Encouraging Creativity – Helping Good People have Great Ideas

“Logic will get you from A to B.
Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Albert Einstein
Encouraging Creayivity

Creativity involves deliberately using our imagination to produce new ideas and develop elegant solutions to problems. In a high pressure, volatile and uncertain world the ability to come up with innovative solutions to problems and challenges is a key success factor for many businesses. As with most skills or abilities, some people are naturally more creative than others, but it is a competency that can be developed through training and practise.

Benefits of being more creative

It is fairly self-evident that if you can devise an innovative solution to business problem you can end up a significantly more profitable organisation as you take out unnecessary costs, control risks, and/or gain more market share. It is also the case that when people are engaged in creative problem solving their morale goes up, team work improves and job satisfaction increases because people feel that their work is making a difference and their abilities are put to good use. Team based creative problem solving can be especially effective because diverse group members collectively possess knowledge and a variety of perspectives not found in just one person. Being part of that type of team can be highly motivational, as in the example of ‘Skunk Works’ Teams’ (a small, loosely structured group who are tasked with radical innovation; based on Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s WW2 SkunkWorks Project Team )

Leadership and Creativity

Dubrin, Dalgleish and Miller (2011) identified six Leadership Actions that help to promote creativity within a business…

  1. Match the employees’ expertise, and intellectual capabilities, with the problem in hand
  2. Allow employees freedom to choose their own methodology and approach (set goals but don’t micro-manage people)
  3. Give employees the time and money they need to get things done. Depending on the issues being addressed, funds may not necessarily be an issue, but it is important to give people the necessary resources.
  4. Put together a diverse team to allow for cross-fertilisation. Homogenous teams will probably argue less but they are usually not as open-minded about possible options.
  5. Create a safe environment that allows people to think freely and challenge assumptions and sacred cows. Also evaluate and act on creative ideas quickly so that it is obvious that the work really does matter and that proposals won’t be left to ‘wither on the vine.’
  6. Encourage information sharing and collaboration across the whole organisation with the problem-solving team; don’t allow silos and/or office politics to stifle innovation.

Making time to think

Professor Kets de Vries’ of INSEAD has recently written an interesting article on creativity in business called, “Want More Creative Breakthroughs? Slow Down”

The main premise of the article is that both ‘big C’ creativity e.g. scientific breakthroughs, and ‘small C’ creativity (that gives rise to the insights needed to solve ‘day to day’ problems) are vital to driving business results.

He argues that it is necessary to first immerse ourselves in the problem before letting go, so that ideas can incubate in the subconscious. So, new ideas can’t be ‘forced’ into being, they have to be coaxed out through relaxation and reflection. This means giving ourselves time and space to let ideas ‘gestate’ by doing tasks that are nothing to do with the problem at hand e.g. some people like to walk in nature, while Einstein used to like to play the violin. Then the solutions will emerge as a flash of insight – often at unexpected moments – e.g. in the Bed, Bath or Bus (the 3 B’s of creativity).

You can read the article here…

Getting in the ‘Creativity Zone’

Very closely related to the concept of ‘making time to think’, is the idea of deliberately putting yourself in a creative frame of mind. This matters because it is not easy to be creative if you are feeling stressed, unhappy or depressed. The more relaxed, positive and upbeat you feel the easier it is for your thoughts to ‘flow’ and for leaps of imagination to occur. In contrast, stress or fatigue creates ‘tunnel vision’ and makes it very hard to entertain unusual approaches and ideas.

One important aspect of creativity therefore is to manage your emotional state and consciously choose to put yourself in a ‘creative mood’ or ‘creative zone’. Different people have different ways of doing this, the key is to find a way that works for you. The approaches for doing this are more or less the same as the methods for creating time and space to think and they include; listening to music, playing an instrument, going for a walk (especially in nature), meditating, doing some exercise, deep breathing, Autogenics, thinking of a time when you were highly creative, Tai chi, dancing and going down the pub!

How might we…

Another key to getting in the creative zone is to frame your problem or challenge you want to address by using the phrase…

“How might we….X?”
For example…
“How might we…improve the way we run remote meetings?”
“How might we…make a success of home working?”

The psychological reasoning behind this format is that the “How” assumes there are likely to be solutions and helps to open up a world of possibilities.

The “Might” implies that it’s OK to make suggestions freely; any given option might work and it might not work but either way it is fine just to throw
out ideas.

The “We” signals that it is not all on one person’s shoulders; the creative thinking is a ‘joint enterprise’ and we will build on one another’s ideas.

Four ‘rules’ for being more creative

More generally we can say that there are four elements to developing creativity…

  • Seek out new experiences
    The raw material of inventiveness is the experiences, concepts and values that we are exposed to. By consciously seeking out new experiences, reading things we wouldn’t normally read etc. we can build up a storehouse of data that can help to spark an idea at some time in the future.
  • Separate generating ideas from evaluating them
    Sometimes the silliest seeming option, or the most bizarre proposal is actually the one that holds the most promise. Thus, one of the keys to creativity is to capture every idea without passing judgement and to
    assess their viability only after a large number of possibilities have been written down.
  • Inspiration comes from hard work
    A ‘eureka moment’ where a fantastic idea seems to ‘appear’ from thin air typically only happens when a problem has been worked upon for some time. So, making the effort to consciously ponder an issue and taking the time to reflect, put it to one side, and then returning to it at a later time, is a key success factor in developing creative solutions.
  • Use Creativity Tools
    In trying to develop new ideas it often helps to use a specific ‘tool’, method or approach to help to first kick start, and then shape, the idea generation process. It may well be worth exploring some of the myriad of methods that are available for doing this, including… Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking , Reframing and Osborn’s Checklist.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how creative you are at the moment. Do you reach for the first workable solution that occurs to you? Would it be worth your while ‘slowing down’ your decision making and consciously generating 3, 4, or 5 options before making any firm choices? More generally what improvements could you make to how you (or your team) applies creative thinking to your work?


Read this article on Mind Popping as a creative thinking strategy


Watch this (old, grainy video) of Edward de Bono talking about his lateral thinking concept of Provocation (or PO) and the Escape Process (9 minutes long.)


Consider running one of our half-day Creative Thinking Workshops


Or maybe you’d like to think about commissioning an Executive Coaching Assignment to help people address this topic.

Though perhaps you’d prefer our Remote Coaching Programme to help you develop your creativity.


Or gives us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or email us at coaching@boulden.net and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And to end with a quote from Dr Seuss…

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”