about the creative process. Over time, your creative process will evolve into one that truly fits your team’s style and culture.
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