Encouraging creative thinking in your company

In recent years, we’ve seen a direct correlation between innovation and success in companies from all industries. For this reason, more and more companies are encouraging their employees to be more creative in their approaches to aspects of their job. Because without creativity, employees (and by extension, the company they work for) are doomed to stagnate.

Disruptive companies don’t just want to solve problems as they come up. Their overarching goal is to create an environment that encourages people to be creative in how they look at problems, and in many cases, this means minor issues never get the chance to become real problems. 

Because the need to innovate isn’t going anywhere, make sure your company is ahead of the curve and is doing everything it can. These 5 tips will help you along the way.

1. Provide training that focuses on creativity

In order for creativity to flow at all levels of your company, you have to equip employees with the right tools and knowledge to make it happen. However, not any training will do. Edward de Bono, a psychologist specializing in lateral thinking at the University of Oxford, tells us that:

“[Setting] aside a definite period for teaching Lateral Thinking is much more useful than trying to gently introduce its principles in the course of teaching some other subject”

Creative thinking must be the sole focus of the class, with students free from the distractions of other training areas. The training material must also be capable of motivating, engaging, and teaching the students. A lot hinges on whether or not the training content is effective.

2. Invest in the training methods that best suit your employees

Although the mind has a tendency to get set in its ways, there’s a multitude of different ways to avoid this and foster creativity. Of the many things you can do, a few stand out:

  • Analogies: finding the resemblance between two unlike concepts or ideas can inspire us to explore new ideas and land on previously unlikely conclusions.
  • Putting things up to chance: start with a random term, say, from a dictionary, and try to relate and connect that random word to the topic at hand. Ask yourself how the two concepts affect each other and you may bring to light certain issues that may have slipped by. Then you can nip them in the bud before they become real problems.
  • The “why?” technique consists of analyzing a scenario and bringing it to its logical conclusion by posing the same basic question repeatedly to an idea. This boils the concept down to its essence and helps find inconsistencies, alternatives. It can even spawn new ideas altogether.

By trying out a variety of methods, you’ll be able to see which works best in group sessions. Over time, one or more techniques will likely stand out as having the biggest impact on a given group of students.

3. Start playing

Games based on strategic thinking and experiential simulators are great for stimulating creative thinking because they immerse students in “real-life” situations that require real-life solutions.

A good example of a game like this is Merchants, a serious game built around six realistic negotiation cases that the student must explore and overcome. It’s a great tool for letting employees explore different possibilities and solve conflicts in a setting that generates engagement and the flow of ideas.

4. Practice every day

It takes more than an hour of training here and there to fully unlock creative thinking. Encourage your teams to put their skills to the test every day — and give and receive feedback throughout the process.

Remember, not all creativity takes place in brainstorming sessions. You can think outside the box” wherever you are; the most important thing is to never stop doing it.

5. Try, try, and try again

Even though the mind has certain limitations, it’s important to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. This can only be done through constant practice. In order to keep teams involved and motivated, it’s a good idea to set up company initiatives for them to participate in. For example:

  • Brainstorming Monday: set aside one day a week for teams to freely exchange ideas about the company’s approach to various problems or opportunities.
  • The unexpected idea of the month: encourage employees to publicly share interesting ideas that occur to them randomly. An office bulletin board is a good place for this.

No matter how your company approaches these concepts, the most important thing is that you give your teams the space to rethink the systems and models that we sometimes take for granted. Broadening these frameworks can open the door for ideas that you didn’t even know were out there. Make the move towards this approach today and start seeing results.

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