In disruptive times such as now (especially!) companies can’t stand still. The need for innovation and solutions that are fast and creative, is more important today than ever before - and that goes for all giant, middle-sized or small companies.

But first things first…

What is creative thinking?

Creative thinking is the ability to approach challenges, reframe them into possibilities and come up with new, fresh and sometimes unexpected ideas to solve them.

It is an absolute must-have for organisations that are looking to disturb, adapt to the rapidly changing market and create an innovative cultural environment.

Creative thinking contributes to a productive and inspirational work environment so teams are able to innovate and push boundaries of what’s possible without the fear of failure.

Notice the last words ‘without the fear of failure’. It’s especially important to create a positive creative thinking mindset in the whole organization and accept that it’s ‘ok to fail’ because that’s the only way we can push ourselves to our limits. Put simple, ‘move fast and break things’ [Facebook internal motto].

The definition of creative thinking
Creative thinking definition

The benefits of a creative thinking culture

  • Provides the ability for large organizations to disturb so they can keep up with the speed of small companies
  • Teams know that they’re making an impact, which naturally leads to increased engagement and investment into the company’s success
  • Helps attract and retain talented people, especially millennials, and people who need to know that their work makes a difference
  • Improves work relationships and reduces conflicts in the workplace
  • Brings new innovative ideas and opportunities for growth by thinking outside of the box

Sounds like a dream right?

Let’s have a look at the methods you can use to unlock your creative thinking.

Creative thinking methods

1. Reframing

One of the most powerful creative methods is ‘reframing’. Reframing is simply about changing a view or the way you look at a situation, and opening up to new possibilities and solutions.

Instead of focusing on the negatives, we focus on the opportunities this new challenge presents to us; you know ‘reframe your thinking’ :)

There are different questions you can ask to help you reframe a problem and create access to more context, learnings and positivity:

  • What else could this mean?
  • Where else could this be useful?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • What is the funny side to this?
  • What could I be doing to solve this?
  • What opportunities is this problem bringing us?
  • How does this look to the other people involved?
  • How would one of my personas/customers/heros approach this problem?

2. Mindmapping

The problem with writing your thoughts in notepad often is that the approach forces our brain to structure them in a linear format. The linear approach is great to structure your thoughts but often fails when trying to come up with new, unconventional ideas.

The mind mapping is a visual, nonlinear way to explore your thoughts by drawing association between them. It’s so great because it’s creative and it helps visualize how concepts and ideas relate together by creating associations and relationships. It forces you to use both the left and right sides of your brain. And what do you get when you merge the left analytical side with the right creative side of your brain? Yes…the ultimate idea.

So here is how to create mind maps in 4 simple steps:

  1. Place a topic you’d like to focus on in the middle and highlight it using circles, colors… get creative!
  2. Think about your main subject then write your ideas around it, circle them and connect them to your centerpiece with a simple line.
  3. Now pick one of the ideas and expand on it. Again, write your related ideas/keywords around and connect to the source.
  4. Repeat step 3. until you expanded on all ideas as much as you could.

To make the mind map more visual, you can also use images, symbols and different colours for branches. Here is an example mindmap of mine created in Miro so you get an idea.

Example of a Mindmap created in Miro.
Example of a Mindmap created in Miro.

3. Insights

Sometimes we find an answer to our question or solution to our problem when we least expect it; and not necessarily while sitting behind a desk! These moments are called creative insights or ‘aha’ moments!

These insights happen because our brain is subconsciously trying to find a solution to the problem even when we’re not actively working on it. It only makes sense that these moments rarely happen when we’re stressed - it’s more likely to get a burst of creativity while walking the dog than while on a call with stressed clients.

Here is a 5-step process on how to stimulate insights:

  1. First, gather knowledge - do the research or observe
  2. Hard thinking - look for solutions until you get stuck
  3. Incubation - do things that stimulate your happiness and imagination
  4. The ‘aha’ moment - when the ‘aha’ moment comes along, make sure to capture your ideas and new solutions
  5. Developing your idea - analyze and expand on the idea

4. Flow

Flow is a state of mind; it’s when you’re completely absorbed and focused on what you’re doing at the time, and you lose track of your surroundings. During a ‘flow’ state of mind, hours can pass by without you even noticing as you’re fully focused on what you’re doing.

