With workplaces needing to cut costs and often cut headcount, people need to think differently – and that means getting creative like never before.
With the majority of organisations needing to become more efficient and ultimately do more with less, many rush into this without revising old ways of working. This in turn often leads to stressed employees, missed deadlines, unhappy customers (internal and external), and a wholly unhappy place to be. We’ve seen many high profile cases of companies going into or almost going into liquidation (HMV, Jessops, Blockbusters, Republic), proving that now more than ever, businesses must keep up to date with changing trends and constantly challenge the way things are done to not only stay current, but profitable too.
So how often do we actually stop to think about how to challenge old ways of doing things? We are all guilty of complaining about there not being enough hours in the day, never enough time to do what is required of us just to keep our heads above water, so the easiest option is of course to just do what we’ve always done. Getting creative doesn’t have to take a lot of time, it’s simply about considering other ways of doing things. Sure, it might be that once you have considered other options that the best solution is what you would have done anyway, but if you don’t go through the process you’d never know.
Many people consider themselves uncreative. This can trace right back to childhood, when we were told we couldn’t draw, or our talents lay elsewhere. Or perhaps as adulthood loomed we put away those childish things and grew up; considering a sensible job, paying the rent / mortgage and other such commitments as the final nails in our creative coffin. If this sounds like you, consider two things:
- When was the last time you did something seriously creative? Either at work or at home, it doesn’t matter. If you struggle to think of something then it’s not surprising that you feel uncreative. Creativity is like a muscle, it needs constant exercise or else it withers away. Classical pianists don’t just become great at playing the piano overnight, it takes constant time and focus (but you’ll be glad to know you don’t need to flex your creative muscle for quite as many hours a day to be great at getting creative!).
- Don’t be tempted to think of creativity as blue sky and beanbags. It’s easy for us to think about what creativity looks like outside of work (arts & crafts, dressmaking, cops & robbers, doctors & nurses!), however when it comes to work creativity can take many forms. We each have our own unique preferences when it comes to getting the creative juices flowing. Some people will prefer to think through options themselves whilst others will thrive on the energy of a group discussion. You may also prefer structured and methodical ways of coming up with new ideas or more abstract methods. Either way it’s important to identify your own preferred approach, so take some time to identify this.
There are a myriad of different tools and techniques out there that can help you to get creative. Below we offer one for generating new ideas (it’s probably the best known of the lot but that doesn’t mean it’s always used the way it should be!), and one for whittling down your long list of creative options into your few possibles to proceed with.
Generating new ideas: Try ‘Brainstorming’
Whoa there! Before you skip past this bit thinking you know about brainstorming, please read on! This is arguably the granddaddy of creative thinking tools, but with fame comes mis-use and abuse. A good brainstorm can be done with groups of people over short or longer time periods depending on what’s being ‘stormed’. It works because people trigger each others thinking which leads onto constantly new and different or associated ideas and it allows people to think big rather than be restricted…but therein lies the problem with brainstorming. How many of us have been sat in one of these when each and every suggestion has been subjected to analysis-paralysis or shot down because “that wouldn’t work” or “we’ve tried that before”?
So…here are some simple steps to help you to have a successful brainstorm:
- Have some help – whether it’s a facilitator or a neutral party, try and have someone who can keep things on track and bring everyone back to that big thinking when the debate heats up.
- What are you brainstorming – make sure everyone is clear on what it is you are trying to generate ideas for.
- Collect all ideas – capture everything that is offered and spend no time filtering or analysing…that comes later. This bit is all about quantity over quality.
- “If you have nothing nice to say…” – by far the hardest part of most brainstorms: keeping a lid on critical evaluation. Introducing critique at this stage will only stop people from contributing.
- Brief the ‘rules’ – because brainstorming has been around for so long, most people think it’s easy (which of course it is!)…but you might need to walk through some or all of these steps with your group before you begin, so that everyone is on the same page.
Distilling your creative ideas: Try ‘Negative Selection’
So you’ve gotten creative on how to market your new widget, and you have a list of ideas as long as the combined length of arms in your department. Maybe a 100 foot plasma billboard suspended above The Thames won’t work, but perhaps it might…! Essentially, what you are doing here is whittling your list into your no’s and maybe’s, just like you would do when you were considering which breed of dog to adopt or what kind of car to buy. Be careful not to label the whacky and inventive ideas with a ‘no’ just because they’re whacky and inventive; you could always keep it in the ‘maybe’ pile and come back to it later, or consider if there is a simpler alternative of the idea. You want to end with a shortlist that has a number of workable and unique ideas, not just a pile of logical, sensible and totally uninspiring ones.
So, challenge yourself and your business today. Think big and think differently…the world is changing and we all need to change with it or get left behind.