The Daily Mail recently published the story that a Leeds-based shed company had released a new product for Halloween – a £70,000 Zombie-proof log cabin, complete with a watchtower, barbed wire, search lights, and anything else you may need! Installation costs a measly £20,000 on top of the original price tag.
Obviously this was a bit of a joke put out for Halloween – although they have had some genuine enquiries from America! The point is that the idea came from a group of employees who were sitting around on their break chatting about how they would survive if a zombie apocalypse suddenly arrived. They soon realised that to create such a design and put it ‘on sale’ could be a bit of a PR boost around Halloween. The boss agreed, and suddenly the story was getting hundreds of thousands of hits on social media!
Companies like Google and Apple are already well-known for setting aside time every year to allow their developers to go crazy and work on the most ‘out there’ ideas they can think of. Obviously such a model cannot apply to every company, but our shed firm in Leeds has demonstrated that there are different ways of using your employees’ creativity for your business.
Not everyone is geared up to immediate creativity. Some can come up with an idea on the spot, whilst others prefer to take some time to think. Sometimes, as we’ve seen, people chatting together can lead to a marvelous idea.
The key is to create the kind of environment where this sort of creativity can flourish. Open plan offices can be perfect for this, particularly if you have the right team. It’s remarkable what people know and how their outside interests can become useful in the workplace. If you encourage people to spend a little time thinking about creative things in the business, then they’re more likely to – particularly if they understand that they won’t be penalised for spending a little while away from operational matters. You’ve got to have the right sort of people though who know how to prioritise, and who will not use this attitude as an excuse to avoid their duties.
In our office if something unusual crops up, we may all discuss it – particularly if one of us has had direct experience of the issue. We also spend a little while every week chatting about the business as a whole. This means that the needs of the business are present in our minds. We may be undertaking the least business-like activity in an evening or at a weekend, but we make the link and come in on Monday morning and say “This might sound weird, but I’ve had an idea!” Hey presto, we’re each recording HR tips onscreen for our clients.
Here are some tips to help you build your creative thinking skills.
- There’s nearly always more than one solution to a problem so push the boundaries. The ability to generate more and new ideas can be developed with practice. For example, if you’re problem solving, document all your thoughts around the issue, then focus further on each one in turn and document the new thoughts. Repeat. Use charts or mind maps and colour to stimulate creative thinking. Do this every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes and it becomes habitual.
- Stick with it. Pavarotti, once said: “People think I’m disciplined. It’s not discipline, its devotion, and there’s a great difference.”
- Build in some space for creative thinking. Many people say their best ideas pop into their mind when they’re in the shower. If you’re feeling stuck with an idea take a break from the problem, then go back to it refreshed.
- Always keep a notebook with you to note down good ideas as they happen. In the same way, look out for others’ good ideas; are they something we can use or develop to solve our own problems?
- Asking questions stimulates creative thinking. Ask why, how, what, when question and try to answer it. Using “what if …” question technique can be helpful too.
- Work to time bands. People tend to work far better in timed slots than if there is no stated end. So if you say to yourself, I’m going to create a list of 25 ideas on xx subject in ten minutes, you’ll probably achieve it. If you say to yourself, I’ll give myself an hour to do this, you may find you have 25 or 30 ideas, but proportionately your creativity is lower.
- Spend time with people who inspire you. That could include accessing the thoughts of people you don’t know personally through books and webinars.
- Be a risk taker. Risks allow you to look for unconventional answers and develop new solutions.
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