Regardless of what team you sit in, or what problem you are tasked with solving, there will always come a moment where minds need to come together. So, how can leaders foster innovative thinking - on demand - when the need arises? Surely creativity doesn’t work like that, right?
We have compiled some of our best practices for fostering innovative thinking that are sure to help your team during your next brainstorming or planning session.
1. Find a Room That is Suited for the Activity
The space you work in can easily support or hinder the activity at hand. It’s advantageous to have a room that can be rearranged, supports group work, and has plenty of open wall space. If the wall real estate is lacking, create your own with foam core or mobile walls.
2. Make Expressing Creativity Accessible
If people’s guards are up, they are far less likely to share early thoughts, or venture too far out into the uncertain waters of creative thinking. People might be nervous about sharing their drawing ability — or lack thereof. Put them at ease by letting them know that even stick figures can communicate a great idea.
3. Use Humor
To echo W.C. Fields, “Comedy is serious business.” Humor and disruptive innovation share a common link of incongruity both rely on defying expectations to be successful. Some humor can come with a facilitator’s interaction style, but some can come in the exercises you chose – getting people to complain about shared experiences (as an ice breaker) or using a humor format, like MadLibs, to build out scenarios for new concepts as part of ideation.
4. Make Use of Metaphors
A metaphor or analogous experience can reframe a problem (or a solution if you are lucky) and lead to unanticipated connections and concepts.
5. Get Playful
Encourage people to get up and move around, act scenarios out, or use items in the room to quickly mock-up an idea. Make a prioritization exercise more enjoyable by printing fake money and allowing people to “invest” in the ideas that they believe in the most. Props and mascots can also help bring out people’s playful side in addition to providing them with inspiration to spur new ideas.
6. Swap Ideas and Riff
You don’t need to be a jazz musician to play off of another person’s idea. Swap what you are working on with someone else to apply a new perspective. Tweak, build, complement — there are many ways to take things further.
7. Use Prompts to Cause a Little Chaos
This is all about changing perspectives, inverting thinking, and getting your team to push their thinking by incorporating new input. There are multiple levers you can play with to do this: scale, time, availability of resources, word associate, "what if" statements, etc. Inversion can also be a great way to break the ice. Before coming up with solutions, spend some time coming up with the worst possible solutions.
8. Encourage Friendly Competition
A little competition can be another great way to encourage different perspectives and push towards better solutions. One of our favorite competitions is "champions and challengers". Champions build up the idea and list how it creates value and solves the issue at hand. Challengers try to anticipate all of the roadblocks and critiques that the solution will face. At the end, you should be able to articulate the benefits of the concept and know what changes to work on to really make it succeed.
9. Create an Immersive Experience
Fill the room with photos, videos, and stories that people can look to for inspiration. If you are working with data and stories from users, this can be a great way to ground thinking in the environment and people you are designing for.
We hope this helps you get the creative juices flowing! People may still get stuck and will need another push to get them rolling again. Play with different methods and have some prompts already up your sleeve. However, don’t be afraid to get creative — that is what the day is all about.