Come on, Be Creative!
Continuing our theme of 'creativity, what is it; how do you encourage it?', I thought it might be worth taking a quick look at some of the work that's been done on how to encourage those creative juices that flow through all our veins.
I made the point before that it seemed to me that the creative response you get depends on the creative challenge that you set in t
he first place; you may go in a very different direction if the challenge is to "create a new version of our widget" than if it is, "what would you like to create today?"
This is a subject that has been studied a lot over the years and some themes worth considering are those that have practical implications. Just a few suggestions:
One tip or technique that everyone is familiar with is the process of group brainstorming. If this is to be done well it is important to encourage an atmosphere of fun and to enforce the rule of no criticism of any idea. The task is to spark as many ideas as possible, actively supporting crazy ones as these can be the stepping stone to practical solutions. You may end up with literally hundreds of ideas. I once facilitated a group of 25 for 2 hours who ended up with over 200 ideas written on large rolls of paper stuck around the walls.
A key point from the research is that, contrary to popular practice, it's probably best to get people thinking up ideas on the subject before you get them together as a group. A number of experiments have found that once individuals have presented ideas they've dreamed up alone, the group will be better at building on those ideas and produce more 'spin-offs', known as 'idea elaboration'.
Researchers in the U.S. (Knight, A., & Baer, M. (2014) experimented with a number of brainstorming groups split into two different conditions: in one condition chairs were provided and in the other the chairs were taken away. Even though the topic and the room were the same, the standing groups were much less possessive over their ideas (see below) and were better at idea elaboration.
Keep off the turf!
(2015) - that really is their names - went on to examine whether being possessive over an idea affected the creativity of the group. They asked 230 students at a university in Singapore to give feedback on a proposal for how to best promote a new restaurant. In one condition, called 'hands off', they were told 'although I want your feedback, this proposal remains mine...." Compared to the groups who weren't told this, the 'hands off' groups gave far less creative feedback.
The lesson seems to be, share your ideas openly and work as a team and you'll get more creative solutions.
Mix it up
You might worry that staff turnover could inhibit the team's creativity but there is some evidence that introducing new members to a team actually leads to greater creative output. A bonded team feels more comfortable but it's the introduction of new perspectives that will drive creativity. In one experiment, the researchers (Nemeth & Ormiston 2007) ran creative exercises for groups who remained stable and groups that were mixed up so no one worked together twice. The mixed groups did much better in terms of number of ideas and the ideas' novelty.
Paint it blue
Finally, next time you redecorate you might like to think about reserving one room for your creative work and painting it blue. There is a lot of evidence that colours affect mood and therefore performance and there is a some evidence that the best colour for creative thinking is blue – red is the opposite and more useful for detailed work such as proof reading the menu!
Knight, A., & Baer, M. (2014). Get Up, Stand Up: The Effects of a Non-Sedentary Workspace on Information Elaboration and Group Performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550614538463
Brown G, & Baer M (2015). Protecting the Turf: The Effect of Territorial Marking on Others’ Creativity. The Journal of applied psychology PMID: 25938721
Nemeth, C.J. & Ormiston, M. (2007). Creative idea generation: Harmony versus stimulation
. European Journal of Social Psychology, 524-535