Why is it that every member of our team seems to be creative?
Managing creative teams has been one of the true pleasures of my professional life. Red Rocket’s creative teams are able to properly translate a client’s ephemeral thoughts and convert them into tangible business solutions. Clients always comment that the experience seems like magic.
But in reality, it isn’t magic. It’s a well-structured process. It helps that my team is very talented, but it takes more than that. It takes dedication and desire to find the right solution for the circumstance. Upon examining our process, I discovered that what we have built is applicable to all industries and job descriptions. Whether you're an accountant, fleet manager, architect or pipefitter - and problem-solving is at the core of your job function - you may benefit from my observations and our creative process.
Approaching Problem-Solving Through a Creative Lens
“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” John Cleese stated. Highly creative people have simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood that helps them see an issue in a different way, whether that’s playful thinking or having the mental space just to ponder the options and explore possible solutions. When coupled with a positive state of mind, you’ll be surprised at the ideas that are tabled.
Encouraging Creative Problem-Solving
So, how do you encourage your team to approach problem-solving through a creative lens? Here are four things you can do to help your team get more creative:
1) Clearly understand the problem being solved.
The first couple of questions my design team always asks me are: “What is the objective here? What is the goal?”
Many times the problem is a symptom of another pressing issue. What really needs to be solved?
For example, one of our clients needed website users to complete forms that fed into a data collection system accurately. The problem was that the users were not providing the information the client sought. The solution was not about forcing the users to provide the necessary info. It was the manner in which we asked them to find the information and complete the form. It was a user experience and form design issue.
Typically, we are not solving a problem; we are trying to achieve a goal. See the difference?
2) Encourage curiosity and playfulness.
This is harder than you think. It starts with carving out the time, eliminating negativity, promoting positivity and playfulness.
We call it a closed mind vs open mind, AND this is the “special sauce” of the process. The creative teams need to be open to all possibilities, and I mean all the possibilities. Sometimes the crazy ideas, although impractical to implement and sometimes humorous given the circumstances, become the arc that connects us to a real solution. The levity of the situation relieves the problem-solving stress and gets us to a new destination that may well be the solution we seek.
I counter that with: it’s easy to criticize a creative suggestion and provide reasons why it won’t work - we call that a “closed mind” state. That type of thinking cannot appear within the brainstorming process. All ideas need to be tabled and discussed. It’s the exploration that gets you to a new destination.
3) Everyone at the table has the same value to contribute.
We’ve all been in meetings where one person, usually a senior employee, commands the lion's share of the discussion and the flow of ideas. Others’, and specifically junior employees’, ideas are quickly dispatched and discounted because they don’t have the experience or their ideas are silly.
We need to embrace silly and unusual perspectives - and often, junior employees bring that freshness to a discussion. Again, I’m circling back to that open mind vs closed mind construct. Silly ideas may well be the catalyst that others build upon, leading to the right solution. Senior employees must ask the right questions, sit back, shut up and watch their team solve the problem. Direction, guidance and teamwork are at the heart of the creative process.
4) It takes time.
Dedicating time to getting yourself in the proper mindset is essential. Yes, it’s easier to answer a few quick emails or respond to a Slack message than sitting down and giving yourself the framework to do what you are set to accomplish. Plus, solution-finding is an iterative process. Try and try again. Share thoughts and sketches with your teammates. Their feedback may well unlock the flow of ideas and point you in the right direction.
The first good idea needs to be further explored and finessed. Don’t just stop at a good idea - you must desire to find the right one. John D. Rockefeller said, “Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. Only when we get ourselves out of the comfort zone of the good, can we move to be great. When we settle for 'good or very good' as our highest effort, then good becomes the enemy of great.”
Unlock Your Team's Creative Prowess
Fundamentally it is about discipline, taking the time to understand the situation and work on it.
Ohh, there’s so much more to harnessing creative processes to improve any situation. A few good ones worthy of checking out include:
John Cleese on Creativity In Management - a 30-minute YouTube recording of this brilliant communicator.
If you really want to nerd out, there are two excellent studies published on this matter:
Written by: Emma M. Op den Kamp, Maria Tims, Arnold B. Bakker, Evangelia Demerouti and first published: 10 May 2022
Written by Donald MacKinnon and first published: January 1963. Yes, way back when. This is the study that John Cleese refers to in his presentation. Donald is the godfather of this subject, and his observations are widely referenced in other studies that are conducted on the subject of creativity.
In writing this article, I hope you can unlock your team's creative prowess to solve the issues that are important to your mission. But if you need help in solving creative problems, please do not hesitate to reach out.
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Principal & Marketing Strategist A results-driven creative thinker, Perry is a marketing management professional with a proven record of achievement in Strategic Planning, Team Leadership, and New Concepts Development.