Boss Lady

10 out-of-the-box activities to supercharge your team’s creativity


Some business leaders seem to have a gift for continually generating creative ideas. Consider Sara Blakely, whose innovative, original Spanx product later spawned dozens of other products for her company (not to mention multiple copycat products and companies).

Ms. Blakely will tell you her brand of creativity isn’t something she was born with. She would say you can cultivate it in yourself and your team. And the more you do, the more your creative muscles will grow and flourish.

You can easily generate creativity, whether your business is happily humming along or in a trough of hard times.

Regardless of your position or title, you can lead in your organization to grow a creative culture and generate innovative ideas. Try out some of these simple ideas, and not only will you supercharge your team’s creativity, but you’ll build better relationships and increase productivity at the same time.

1. Give your workspace a fun & quirky upgrade

You don’t need a big budget to make your environment more stimulating. Cherry pick great ideas from innovative companies like Virgin Airlines – the company welcomes you to its positive vibe before you even enter the registration gate with rock music and the scent of freshly cut flowers. Ask your team members for ideas on putting pleasing, enchanting touches throughout the entire office and workspaces.

2. Close your eyes

That’s what Spanx founder Sara Blakelysays is her favorite exercise to generate innovate thinking:

“I stop what I’m doing, close my eyes, and ask myself, ‘if nobody showed me how to do my job, how would I be doing it?’ And then I see what surfaces,” she revealed. “We’re all on auto-pilot, and we’re doing things because somebody else showed us — or told us — how to do them.”

3. Try the devil’s advocacy technique

During team brainstorming on a project or initiative, encourage employees to propose the opposite point of view. It’s simple and will jumpstart new ideas and paths of inquiry and creative options. When you do a team meeting to mull over an old problem, or propose a new idea or proposal, ask another team to make the case against it.

My friend, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation and I served on a panel for business leaders and she mentioned this strategy to our audience. It inspired me to try it — and it works!  It invites a creative debate where participants don’t have to worry they are stepping on the boss’ favorite idea. It opens the door to some of our best ideas that would lie dormant otherwise.

4. Unleash curiosity

The best way to do this is to welcome and encourage a lot of questions.

Questions spark transformations in individuals, teams, projects, and companies. Questions ignite new paths of thinking, challenge assumptions, and encourage us to reach beyond what we think we already know.

Here are a few to start:

  • What do we need to start doing?
  • Can you or I explain this product, service, direction to my mother? (This was a favorite one we used in the early days while I was at AOL, when the idea of connecting with people, businesses, and customers online was so new!)
  • How can we test this idea before committing more resources to it?
  • Have our competitors tried this? What can we learn from them?

Jonas Salk, who changed the world by developing the polio vaccine said, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.”

5. Bring in new blood

The next time you have a problem that needs to be solved, don’t assemble the same old group of people. Mix things up and invite team members from other parts of your company, who don’t deal with the issue every day, and get their point of view. This is what Google does:

“Ideas can come from anyone, not just a ‘Creative’ department. We open-source ideas internally, and we also collaborate with many content creators, artists, developers, brands, agencies, and people who come to us with wonderful ideas.”

6.  Be silly and have fun

One expert suggests doing balloon sculptures with your team. It’s a fun way to give team members an opportunity to use their hands. It can also build relationships – both of which spur better thinking.

One of my personal favorite tactile objects at my desk is the Big Ball of Whacks, a creativity toy that is like a 3DKaleidescope. It was developed from the now classic book on spurring creativity, A Whack On the Side of the Head: How to Be More Creative, whose ideas have worked for global companies.

What silly ideas can you think of to spur new thinking?

7.  Get visual

Since the beginning of time, visual art has inspired creativity. To spur creative thinking amongst your team, encourage them to follow Instagram accounts that resonate with them personally. Also share some of your favorites with them in return! These Instagram accounts can be inspiring or creative. My personal favorite is NatGeo.

You’ll learn more about your teammates, build relationships, and be energized as you tackle the next big challenge or opportunity.

8.  Revisit failure

We get our greatest insights when we fail. You and your team will benefit when you re-examine a setback or failure with the intention of finding areas for improvement. Too many teams are embarrassed about failures and quickly move on without mining for the insights.

Richard Branson affirms the importance of not letting previous failures stymie creativity:

“My mother drummed into me from an early age that I should not spend much time regretting the past. I try to bring that discipline to my business career. Over the years, my team and I have not let mistakes, failures or mishaps get us down. Instead, even when a venture has failed, we try to look for opportunities, to see whether we can capitalize on another gap in the market.”

9.  Implement a new productivity tool

This sounds simple, but as Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Recently a savvy person on our team suggested we test drive the Asana productivity tool. The UI, organization, and flow of Asana has given us a new and improved way of looking at all of our projects.

Using Asana continues to spur my creativity – perhaps because it has brought order out of chaos. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of new productivity appscoming on the market every day. The best ones are elegant, clever, and cause you to look at your work in a whole new way. This change of perspective generates new ideas.

10.  Let your team take charge

You don’t have to think of everything yourself! Ask your most invested team members to come up with brainstorming activities.

Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer of Netflix wrote:

“During 30 years in business I’ve never seen an HR initiative that improved morale. HR departments might throw parties and hand out T-shirts, but if the stock price is falling or the company’s products aren’t perceived as successful, the people at those parties will quietly complain—and they’ll use the T-shirts to wash their cars.”

Try one or two of these ideas this week and you’ll supercharge your team’s creativity in ways you can’t imagine!

About Caren Merrick

Caren Merrick is the Founder & CEO of Pocket Mentor, a mobile app and multi-media company providing leaders with daily advice, tools, and action plans to grow themselves, their teams, and their businesses. For tips on how to communicate for greater success, download Caren’s free guide, 7 Secrets To Highly Effective Communications. Previously, Caren was the Co-Founder and EVP of the enterprise software company webMethods, which grew from a basement start-up to a global Nasdaq company with $200 million in annual revenue and 1,100 employees worldwide. Caren serves on several private equity, financial services, and nonprofit boards and is an author and speaker.

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