I once led a group of graduate students in a creative exercise to develop a new program within an existing organization. Several parameters were included in the assignment, including the mandatory inclusion of the organization’s existing infrastructure and the new program had to enhance service at no additional cost to program participants or the organization. What was the group to do? This is a common situation faced by many.
I armed each student with a Post-It note pad and a pen and let them know we were going for a walk. I let the group know as we walked out the door that we were going to literally “get out of the box” so they could think “out of the box.” What exactly is entailed in thinking “out of the box?”
Thinking “out of the box” means to think in an alternative manner in addressing whatever task you have at hand. Alternative thinking means that you must look for solutions that are not common. So how does one go about thinking about what people don’t normally think about? And how can we expect people to think "out of the box" if they lack confidence in their abilities to be creative? Here are 7 creativity-boosting tips that the grad students learned that day that I believe can help anyone (or any group) “rev up” their creative mindset while increasing confidence.
1. Change your perspective- LITERALLY!
This may mean getting away from your desk, your living-room, or your normal surroundings. I had the group take a walk so that the “box” that they were in could be expanded. From fresh surroundings we can free up fresh ideas. At times we stress out our creative processor when we get stuck. Changing what is coming into your mind (your physical perceptions) can help you get unstuck through re-focus.
2. Don’t limit your thinking-
Once out, I told the group to think as a customer about a new program that they would appreciate. I told them that the sky is the limit, use up every sticky note if need be. I told them to jot one idea on one sticky note as the ideas came to them. No idea should be pre-judged. Just write! Unfortunately, we can censor out great ideas too early in the thinking process. Be open to what is in your mind, without judgment, and let the ideas pour out.
3. Shift your mindset-
I had the group think from a customer perspective-looking backwards. Looking at the end result (what you would like) and working backwards helps shift your mindset and perspective to see additional possibilities. Often when we are thinking up from the "creator" side, it's hard to see. Looking from someone else's point of view is very helpful.
4. Look for patterns and trends-
Once back inside the classroom from the “out of the box” walk, we arranged everyone’s sticky notes on the wall. We looked for patterns (like ideas) and put them atop one another until we had all unique ideas. We then looked for trends and themes. (Note- This is the starting place if you are creative brainstorming on your own). By arranging the thoughts (idea notes) into themes we then have better grouping to think through. What’s really fun about this stage is that in a group, it can be pretty funny to see what some people wrote down. You begin wondering about just how random your co-workers thoughts are. The act of laughter, however, can help relieve pressure, build collaboration, and free up creativity moving forward. For an individual who is going through this, you might question your sanity. Again, smile at the sense of humor that is within you that just popped out on a Post-It note.
5. Be open-
Like I said, don’t self-censor. Ask yourself (or your group) questions as to the pros and cons of each idea. Trends will begin to appear again and the ideas can be refined further. My group refined over 150 ideas down to 6 within about 30 minutes. The group then voted for the top 3. A vote with just the top 3 was then taken. If you think that was the end-WRONG! The next step is really important.
6. Put your ideas to the test-
The "final" vote was a pulse of where the group was. Had they stopped there, they’d have missed the best and creative idea. I then asked each of the people who voted for a particular idea, why they felt it was the most creative solution and why it was so great. I also asked if there were any weaknesses to the idea. Each vote justification and criticism was given and recorded.
7. Be willing to have an “ah-ha” moment! –
Most people would have thought that the idea with the most votes would have clearly been the best choice, instead, the students each had an “ah-ha” moment as votes began changing. Somehow, thinking through and talking through the positives and shortcomings of each idea shifted people’s thinking. In the end, the group reached consensus on a highly creative solution that they were very confident in and VERY proud of!
Regardless if you are trying to figure out how to decorate your living room, or if your group is coming up with ideas to build revenue, by changing your perspective, both figuratively and literally, and taking the time to think through the pros and cons, success can be had. Creativity is about letting your imagination run wild and then reeling it back in and examining it to best fit the application. Now, go be creative!