"Everyone has great ideas. The problem for most people is realizing that even the most silly or outrageous idea they come up with could in fact work. Generating ideas—-useful ideas-—is a skill, and, like any other skill, it can be learned. The more you practice, the easier it will be to come up with ideas whenever you need them."
It may sound obvious, but if you want creativity from your staff, you have to ask for it. Encourage your staff to always be thinking about ways to do things more effectively or to come up with new ideas and approaches altogether. Become an environment where staff feels safe vetting new ideas without the fear of having their ideas dismissed as stupid or unfeasible.
2. Brain Retreats
Consider putting together an annual brain retreat for your staff. Take them for a day or two to somewhere that is completely outside the traditional office setting. Do some activities together that are a little out of peoples’ comfort zones and then put them to work coming up with creative ideas targeted at a specific issue or challenge being faced by your organization. One private sector company I have done work for in the past takes their staff out to a cabin up the coast every year for two days of brainstorming new ideas for the company, mixed with a lot of surfing, eating and drinking.
3. Write it Down!
Some of the best ideas come when people are away from their desk or away from their work environment altogether. Make it easy for staff to record and submit ideas at all hours. This can be as basic as encouraging or providing them to carry a small notepad and pen or having an internal online forum where ideas can be posted from a home computer or mobile device. The online space should provide opportunity for staff to post to a private profile, or post to the group with anonymity so that no-one need worry about submitting a ‘dumb’ idea.
4. Get Outside
I get my best ideas and am most productive in the morning and when I’m out for a run. For other people it’s when they’re in the shower, late at night or during their morning commute. I know I’m not alone here: Many people do their best thinking outside of ‘office hours’ and when they are away from work. Changes of scenery and time away from daily tasks, email etc. are important for creativity. With this in mind, consider the following:
- Encourage your staff to exercise, even if it means taking some time out of their work day. A lot of research over the past 10-15 years suggests that creativity is boosted by regular exercise. I find that my brain often also gets a work-related workout while I’m exercising. As my mind wanders, I often find it mulling over different ways to tackle a problem I’m facing at work.
- Encourage regular time off. Whether it is a three week holiday to Australia or a long weekend up at the cabin, a couple of days away from the daily grind, particularly if you are able to move to a different setting can be really effective at helping to gain perspective or think creatively about a work issue.
- Consider following companies like 3M and Google which allow employees to spend up to 20% of their work time working on projects they are passionate about. Many of Google’s most innovative applications and 3M’s inventions have come out of allowing staff the space to work on what they love.
5. Time Out
Creativity doesn’t thrive in a cubicle. Work space that allows for people to concentrate but that also has space for staff to talk to and interact with others can help boost creativity. While it makes sense in some cases to put people in the same function or who are working on the same projects together, there is also a case for cross-pollination.
By putting people working on separate areas of the organization together, you get the regular interaction of completely different concepts, issues, areas of focus. Combining unrelated ideas or concepts has been the beginning of many amazing ideas and inventions (think the Post-It Note, or even social networking). Have a look at the Centre for Social Innovation’s shared workspace for people working in the social sector here (http://socialinnovation.ca/about).