How creative can (and must) a company be?

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11 min read

Creativity in a company should not be reduced to a few select business units. In fact, holistic nurturing and supporting of creative methods and thinking can help the whole company to succeed.

Tl; dr: Companies need to support and implement creative strategies and methods beyond the management ranks to be successful in the long-term. Diversity, freedom and the right collaboration tools are crucial for a creative workplace.

Content:

  1. A creative company is a successful company
  2. How can you nurture creativity in your company?
  3. Inspiration: Tips and methods for (creative) brainstorming
    1. In a group setting
    2. Individually

Creativity enables you to see things from a different perspective, connect seemingly independent ideas and see value and uses that might not be immediately visible. What creativity is exactly, how to measure it and who possesses it in which amounts is hard if not impossible to define. But it's proven that creativity isn't just important in the arts but can also strengthen companies.

A creative company is a successful company

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According to a Forrester-Study, 82% of all (surveyed) executives agreed that companies profit from creativity (source: Forrester, PDF). The study also showed that companies that nurture creativity actively mostly:

  • could increase their revenue
  • get a better market position
  • were awarded and recognized as great employers

This goes to show that a creative workplace isn't just providing results but also a positive working atmosphere. But, as the study explains, this needs to be supported and nurtured by the management to offer programs, incentives and opportunities and therefore nurture, promote and support creative competencies.

How can you nurture creativity in your company?

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Teresa M. Amabile and Mukti Khaire summarized the results of a two-day colloquium by the Harvard Business School covering this topic (source: HBR.org). According to the authors, a creative company doesn't need as much of a creative management and more of a management that enables creative impulses from their employees.

"The first priority of leadership is to engage the right people, at the right times, to the right degree in creative work." (Amabile, Khaire)

Management needs to nurture creative potential

The authors stress that it's widely accepted that leadership needs to be creative, when in reality the creative potential of a company is much more diverse and layered across all business units (and hierarchies). Whose ideas are listened to, chosen and developed should not be a matter of title or position. Creativity needs a level playing field to really thrive and include different points of views, methods and motivations.

Diversity creates creativity

Another key to a creative company is diversity according to author Frans Johansson ("The Medici Effect"). "Innovation is more likely when people of different disciplines, backgrounds, and areas of expertise share their thinking."

Especially complex problems can profit from input from different business units and fields of expertise. Hardly any problem is 100% rooted in one discipline and therefore can be addressed from different directions.

Technology supports the sharing of ideas

Technology and communication options are important to not just be creative but work together creatively. Amabile and Khaire quote Victor Seidel from the Saïd Business School, who talks about so-called "Coordination Totems" which are means to visualize and communicate ideas with each other through metaphors, images and stories. However, especially in our digital world, you will need the right platforms to enable the sharing of these diverse totems.

Software, platforms and systems to collaborate and share ideas should not be too limiting when it comes to their usage. Otherwise, they can reduce or even extinguish any form of creativity simply by not giving enough room for different expressions. Of course it depends on each and every company's guidelines (and tech stack) what can and what can't support collaboration.

However, options always play a big part and can enable individuals as well as teams to accomodate different communications styles. For example, if a collaboration tool demands a very strict set of rules to use it, it will very likely not be used for creative work. More options offer more individuals to combine and work with their distinct styles of creation.

An example:

A chat that only allows text is not very helpful when it comes to idea sharing, since it sometimes can be difficult to communicate concepts just with words. Options such as uploading images, GIFs, files or even adding surveys or scribble pads can increase the different ways to present and work on ideas that are not straight-forward.


The right collaboration platform helps you, your employees, partners and customers to work together (creatively). Our info page shows you how our experts and products can support your overall creative strategy with the right tools.

Enable your teams


Inspiration: Tips and methods for (creative) brainstorming

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In the following, I would like to offer you a few classic methods to help you think, solve problems and develop ideas creatively in a group or on your own.

Creative work methods in a group setting

A group makes it possible to use and combine different views, experiences and skills. This allows problems to be viewed from different angles. Diverse personalities can also help to illuminate necessary aspects of a good idea, for example, through optimistic (possibilities & opportunities) and pessimistic (pain points & challenges) interpretations.

