In my life, my circumstances rarely allow me to think and work as creatively as I would like. There is always something limiting my imagination and impeding true inspiration. It is not something I was particularly aware of until I consciously compared my normal working habits to periods of high creativity. Once I noticed the contrast, I also observed the same difference in my trainees and the staff I manage. From this, I came to some conclusions, which have also been informed by the fantastic book Work Rules by Laszlo Bock, as well as the last M-Powered training, which was beautifully described by Marzena in our blog:

1. Creativity is not something that you can force.

Asking yourself or someone else to be instantly creative at a moment’s notice will not work. As Laszlo Bock writes in his book about Google, “It’s not up to us to tell people when they should be creative.”

That’s why, in Google, you can come to work at 10am. You can leave early and return to your work at home in the evening, if you prefer. They believe that making one’s life easier boosts innovation.

During our training, we take a lot of breaks. We continuously check on our participants’ wellbeing and don’t push them to be innovative when they are simply not feeling it. At our last training, we also asked the group what the main constraints to their creativity were, which yielded quite a long list! I will discuss the main barriers below but there were a few that seemed universal and some that were very individual. For example, classic brainstorming exercises can completely ruin creative thinking for some people, especially introverts, whereas others are inspired by the energy of the group. Getting to know what works for you as an individual is the first step to success.

So, if you are going to have a creative meeting with your team, spend some time on preparation. Give your people a few days to prepare, share the exercises you will do together, and ask what the participants need to feel comfortable. During the meeting, make sure that everyone has the opportunity to express themselves. Often the best ideas come from the people most afraid to speak up.

2. Stress, time pressure, a tense atmosphere, and strained team relationships are the main barriers to creativity. 

Therefore, taking care of the mind and emotional wellbeing is the basis for thriving creatively. In our training, we do mindfulness and we strongly encourage participants to practise this method. To learn more, read my last article in which I described some stress relief techniques. I also recommend you listen to at least the first 20 minutes of this inspiring speech by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine. He speaks about 9 core attitudes that create a strong foundation for mindfulness and meditation practice.

3. A tired, hungry, or sad body does not think about innovation. It thinks about rest and eating.

Laszlo Bock describes how space is organized at Google. Classic workspaces are interwoven with places to rest and cozy kitchens with free food. He also recalls a statement from one of his colleagues, who said, “No one should be more than two hundred feet away from food.” This is also a standard of M-Powered. Both Marzena and I are a little bit fanatical as far as fitness and good nutrition is concerned. At our training, we don’t forget about this important factor.

We are also particular about another important factor: Laughter and fun. We have had so many positive experiences of how fun can stimulate creative work and so we now use it as a remedy whenever group energy is waning. In our “fun box” we have plenty of energisers for such situations. One of our favourite is called “Haha”. Find out how to use it below:

  1. Begin by having all the players sitting or standing in a circle.
  2. Tell all the players to remain as solemn and serious as they can throughout the game.
  3. Pick one of the players to start the game by saying “Ha” once.
  4. The player standing next to them says “Haha” twice.
  5. The next payer says “Hahaha”.
  6. Than the process starts again, with one “Ha”.
  7. As the game progresses, eliminate any player that makes noise or laughs.
  8. The winner is the one who avoids laughing longest.

I am a master of losing this game!

4. Innovation needs fuel.

Good ideas do not arise in a vacuum. The same people working together in the same conditions, day after day, rarely deliver consistent creativity. What spurs creativeness is the diversity of the people we meet, the places we visit, and the experiences we gather. The most effective innovations involve adapting solutions that have already been successfully developed in another field, in another group, in other circumstances, and at different times. But to get to know them you have to travel and take part in interesting events, meetings, trainings, conferences, and experiences. This is like refreshment to our minds. We must let ourselves and others experience this refreshment to get results.

5. Imagination and creativity can and should be practised and developed.

You can do it individually or – for a more fun alternative – in a group. You can find many great exercises online that you can use each day to promote creative thinking.

Here is a classic test for creativity: The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. It was introduced by psychologist Ellis Paul Torrance in the sixties as a way to administer a more creatively inclined IQ test. Respondents were given images like the ones below and asked to finish the picture. Higher points were awarded for answers that included rich imagery and used humour or fantasy.

And below is the result of this test from our last Design Thinking training group:

Now I invite you to do this exercise and practise your creativity every day! You can also combine this practice with mindfulness which facilitates the transformation of our expert mind to the beginner state. Because, as Jon Kabat Zinn says, “sometimes we are so expert, and our mind is so full of our expertise but it leaves us without any space for novelty or new possibilities.They say that in the mind of experts there are very few possibilities but in the beginners mind there are infinitive possibilities.”