“Selfie” may have been the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year, but according to The New York Times, the new buzzword zooming around the workplace these days is “creativity.”
“Once considered the product of genius or divine inspiration,” writes Laura Pappano, “creativity — the ability to spot problems and devise smart solutions — is being recast as a prized and teachable skill.”
Colleges across the country are offering courses and credentials in Creative Studies, says Pappano, while “creative” has been the most-used adjective in LinkedIn profiles two years running.
“Improving creative thinking skills is the key to improving business performance,” says management consultant John Canfield. “What differentiates great and not-so-great organisations is if and how they encourage employees to think more effectively.”
With content knowledge evolving at lightning speed, it’s critical that business executives develop the ability to push their teams beyond synthesis and evaluation — the building blocks of critical thinking — and come up with truly creative strategies for reframing challenges and transforming information. Here are a few places to start:
1. Rephrase problems as questions. Instead of starting with, “We’re not hitting our target numbers,” begin by asking as many questions as you can about your current process, who’s involved, what the fundamental assumptions are, and where there’s room to try something different. Get your team to think of problems as questions that need answers, so they move away from well-worn strategies and come up with something new.
2. Don’t shoot an idea down immediately. As the leader, your opinion carries a lot of weight among your team, so when you pronounce a judgment on something, you’re likely to sway others based on your position rather than the quality of your argument. Canfield suggests speaking last so your team can wrestle with an idea before you pass judgment. When you do speak, try to find at least three positives about the suggestion even if your initial reaction is negative. This will challenge you to think outside the box and model effective, creative brainstorming for your team.
3. Help your team visualise the project. If you need to solve a problem, Canfield suggests posting a flipchart on the wall. Write each issue on a Post It, put them up one at a time, and then group them into common issues. On a second chart, use Post Its to describe the steps that lead to these problems. This exercise will help your team complete the first step in problem solving: identifying the problem and the steps that got you to that point.
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