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Want Your Business to Thrive? Nurture Team Creativity

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou, American author, poet, civil rights activist

Creativity - that mysterious force which eludes, inspires, and fascinates us - has the potential to bring great psychological and financial rewards. Children effortlessly embody it. Poets, writers, and artists of all types yearn to be visited by its muse. Researchers set up experiments to study how it works. Businesses are realizing its role in innovating their products and processes to stay alive in a competitive global market.

Below we’ve gathered some contemporary thinkers’ discoveries for unlocking individual and team creativity.

On becoming an original thinker

Adam Grant, author and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the characteristics of original thinkers, those who “drive creativity and change in the world.” His findings are encouraging in that original thinkers are “not that different from us. They procrastinate, they have fear, they have bad ideas.”

Big ideas to reflect on:

  • Procrastinate in moderate amounts. In a satisfying twist for those who tend to procrastinate, moderate procrastination actually inspires creativity. As Grant says, “Our first ideas, after all, are usually our most conventional” and “When you procrastinate, you’re more likely to let your mind wander” into divergent thinking. Wait too long to start the work, however, and you may create a “rush to implement the easiest idea instead of working out a novel one.” Wait a moderate amount of time, and you increase your chances of “stumbling onto the unusual and spotting unexpected patterns.”

  • Choose “idea doubt” over “self doubt.” Grant says, “Self doubt is paralyzing. It leads you to freeze. But idea doubt is energizing. It motivates you to test, to experiment, to refine.” Self doubt conflates the person with the idea itself, whereas idea doubt exists outside of the self so its failure is less personal.

  • Fail fast, fail often. Original thinkers are not afraid of having bad ideas or failing. In fact, “the greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they're the ones who try the most.” They have so many ideas that eventually one of them sticks. It’s a numbers game!

The beauty and the tragedy of Grant’s findings is that they contradict the norms many of us grew up with around failure as “bad” and perfectionism as desirable.

Leading for creativity: 3 roles leaders can play to inspire team creativity

According to Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, leaders have a responsibility to lead a culture of creativity so that the people they lead are more creative. To do so, Brown suggests a nuanced model of leadership in which leaders inhabit three leadership facets as circumstances require.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leader as explorer. The leader must play the part of an explorer who leads “from the front“ towards a metaphorical horizon. In this role, the leader is curious, asking questions rather than offering solutions, and taking care not to dominate the conversation.

  • Leader as gardener. The leader must “garden” to nurture the team culture and its physical and energetic space. A creative environment invites collaboration, trust, and playfulness.

  • Leader as player-coach. Finally, the leader must also be a player-coach who continually pushes the team to evaluate its processes and direction, gather its learnings, name constraints, and keep the big picture in mind.

The leader who learns how and when to embody these roles will reap the benefits of an inspired team rather than relying on herself to produce the best ideas.

Team creativity as a practice

There are practices you can implement to regularly develop team creativity. For example, the product team at Foursquare has weekly “art class” in which they complete different exercises to boost creativity. Whether you lead a product, design, or other type of team, this list of 20+ exercises will get your people wondering, laughing, and tapping into their imaginations.

Practices to get you started:

  • Play, play, play. Try the Blind Portrait in which you pair off and draw your partner’s face without looking at your paper. Write out the lyrics of your favorite song in emojis, and have your teammates try to guess it. Or sketch out your morning routine for the year 2065.

  • Iterate, iterate, iterate. To create a culture of building on each others’ ideas, establish shared norms, and try this practice: Sketch an object in the middle of a piece of paper and pass the paper to everyone in the room. The goal is to take that initial object and develop it in different directions, with each person building off of the previous person’s additions. Here’s how the ping-pong paddle evolved (or devolved) under the care of the Foursquare team.

Creativity into the Future

The right brain / left brain dichotomy has been debunked and all of us have the ability to access and nurture creativity in our personal and professional lives. The question is - will you do it?

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits.” - Twyla Tharp, American dancer, choreographer, and author

How do you foster individual and team creativity practices?

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