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Stimulating Creativity

“Stimulating Creativity”

Creative ideas are the result of effort. Your effort to create the free-flowing atmosphere that stimulates your employees to reach into themselves for a brilliant solution to that nagging problem. Your success depends on their creative juices, so make sure you’ve designed your business to release them.


Entrepreneurs are inventors. They generate big ideas and then act on the best ones. They live off their creativity.

Yet even the most imaginative thinkers can fall into a rut. What’s more, they must face the additional challenge of igniting a creative spark among their employees.

To jump-start creativity both within yourself and among the members of your team, you need to introduce new ways of thinking. That means going beyond suggesting that people "think outside the box," beyond insisting that everyone simply have fun to free up their brain power. While common, such approaches don’t necessarily spur quality ideas or creative breakthroughs.

It’s better to identify which ingredients promote creativity in your workplace — and then ensure those elements exist.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Creativity-inducing exercises for you and your employees.
  • How to design a workplace that’s conducive to creative thinking.
  • Steps to encourage a free-flowing brainstorming session.


Creative thinking thrives in a supportive, nonthreatening setting. A climate characterized by risk taking and collaboration enables employees at all levels to bring sustained creative energy to their jobs.

Use these guidelines to encourage creativity:

Withhold judgment. If you ask employees to brainstorm, everyone must feel safe to make bold, off-the-wall observations. Prevent team members from rushing to criticize or label what they hear.

Set a timetable. Unless you impose a deadline or inject a sense of urgency, your team’s creativity can become aimless. As a result, the ideas you and your employees produce may lack the focus or practicality you need to meet your organizational goals. To stay on track, establish a schedule, and keep your goals clear and well defined. For example, declare that your team must devise innovative steps to cut their budgets by 25% or double the firm’s market share within three months.

Appeal to the senses. Until recently, business owners who wanted to tap their teams’ creativity simply called a meeting and demanded everyone’s best ideas. The results were often a letdown as participants tried their best while seated for hours in sterile, windowless conference rooms.

Today’s creativity experts have identified the missing ingredient: stimulus. You need stimuli, such as visual aids, sounds, smells, tastes and other varied experiences, to unlock your innermost imagination. There are a variety of things you can do to introduce this ingredient to your meetings. For example, you might try passing around "mystery tools" and asking participants to guess their use. Have employees draw pictures rather than talk or take short group walks. Some company execs have even been known to use Play-Doh to spice up meetings where creativity is needed.

Keep groups small. Small groups tend to make breakthroughs more easily than either large teams or individuals working on their own. The ideal group size is five people, according to research by Doug Hall, an inventor and creativity coach (Investor’s Business Daily, June 15, 2000).

Engage in role-playing. To spur creativity, pretend you’re a rival entrepreneur racing to develop better ideas to trounce the competition. If you want to boost your employees’ creativity, assign them roles: an irate customer, an aggressive vendor, a reporter asking about the company’s growth rate. By staging these types of scenarios, you can unlock creative thinking in a fun, revealing manner. (Note: your introverted employees may resist this type of activity. Usually some trust-building exercises and encouragement will help get them into role-playing, but for some people, role-playing is as uncomfortable as public speaking — they would rather drink hemlock than pretend to be an irate customer.)

Ask yourself or your team a series of what-if questions. What if our firm grew too fast? What if our market suddenly dries up? What if we invest in a new plant? What if we merge with a partner?

One of the simplest exercises to stimulate creativity is to ask each participant to write ideas, questions or business-related musings on the front page of a pad of paper and to pass the pads from person to person. Recipients should add freely to what they read, drawing diagrams or schematics as necessary. After an hour or two, collect the pads and you’ll have a series of "brain strands" in which individuals have built on each other’s thoughts.

You might also try studying topics you normally ignore — and encourage your employees to do so as well. Enroll in a poetry class, read a guitar magazine, attend a conference outside your area of expertise.


When you walk into the lobby of Gould Evans Goodman Associates, an architectural design firm in Kansas City, Mo., you enter an airy atrium with a 60-foot-high ceiling. Look up and you’ll see employees two floors above you drafting blueprints, sharing ideas or simply sitting lost in thought.

For Karen Gould, vice president of the 150-employee firm, success depends on creativity. That’s why she has created a stimulating work environment.

"Every piece of furniture is on wheels," she says. "Employees can move tables, files and chairs around easily. This nomadic setup fosters freedom of expression instead of being stuck in a cubicle."

Gould also introduced "sleep tents" where employees can take a catnap at any time. The three private tents are located at one end of the mezzanine right under air diffusers that provide soothing white noise.

"Creative people often have no concept of time, so they work weird hours," Gould says. "They can use the tents to snooze. I’ll take 30-minute naps when I feel brain dead. It refreshes me."

In addition, Gould launched a program whereby the Kansas City Art Institute sends samples of local artists’ work for the company to display. Gould rotates the exhibits to ensure that the wall decoration is always fresh and inspiring — yet another way to help unleash employees’ creativity.

DO IT [top]

  1. Shift your visual focus to avoid staring at the same thing (such as a computer screen) for too long. Glance at something else for a few seconds, such as a wall decoration. Then close your eyes and visualize it. If you like this tip, think about updating or upgrading the wall d