A good moderation is always important for creative methods in a group setting. This ensures that all group members have an equal say, that no idea is criticized or nipped in the bud (especially during the creative phase), and that everything is documented.

Brainstorming

The classic among creative techniques has clear advantages. Brainstorming can generate many different ideas in a team and, above all, help to put them in order. Especially this second step is often overlooked when it comes to brainstorming but it's necessary for two reasons:

  1. It allows the first step (the brainstorming) to be completely judgement free.
  2. It channels all ideas into next steps that can be actively pursued.

Process: The moderator introduces the problem or goal. All participants have a short time to collect ideas for themselves. These are then presented one after the other. This can and should be followed by another open round, as ideas can often arise from the first round of ideas. All ideas should be written down.

Successful brainstorming should be positive and open. During the first step, ideas should not be evaluated. In the second step, the ideas are then categorized and evaluated. The focus is now on how these ideas can be implemented, what resources are needed, what the time frame is, etc.

The goal is to separate the feasible ideas from the impossible ones. The feasible ideas then can be implemented in further project groups and/or workshops.

Challenges: A brainstorming session needs good facilitation and should give all participants the opportunity to collect ideas in peace and without evaluation. It is therefore recommended to give everyone some time to come up with ideas before they are shared in the group. This method also ensures that more introvert people are able to shine.

The Six Thinking Hats by Dr. de Bono

Based on the concept of Dr. Edward de Bono (no relation to the U2 singer), the "six hats" are used to consciously use different ways of thinking styles in a group when approaching an issue. In doing so, six approaches are given metaphorical hats (or real hats, depending on how many props you want to use):

White - Neutral View

What information and facts are there, what do we know about the problem, what do we still need to know, what do we need in general?

Red - Feelings

How do we feel, what feelings are evoked? What is the gut feeling, what does intuition tell us?

Black - Caution

What is the legal situation, are there ethical or other obstacles? What is the worst case?

Yellow - Optimism

What are the benefits, what are the gains and added values, what is positive overall, what is the best case?

Green - Growth

What are new ideas in the context of problem solving, new ways, new methods and options? What are the innovations and developments?

Blue - Organization

How do we control the process, what is the roadmap, how is the whole process overviewed and planned? What can be concluded at the end?

Challenge: Moderation is just as important for this method to distribute the hats (and change them around) and make sure that their "personalities" can work out their input unhindered.

The Disney Method by Robert Dilts

For smaller groups, the so-called "Disney method" developed by Robert Dilts in 1994 is suitable for "making dreams come true". This is similar to the Thinking Hat method, but defines only three to four roles, which are set for the whole workshop and will not be changed.

The Dreamer

Brainstorming without limitation and realism. Creativity is allowed to run free.

The Realist

Must take into account the facts and conditions and has the task to realize any idea, no matter how absurd. Of course, this only applies within the framework of the creative workshop, but it can produce some interesting approaches to processing ideas that initially seem unrealistic. Accordingly, the Realist must also think immensely creatively, but unlike the Dreamer, they use their creativity pragmatically.

The Critic

May take a pessimistic and critical approach to ideas and solutions in order to identify weaknesses. Their goal is to find weaknesses and weigh ideas.

The Moderator

Although optional, it is recommended to have a moderator to provide a neutral party that ensures that the roles take their tasks seriously and are unhindered in their roles. The moderator (or facilitator)"keeps the peace" and makes sure that, for example, the dreamer is not limited by the group, or that the critic will not be antagonized.

Challenge: Since roles are fixed, it can be more complex to offer all participants ways to input their ideas.

Questioning Techniques

There's five Ws and 1 H: Who, What, Why, When, Where & How? This line of questioning can be used to cover almost all areas of a problem in order to get a first look at the problem or potential solutions and is a great way for problem solutions but also project development both as a group and on your own. By the way, this is also a very useful guide to later communicate your ideas/projects, since these questions cover the most important points that, e.g. management, will likely ask about.

Negative questioning

Instead of asking, for example, who benefits from a product, you can ask who will not benefit from it. Who is not part of the target audience? On which channel can the solution not be used? What buying stage is not suitable for the application?

Often, asking negative questions can provide a lot of insight into a problem or idea and set a framework. Particularities such as target groups, scope or application area can be identified to some extent in more detail.