Because the flow is a peak of creativity and performance, here are some tips on how you can get into this state:

  1. Define your goals - have a clear definition of what you’re trying to achieve and why you’re giving your actions a purpose
  2. Get immediate feedback - test your ideas so you can adjust based on feedback as you go, and achieve better results faster
  3. Balanced challenge - the activity needs to be in the right balance with your skillset. It needs to be challenging so you don’t get bored but not too difficult so you get stuck and frustrated
  4. Complete concentration - eliminate or minimize any distractions. Silence the phone, email, Slack and other interruptions. You can schedule creativity blocks in your calendar to let others know you’re out of order.
  5. It’s ok to fail - not every day will be a win and that’s ok because from failures, we always learn.

People tend to have different types of triggers that help them get into the flow state:

  • Time of day
  • Certain places
  • Specific people
  • Activities
  • Music
  • Coffee/tea or other drinks
  • Rituals and warm-up routines
  • Exercise
  • Smells and scents

Establishing a creative culture in the organization

By now I think all of us are on the same page - creative thinking is good and you definitely want to encourage it in your organization. As with any changes, and this one especially, you need to have support from the top of your organization and leaders. Here are a few tips on how to establish creative thinking in your organization.

Play and Rest

Happy teams are creative, innovative and productive. It’s easier to see opportunities and find the right solutions when people are happy. Stress and a bad mood only bring forth a lack of possibilities, leading to poor decision making.

Big companies often invest in beautiful, playful and hip office spaces to make their employees comfortable and happy. I mean, have you seen Google’s offices? Who wouldn’t be happy at work having a slide or minigolf in the office?

But if you’re short on budget or you have remote teams (like literally everyone in 2020) there are also other and maybe better ways that can help create a happy and fun work environment.

Tips to boost your creative thinking with low budget
Tips to boost your creative thinking with low budget

Here are some activities you can do with your team online:

  • Online gaming sessions (Among us, Exploding kittens or good old CS GO)
  • Watercooler meetings
  • Book or film club
  • Afternoon quizzes
  • Cooking classes
  • Picture sharing (especially of cats and dogs!), songs and memes

This all might sound like a little at first but it brings the team together and makes them feel like a family.

Ask the right questions

How powerful are the right questions? Asking your team positive questions starting with ‘what if…?’ or ‘how to…?’ open the door for big ideas.

Don’t expect the team to come up with an answer on the spot; ask these questions during update meetings, write them on the whiteboard or where everyone can see them. Your team will subconsciously look for a solution to these and come up with some great unexpected ideas. Try it and see for yourself :)

Reward creativity and risk-taking

And last but not least; your team needs to feel supported and encouraged to take risks. Easier said than done, right?

It all starts with leadership and management in your company. They need to make sure that the teams know what they’re doing matters and has an impact.

Some of the ways to encourage risk behaviour is to give a percentage of work time (eg. 20%) for creative side projects. It’s also important to publicly acknowledge success, as well as what isn’t really working out (in a positive way) so others feel encouraged to do the same.

One way to do that for example is to have an ‘idea winner’ award shared in a newsletter email or at the beginning of the meeting. You can also give out a prize like a gift card, a lunch or even time off.

But don’t forget to talk about unsuccessful ideas and projects too, so everyone can learn from them and know that it’s ok to fail from time to time!

What kills creative thinking: examples
Examples of creativity blocks

Importance of a diverse team

It’s nothing new under the sun that when we’re looking for a new friend we often end up with the person that is most like us. And it’s the same when we’re hiring a new team.

The problem is that similar people think alike which makes it hard to exchange ideas and look at the problem from a different perspective. When everyone agrees on the solution then it’s far way too easy to miss on many other and often greater opportunities.

Thus when hiring a new team, it’s always good to get in a great mix of backgrounds, experience and knowledge but also personality types and ethnicities. With a growing trend of remote work and the boom of great online work management tools, it’s becoming much easier to build a diverse team across the globe.

The Idea management

One of the key parts of establishing creative thinking in your organization is to have the right idea management and response process in place.

The majority of golden ideas lie in your team but not all ideas are captured during creative meetings. And that’s where the need for idea management and response process comes into place. Before we jump on implementing the process let's first look at what idea management is…

What is idea management?

Idea management is a set of processes that help capture, prioritize and execute ideas and once ideas are productionized also capturing and analyzing their impact.

Why do I need it?

It’s encouraging for the team to have a place to submit their ideas and more importantly receive feedback and see that they’ve been considered and implemented. Earlier in the article, I mentioned that your team members need to know that their opinion and contribution matters and idea management is a nice and organized way how to do it.

If your teams are already using Atlassian tools you can use Jira Service Management to create a form to submit ideas, triage and prioritize them in Jira with a help of the prioritization plugin Foxly and assign them for execution in your team's projects.