Leaders have to make space for creativity, and work for every personality

Business.com / Leadership / Last Modified: August 31, 2017
Photo credit: REDPIXEL.PL/Shutterstock

An infusion of new ideas is critical to the ongoing success of every business. Here are two ways to spur creative thinking in your organization.

It is critical for my team to develop unique and inspiring marketing. Unfortunately, in the back-to-back meetings world of a fast-growth company, it is often very difficult to find space for the type of thinking that generates the left-field ideas that will really inspire. So it's on me to create that space and find ways to tap the creativity of all the different personalities in the room.

For the full team, I try to pull together a big brainstorming meeting at least twice a year. This meeting is a time when people bring out the crazy weird ideas, pull out the sticky notes – anything that gets people off their laptops and moving around the room. 

We bring 50 plus people together, make sure there is coffee and food, and all laptops are shut off. I kick off the meeting with a presentation intended to get people thinking outside of their normal day-to-day, dreaming of ideas that they thought were too big to accomplish. I encourage people to ask questions, speak up and engage with the topic.

Following the presentation, there are usually two methods I use to get ideas flowing. One is to break out into smaller groups with a clear goal in mind. Typically, I ask each group to create a long list of all the ideas they can think of and write them down on a large sheet of paper. Then, each group discusses and decides on the top three ideas they want to share with the larger group.

Sometimes, however, I can tell that the introverted people aren't ready for this type of loud conversation, so we'll move to sticky notes (my second brainstorming method). In this case, we put on music, give everyone a lot of sticky notes and have a timed session where people write down every idea they can think of – crazy, silly, powerful, whatever. There is no right or wrong answer – the focus is on creating a large volume of ideas. Then the team gets up and starts putting their notes on the wall, organizing (and reorganizing) them into categories. Then, finally, we talk.

People walk away from this half-day event excited and inspired. Ideas keep flowing after the meeting, too, because the time together loosened up everyone to think more openly and expansively. The meeting really helps people break free from the normal "what tasks do I need to do today?" way of thinking.

Still, it's hard to get such a big group together that often, and I don't want to ignore creativity on a day-to-day basis. In the times between, I encourage my team members to find ways to add creativity to the calendar. At the individual level, I believe in giving people work-from-home days, because the quiet and change of scenery can lead to better creativity.

And I encourage everyone to block out time without feeling guilty. Their thinking time is as equally important as that next meeting – make time for both. I model that guilt-free "me time" by adding "thinking time" meetings to my own calendar to encourage everyone to take the space they need to think expansively and creatively about their area.

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