Serious Play

It can probably be seen as an advantage that the 21st century has made many business spaces a bit more playful. Especially in the areas of team building, problem solving and idea generation, many approaches such as role playing, improvisation, but also task solving with toys are used more frequently. This strengthens team dynamics and helps to approach topics differently.

Example: Lego Serious Play is a method developed by Lego to playfully visualize problems, goals and ideas with Lego figures, guided by a questionnaire.

Challenge: Serious Play can, despite all its advantages, push people's personal limits since they need to show sides of themselves they might not show in their work life. Team leaders should pay close attention to group dynamics and individual needs. In addition, the moderator must be trained in the respective serious play methods so that they can be used efficiently.

Creative workshops require a basis of trust

Creativity can be very personal, which is why there are many people who feel uncomfortable sharing their ideas, doing role play or create art in a group setting. This is exactly why facilitation/moderation is so important. It can also help to establish and adhere to rules of etiquette. Participants should be able to withdraw if they feel uncomfortable, and the atmosphere should be relaxed. What happens within the group - outside of the results - should not be shared outside of the group without the consent of all participants.

Individual brainstorming

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Creativity and inspiration do not always succeed in a group setting. Many people have their best ideas in the shower, in the car or just before falling asleep. Some people are introverts or prefer working on something on their own before they share it. And some people simply have tasks, jobs and projects that they work on individually.

So how do individuals support their creative juices?

Make use of boredom

Monotony and boredom helps clear the mind, allowing for new connections and new ideas. It's proven that boring tasks can help increase the creative output. Additionally, a creative block can usually be helped by doing something completely different that doesn't demand as much creative thinking. Quite often, the block stems from the mind concentrating too hard one one single idea or concept. Taking a break can help focus the mind elsewhere to create different associations and connections.

Whether on a walk, at work doing a monotonous task, or at home doing a puzzle, boredom or the absence of exciting stimuli can be channeled into more creative episodes.

Read, listen, observe

In order to think creatively and "around the corner", different chains of associations must of course be possible. Different impulses are necessary for this. Someone who reads a lot, listens, observes and generally has different interests can make connections much faster than someone who is exclusively occupied with one thing.

This is also where the individual creative process meets the group. It helps to discuss ideas and concepts with others and let them ask questions to see something from their perspective.

Mood Boards

A "mood board" is a type of collage that uses pictures, words, colors, etc. to represent a topic in an overarching emotional, visual way. It serves as inspiration by visualizing the essence or representing the mood that a product, content asset or design should have, for example. Creating a mood board can also already inspire ideas, as it is often based on visualizing the goal of a project in an associative way.

Know your "creative" type & environment

Just like most people have different combinations of learnings types (e.g. reading something, reciting it, writing it down, etc.), people thrive creatively under different conditions. Some people need to procrastinate inbetween, others start with a project and work on it until it's done. Some people collect ideas before they write them down, others work with a lot of different versions and drafts.

Find, which circumstances support your creative work. Do you need a certain setting (comfortable, at the desk, on the couch or even in the car)? Do you work well with music or does everything have to be quiet? Do you need certain tools (pen & paper, a drawing pad or digital tools)? All this can help you to create an environment that fuels your creativity.

For more info:

Brown, Derrick; Kusiak, Jan (2007) "Creative Thinking Techniques" PDF: https://www.miun.se/siteassets/fakulteter/nmt/summer-university/creativethinkingpdf

Last visited: 13.1.2022

Talin, Benjamin (2019) "6 Successful Methods fpr Brainstorming & Idea Creation" https://morethandigital.info/en/6-successful-methods-brainstorming-idea-creation/

Last visited: 13.1.2022

Amabile, Khaire (2008) "Creativity and the Role of the Leader" https://hbr.org/2008/10/creativity-and-the-role-of-the-leader

Last visited: 13.1.2022

Forrester (2014) "The Creative Dividend" https://landing.adobe.com/dam/downloads/whitepapers/55563.en.creative-dividends.pdf

Last visited: 13.1.2022

by Sabine Kirchem

Sabine Kirchem is Vice President Marketing as well as a book author. She is enthused by innovation topics, current trends and technologies in the areas of digitalization, marketing and communications.

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