How do we develop more creative teams?
Updated: Oct 7, 2022
by Chris Danek
Recently, a student asked me: “How do you optimize for the creativity of your team?”
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
Here’s my take:
You can’t optimize creativity. That’s good news because creativity is not a finite, limited resource. I see optimization as finding a solution that maximizes or minimizes an objective function in the face of constraints. I don’t see creativity in that way at all.
Instead, I think that the collective creativity of a team is a state that can always be improved. So I would reframe the question as “How can we encourage or develop more creativity from our teams?”
Here is a list of ideas to spark a conversation.
Make sure the team has a shared sense of purpose and vision. The team will be driven to source the creativity needed to deliver on their vision.
Creative solutions start with creative constraints. If you’re having a hard time brainstorming, create some constraints. Limit your time—how many ideas can you generate in 60 seconds? Limit your thinking to one problem. Limit your solutions to ideas that can be started this week.
Change the rules of the game. Realize that some “constraints” are really assumptions that you can change. Think of the way that Dell microcomputers or Southwest Airlines redefined business models.
Practice empathy. Connect deeply with your customer so that you can frame your design problem and deliver solutions that will have a meaningful impact.
Find a (great) champion. Sometimes designing to the needs and specifications of one demanding customer can push your team to excel. But if you are listening to one key voice, make sure it is the right one.
Crowdsource. First, practice agile and inclusive teamwork and make sure that everyone has a voice. Second, find a way to bring in fresh ideas and perspectives from across and outside your organization. Consider a design jam or hack-a-thon.
Aim for breakthroughs. Look for orders of magnitude improvement, 10X or more. Striving for a breakthrough solution demands creativity.
Try high-volume creativity. I like this misquote of Thomas Edison: If you want a great idea, start with 100 ideas.
Turn to structured approaches. There are many to choose from: TRIZ problem solving, you name it. What are your favorite frameworks and methods?
Lean on established ways for teams to create together. Think Lightning Decision Jam (free tools from AJ & Smart), or workshop designs from SessionLabs (disclosure — I have no personal experience using SessionLabs services; and no affiliation with either them or AJ&Smart)
Get recursive: if you have an approach that works for your team, apply it recursively to (1) generate topics worth addressing, for each topic (2) identify problems that need solving, and for those problems (3) identify solution concepts, and then (4) screen, filter and combine ideas.
Invert assumptions or constraints.
Update your brainstorming. An old-fashioned version of brainstorming has teammates waiting for each other to lay out their ideas (“One conversation at a time”), and the group has to decide whether to follow one idea deeper (“Build on the ideas of others”) or plow new ground. And no way can everyone contribute fully. More up-to-date models include periods of what I call “parallel play” where everyone can get ideas out, using post-it notes or a Jamboard, and then synchronization points — shareouts — for the team to make sense of the collective output.
Tap into storytelling. Make your customer or stakeholder the hero of your story and articulate how your product or service will help them face a critical moment, achieve success, and snatch victory from a certain defeat.
Create. Creativity is about imagination and ideas. It is often associated with making things. Get inspired by building your skills in making and creating. Get better at something you know, or try wildly different creative endeavors (think sketching or painting, sculpting or casting, cooking or baking) to get inspired.
I’d like to expand this list. How do you spark creativity in your teams? Tell me on LinkedIn.