It still hurts to think about it. It was early in my career and I was facing a big challenge. How do we involve a large group of manufacturing employees in a new and unpopular strategy? People were counting on me, and I had nothing. My boss said “Come on Gretch, just be creative.” I smiled but my stomach turned another notch.
The truth was we were trying to be creative. We had already rejected a lot of ideas because they seemed too far out, too much work, too bold. We were running out of time and corporate kept asking, “What’s your plan?”
Finally during one of those long team conversations, someone said the word “passport.” Believe it or not, with that one word, everything changed. We riffed around the idea of a passport being a way to get to somewhere new and exciting. The thought of multiple stamps generated the idea to create special events tied to the coming changes. From there grew a program that was a little far out, a lot of work and definitely bold. When we rolled it out, employees embraced the approach and over time accepted the new strategy. Looking back, I see why our plan was a success. It was novel, engaging and hands-on.
Like everyone, I’ve had my share of hits and misses in the creativity department, but I’ve learned that creativity generally doesn’t arrive like a gift from the sky. Most of the time it takes work, patience, and the belief that with persistence, you will find the right idea you need to make something better than expected.
In this blog post, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve learned that may spark your creative juices.
First, let’s start with the questions you should ask yourself.
- What has worked before and why? Think about a time when you developed a creative approach to anything. Let that experience come back to you. How did you arrive at your successful idea? Did it come during a jog or driving into work? Was it an idea that came after a series of other thoughts? Did you put it away for a while and then return to it? Take a step back and observe neutrally. How did this idea come about? How did you build on it? Who else did you involve? What made it successful?
- What didn’t work and why? On the flip side, think even harder about ideas that didn’t work the way you thought they would. What feedback did you get? What did you observe that indicated your plan or approach didn’t have the desired impact? What would you do differently knowing what you know today? Did your gut tell you all along it wasn’t quite on target? Did you listen?
Now consider the things that inspire you and how you react
Write down some things you really like — they can be a travel experience, book, movie, piece of art, time in history etc. Think why they leave an impression on you or how they help you think about something in a new way. My best ideas are sparked by something that captivates me — a blog, a line from a song, a story I can’t forget. I’ve learned that when my antennae go up, I need to pay attention — there’s something interesting here and I don’t want to lose it.
Once you’ve written the elements that spark your thinking, consider the following.
- What do I like about this (music, movie, app etc.)?
- What about it challenges my thinking?
- What about it makes me feel uncomfortable? Is there something I can learn from?
- What ideas, visuals or concepts in it bring up new ideas? Why?
- How can I learn from that (the interesting idea)?
- How can I apply this to my current situation/life/challenge?
- How does this inform my thinking going forward?
This process allows you to make connections between interesting ideas and your current challenge. I highly recommend Mark Levy’s “Accidental Genius – Revolutionize Your Thinking through Private Writing” for step-by-step instructions on how private writing can help you draw out new thinking on just about any problem or opportunity you’re facing.
Putting it to use
Once you’ve started “noticing” what sparks your brain to think of new ideas, capitalize on it. Here are my suggestions to capture and build your creativity:
- Keep an idea book. Get a notebook and keep it close to you at home and work. When you have an idea or something grabs your attention, write it down. Definitely include those stray thoughts that seem may seem innocuous. I promise you won’t remember it tomorrow if you don’t take a minute to write it down today. Discipline in this practice is your number one way to make sure your good ideas have the chance to flourish.
- Sit with it. Once you’ve written your idea down, put a reminder in front of you. For me, it’s the white board in my office. I refer to the white board each day and make it a point of including those random thoughts. I’m not memorizing exactly, I’m just planting them in the background for future use. After that I let them simmer in my brain. Generally once or twice a week, I will set aside a few minutes to think more deeply about each of these thoughts. Eventually they are transferred to my idea book or erased from the white board.
- Ask for help. Have a buddy — or two or three – to bounce your ideas off of. See what they think, listen to their reactions and watch their expressions. Maybe they can build upon your ideas or bring a new one altogether. These sessions can be very fruitful ways to generate good ideas that started with just a kernel of a thought. (Think “passport.” ) Be sure to invite people into conversations that think differently than you. The clashes of style can bring about exciting, disruptive ideas.
- Take a walk. Another great way to let your mind go is to take a walk. Just 10 minutes away from your work or office can improve your thinking and bring new perspective.
- Expose yourself to new experiences. Novel experiences can create new thought patterns that lead to new ideas. Seek out something different to give your mind new things to think about.
Everyone can be creative. Developing this practice has brought me exciting, successful ideas and increased my enthusiasm for my professional work and personal interests. Try a few of these tips or come up with your own; you may be surprised by how creative you really are.
Gretchen Rosswurm is the vice president of global corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Celanese, a global chemical company in Dallas. Throughout her career, she has advised leaders on communication strategies to enhance employee engagement and improve business results. Follow her on Twitter @GRosswurm.
If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.