10 ways to boost your team’s creativity

If you happen to be a direct or an indirect leader of a creative team, you may be asking yourself: How do I push my team members to be more creative? What concrete things can I do to get my team to come up with bigger ideas and more innovative solutions?  You have to look at what kind of environmental and psychological conditions are conducive to creative problem solving.  By their nature, creative tasks force us to think beyond the realm of the ordinary.  We have to look at the problem from different angles and allow ourselves the opportunity to fail.  When trying to boost creativity, you must find ways to broaden your team’s views and thinking. Here are some ideas that you may be able to apply in varying degrees of scale depending on the level of authority you have within the company.

1. Don’t use carrots (or sticks).
One of the most seemingly obvious options when trying to increase performance would be to set up a bonus structure, in which higher creative output is rewarded greater compensation.   It’s a method that has been employed extensively in business, but surprisingly it’s something that does not work when it comes to tasks that involve creative thinking.  In fact, several studies have shown that higher rewards often lead to a negative impact on performance when the task involves even the most rudimentary cognitive skills.  Read this study conducted at MIT and watch the video below if you doubt. That’s right.  If you entice your creative team with higher bonuses they are likely to do worse, not better.

2. Vanquish fear
One thing that hinders the creative process is fear.  That’s part of the reason why the traditional carrot/stick system of encouraging better performance does not work when it comes to creative tasks.  Both punishment and rewards create fear and tend to focus and narrow the mind.  Strive to create a free and open environment where ideas can be thrown out, no matter how far fetched they might be.  When brainstorming ideas, have a period of time when everyone is encouraged to come up with ideas that they know will not work, and that no one criticizes.  Who cares if these are throwaway ideas, they will lead to more open-minded thinking down the road.

3. Provide good feedback.
The kind of feedback you provide, especially if you are a mentor is crucially important.  Structure your feedback in such a way that will encourage the recipient to think further about the problem and try different angles to arrive at other solutions.  Avoid blanket statements that bring closure to the task at hand.  Even if a solution is superb, there may be ways to improve it, likewise, even if the result seems completely inadequate, there may be positive aspects that can be salvaged.  Don’t give out the answers, no matter how much you want to.  Your answers may not be the best possible ones, and if you don’t let your team members arrive at their own, you’ll be loosing out.

4. Foster mastery.
One of the strongest intrinsic drivers that boost creativity is the desire to continue to get better at what you do.  Most creative people are driven by this desire.  We all want to get to a level of mastery where we can begin to uncover new areas within our field to which we can lay claim.  Luckily this drive is there in all truly creative people, and as a manager of a creative team you only need to make sure that there are opportunities for your team members to act on this desire.  This may mean simply defining the project in looser terms and allowing your creative team to fill in some of the blanks.  You may only see one solution to the problem, but there may be more elegant solutions if you allow them to be explored.  When a project is narrowly defined, there isn’t much opportunity for invention and your team will only apply known skills without pushing their own boundaries.

5. Encourage autonomy.
Another strong internal driver is the desire to self-manage.  When we are given the opportunity to make high-level decisions that affect the project, our perspectives naturally open up.  The amount of ownership you grant to each member of your team will obviously depend on that member.  But even with very junior team members your goal should be to allocate an appropriate amount of ownership and not just assign tasks.

6. Expand the creative space.
The space where your team comes up with ideas should be as cavernous as your company can afford.  When working on creative problems it’s important to have plenty of room both in front of you as well as above you to allow the mind to take leaps. Your creatives should be able to be active while concepting ideas, so it’s important to have plenty of negative space between the furnishings of the office.

7. Use good furniture
Tables, chairs, book cases, and lighting fixtures that furnish your work space should be of the highest quality.  Objects that your creative team interacts with should be beautiful and sturdy. If anything is wobbly or unbalanced, throw it out and create some negative space instead.

8. Light the way
Proper lighting is crucially important.  Indirect natural light or lighting that mimics it should be your aim. Natural light has a freeing effect on the mind. Fluorescent lights tend to suck all the color and life from the objects and people around them.  There’s nothing that will narrow the mind like a dimly lit office space with small cubicles stocked with bright computer monitors.  This kind of environment is great for when you want people to focus on a specific task that have a specific goal, but when it comes to creative thinking, where the goals are unclear, it will have a negative effect. .   If, because of financial necessity your workspace is confined, with low ceilings and crappy furniture, then let your team concept outside under the open sky.

9. Play!
Sometimes, even in the perfect environment, with wide-open spaces, plenty of natural light and beautiful furnishings, ideas simply don’t come.  In that case, the best remedy is activity.  When our bodies are active, tensions are released and we are more able to let our minds take leaps of faith.  For this purpose, have plenty of toys that require physical activity in your creative space.  Things like dartboards, balls or all kinds, scooters, pogo sticks will help your team to get blood moving and ideas flowing.  Avoid video games and large TV sets.  These will have the opposite effect.

10. Provide a purpose.
Your team members should feel that the work they do will be beneficial to the company, community or even humanity.  Consider the difference between working on an ad campaign for a tobacco company versus an anti-smoking PSA.  On the one hand, the beneficiary is a company that is contributing to deaths, on the other is the opportunity to save lives.  Which will inspire your team to come up with a more creative solution?  This may be a hard one to implement.  After all, your clients are what they are, and they are keeping your company afloat.  But this principle can be applied on a smaller scale with great results.  For example, coming up with an incredible solution to a creative problem will create publicity and get your company recognition, which will in turn may lead to more interesting projects and opportunities.  While the purpose is not as noble as helping humanity, it does create a sense of doing something for the good of the group, and not just self.

So there you have ten easy and not so easy ways to boost creativity within your team.  At the end of the day, the ideas that come out of your group will only be as good as the members that make up the group, but the right conditions will help to multiply your teams potential. I’d like to finish with a wonderful video of a TED talk by Dan Pink, in which he eloquently describes how traditional methods of encouraging better performance don’t work.

3 Replies to 10 ways to boost your team’s creativity

  1. RedMango

    October 18, 2010 • 12:00 pm

    Very nice post!

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    December 16, 2010 • 5:48 am

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