While automation, AI and other technologies are taking over a lot of repetitive, operational tasks, the demand for uniquely human skills, like innovativeness and creativity, is growing. In fact, research shows that creativity is the top soft business skill that applies to everyone.
Creativity in this context does not refer to someone’s ability to create beautiful oil paintings or elegantly playing the piano but the ability to solve complex problems with original ideas. This is a skill that can be practiced, which is great news for everyone, including companies or teams that are looking for a push in innovation.
In this article, I am going to give some concrete actions and tips for building a creative mindset in your marketing team. These activities can also be applied to other departments, so don’t be discouraged from reading if you are part of sales, branding, communications or other teams.
Before you try out any of these activities in your workplace, critically assess your company culture and make changes if needed. Without a culture that embraces creativity, you will achieve very little by implementing brainstorming sessions or quick fixes designed to get creative juices flowing. Once your organization’s values are aligned with what people do in reality, you are ready to take things a step further.
These tips will be most effective if you are trying to solve a specific business problem. An example of such a problem could be increasing the open rate of your newsletter or lowering the bounce rate of a certain landing page. You can also try to tackle a more profound problem like ‘How can we get more subscribers?’ but then it’s beneficial to divide the problem to smaller pieces. Let’s get started.
Pair up people that come from different backgrounds to tackle a problem. This could be different seniority levels, different cultural or business backgrounds or people who have very different roles. You can also share a business problem (nothing too technical, or something requiring very specific knowledge) with a different department and ask them for ideas or feedback. This works particularly well if your teams are in some way linked, like marketing and sales, for example.
Are you solving problems that are too big or too small? The trick to effective asking is to identify questions with two basic characteristics. First, the question should force your participants to take a new and unfamiliar perspective since you are looking for original ideas, hopefully something you would not come up with yourself too easily.
The second characteristic of a good question is that it limits thinking to avoid getting ideas that are too far from what could work without being so restrictive that it forces certain answers.
An example of a question that is too broad could be ‘How can we increase our revenue?’. The other extreme, too narrow, could be ‘How can we increase our revenue by changing the wording on our pricing page?’
When you send a calendar invite saying ‘Brainstorm session’ all your participants will have a predisposition that will influence how they partake in the event. If your team members are entering a track of thought that is familiar to them, they can’t be at their most creative.
For example, one of your colleagues has participated in countless brainstorming activities in their long career and their first thought of such an event is that they will be asked difficult questions in front of their peers which will make them uncomfortable. In the session, they will be constantly nervous based on their past, negative experience which, in return, will make sure you will not be able to gather their most creative thoughts and ideas.
If you want to keep things fresh and maybe even a little surprising, add elements to the meetings that your team is not expecting. If someone is bored/nervous/busy/on guard, you can help them loosen up by introducing multitasking. Introduce an extra activity that your colleagues do while also working on the problem.
For example, you can have your colleagues draw a picture while they are also swapping ideas, or only talk about new ideas but not allowing them to use certain keywords. Remember to keep the twist simple so it does not take too much focus away from the main activity, the problem you are solving.
Every department, type of project, and industry have some form of awards or recognitions that are judged by a third party. If you can’t find anything that would specifically apply to a problem or a project your team is working on, you can host your own (smaller scale) event/awards.
A little competition can give a great boost for a team to up their creative problem solving efforts. Just make sure that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed if you are organizing an internal competition. This type of an activity quickly turns on itself if participants don’t feel that it’s organized or judged fairly.
Finally, remember to praise creative thinking and innovation. Maybe your organization has an incentive structure that gives concrete recognition for new ideas, but if not, encouraging words can take you a long way as well.
Your colleagues are not mind readers so don’t expect them to always know when you are proud of them. Genuine kind words are never amiss.
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