Tools and Techniques to Unlock Workplace Creativity
This is the fourth installment in a series that explores how applying creative tools and principles in the workplace can help deliver better results and engender positive change.
If you have read our previous articles, then you will no doubt be familiar with the benefits of workplace creativity, and the different ways to maximize your team’s unique talents, as well as develop an organizational culture where creativity can flourish.
The next step is to provide you with some tools and techniques you can use to help set creative problem solving into action. All of the examples listed below have been tried and tested by the Banfield-Seguin team, and many have helped get us out of even the toughest of creative jams. Enjoy!
Brainstorming is one of the longest standing and most popular creative ideation methods around the world. The goal of these sessions is to use lateral thinking and collaboration to produce as many different solutions as possible.
To achieve that, it is important to create an open and positive environment that makes everyone feel comfortable enough to share what comes to his or her mind. This means that judgment and criticism should be avoided at all cost. We always suggest that the person leading the meeting start by letting participants know “The Rules of Brainstorming”, i.e. no judging of ideas, and be open to even the most counterintuitive or quirky of the proposed solutions. With the combined input of the group, something outlandish could morph into something truly innovative and possible.
Ideas should be evaluated only after the meeting is over. At that point, the most promising ones can be organized into a shortlist and further developed.
One of the drawbacks of brainstorming is that results are often dictated by the individual tendencies of participants. As mentioned in our second article about unique creative talents, some people find it difficult to spontaneously produce ideas. Others may be afraid their ideas will be rejected. There is also the risk of those with a lot of energy for ideation dominating and/or defending their ideas too forcefully, and failing to listen to others.
Brainwriting, on the other hand, gives everyone an equal opportunity to contribute. Like brainstorming, it is conducted in a group setting where participants are asked to explore different solutions. However, brainwriting is different in that it is a quieter process that allows for participants to write their ideas down, and not worry about breaking through the clamour of out-loud brainstorming.
Brainwriting can be done in various formats. One is to use a sheet of paper where each participant writes down three ideas; participants then exchange papers and add more ideas, and so on, building from the ideas already there.
Alternatively, participants can simply write ideas on cards (or sticky notes). These cards are then placed at the centre of the table (or on a wall) for team members to use as inspiration for more ideas. In turn, news ideas again get captured and shared, and serve as triggers for even more.
At Banfield-Seguin, we find brainwriting is particularly helpful when trying to solve more complex business problems that require a more methodical, “building-blocks” approach.
Mindmapping is an effective tool when you really need to break out of fixed thought patterns. Our creative teams often use some form of mindmapping to try to come up with truly unexpected, “out there” ideas.
A mind map is usually created around a single core word or phrase, placed in the center of a white board or a large piece of blank paper. From there, key related concepts are added as “branches,” radiating out from the central node. Identifying the first-level branches is critical because it will guide the thinking done at lower levels. These categories therefore have to be broad enough to allow many sub-ideas to flourish, and relevant enough to the problem to help focus the team’s creativity.
The rest of the process consists of building out from the primary branches, and again from the sub-branches and sub-sub-branches, until you feel you’ve exhausted all possible connections and the mind-map feels complete. Ideally the last level of ideas will consist of unexpected but compelling ideas that will point to highly creative potential solutions.
Starbursting is a creative technique that focuses on questions instead of answers, and serves as a great information-gathering tool. It is particularly useful when faced with a situation or problem that is unfamiliar to the team, or with a proposed solution that is still raw and undefined. Starbursting helps bridge the knowledge gap by taking this new element though a series of questions to ensure all relevant aspects have been considered before work begins.
The first step to starbursting is to draw a six-pointed star on a white board or a large sheet of paper, and to write the name of the item being investigated at the centre. Next to each point of the star, you then write the words ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where,’ ‘when,’ ‘why’ and ‘how’, before proceeding to address each of them. For example, next to the word ‘how’, you might ask the questions: “How will this new service benefit our customers/clients?”, “How will they use it?” or “How will we market it?”. Both the questions and answers should be captured in short form on the startbursting board.
To get the most out of starbursting, it is important that the six headings are explored in a systematic and comprehensive way, every time a new item is considered. This process can also be repeated over multiple stages, with a new set of questions being asked about the answers to the first set. Only stop once you feel every important detail has been clarified.
When multiple related issues need to be tackled at once, traditional brainstorming can often be unfocused and unproductive. However, creative ideation can still be effective if you take a different approach to it. One such approach is the charette technique.
The charette takes its name after the French word for ‘cart’ or ‘chariot’, and involves dividing participants into small groups and having each of them brainstorm solutions to a single problem at a time. After a given time period, the problem and solutions brainstormed by one group are “wheeled over” (hence the notion of a cart) to another group.
At that point, another round of brainstorming takes place, with the second group refining the work of the first one and expanding upon it. This process goes on until every group has had a chance to work on every problem, so it is a truly collaborative tool. (And some may note that charette happens to be the last name of our Creative Director, John Charette – an amusing coincidence, for us at least!)
In conclusion, there are many tools and techniques to generate ideas. The key is choosing the most effective ones for the situation. To do that, you need to consider the tendencies and talents of those involved, and the nature of the problem that needs to be solved. It usually helps to use more than one technique. For example, you may want to start with individual mindmapping and then transition to out-loud brainstorming.
In the following weeks, we will take a look at how working with a creative agency can help you and your team better use the above tools and arrive at even stronger creative solutions.
What do you think?
Which of these creative tools could you and your team use right away? Can you share any other techniques that have helped you produce creative solutions at work? What are the keys to executing these other techniques to get the best possible results?
The Creative Spark Series is a joint initiative by the MARCOM Professional Development Annual Forum and marketing communications agency Banfield-Seguin, a proud official supplier of theme creative for MARCOM 2013. The series promotes the benefits of creativity in the workplace and presents ways to successfully apply creative tools and techniques to inspire, influence and act.