24 simple approaches to generate new ideas at workplace
Good ideas just happen. We just need to be aware. The ideas are all around us. They just pop up out of nowhere. Everyone has the potential to be creative. It is not connected to the innate intelligence we all possess nor it is an aptitude. It is in the way we live, work and enjoys.
What is creativity? Then…
Creativity is a random act of awareness, which pops out of nowhere and usually and always turns a raw or an unrefined thing into something beautiful, real and of great value.
Creativity is Ubiquitous. The “Creativity at work” blog says Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Wikipedia on Creativity says that, Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new or somehow valuable is formed. The created item is usually intangible.
Brian Clegg and Paul Birch wrote in their book “Instant creativity” that Creativity is illusive. There is an “artistic creativity” which involves writing a book or producing a piece of music and then there is the “creativity of discovery”, here we discover or invent new products and things and then finally there is the “creativity of Humor” which involves seeing the world differently. From the perspective of organizational, business or work challenges, creativity or solving with creative ideas usually involves all the three aspects of creativity.
What are the practical challenges for having creative ideas?
From an organizational or a business context, creativity is not a fancy nice to have feature anymore. In fact, without it very few companies would have survived today. When solving our work challenges, without a creative idea, we would be looking at the same problem day in and day out, without viewing it from a different frame of mind. Old problems would still remain.
We may just accept the need for creativity and acknowledge it by recruiting a few creative people from the market to serve our needs. It is good in a way, but we are missing to solve our work challenges through our own creative ideas. We may not know, our ideas may be the best and we are the ones who know the problems better than the paid external talent.
Everyone has the creative potential and it is just that we are not aware of it and therefore not using it. Some have even suppressed it. There could be many reasons.
The reasons for not using our creativity could be many. It could be that we are not in the right mood, or it is the wrong timing and also it could be in the way we have been educated. We know it or not the major emphasis on today’s education is focused on getting the right answer or the required answer rather than coming up with a creative solution.
Many of us would have come through an education system which lays emphasis on regurgitation. Our examinations force us to write answers which the examiners want rather than writing creative answers or offering creative solutions to problems. Even in the corporate business environments, there is no chance for failure the focus is more on quick results.
But it is only through failures that we learn. Failures shouldn’t matter to us. It is only through facing them that we will achieve creativity. Everyone should be given a free hand to express and contribute. Knowing that you would fail shouldn’t be ridiculed.
The other areas are psychological which involve having a tunnel vision, which is not being able to see beyond one’s immediate activity having a narrow view of things and then there is also the lack of inspiration.
Practical approaches to adopt to solve challenges at work
The approaches mentioned here, willingly take you off from a well proven established viewpoint to compel you to do something which you otherwise wouldn’t do. This would be uncomfortable in the beginning but it slowly leads you on to the path of generating creative ideas.
When you follow these methods, it is natural that you come up with something that is entirely different. It is an opportunity to look at your work challenges from a fresh perspective and from a different frame of mind.
Practical method 1: Ask the question “What’s the Problem”?
This addresses the question what’s the problem within your current work area. Generating creative ideas is generally a two-step process where it involves individually approaching the problem as well as taking help of the group. As an individual, you come up with an initial rough idea and then you develop and refine those creative ideas better with a group.
Let’s look at some practical ways in addressing “what’s the problem ?”. This aims at coming up with an appropriate set of requirements. Initially, we may not know what we may need. The question may not be clear in the beginning. But after a series of “How to” questioning or questions, something begins to emerge.
- New pathways
Here, this method is used to find the real work challenge or the problem underlying the problem statement. We need to keep asking the question “Why” when somebody uses the question “How to”. We keep asking “Why” a lot of times. This keeps continuing for some time till we reach a situation where each ‘Why” question becomes a “How to” question on its own.
- Event triggers
We generate a random series of triggers in the in the form of a connected concept, product or a service. We then use this to generate a fresh set of creative ideas.
We usually start with the current work challenge we are working on and then trigger a chain of events in the form of an associated concept or a product which is connected to the original problem at a higher level or at a lower level. We then stop whenever the event trigger makes us think of a new creative idea.
- No action was taken
What would happen if you don’t act? Just be still. There are possibly two outcomes for this. One, we will have a clear and a better idea of the benefits that we will accrue for not acting. The benefits so accrued will be cues to our creative ideas. Two, we might also know the difficulties for not taking the action.
- The three charts.
Hang three charts or white boards. In the first chart, mention briefly the current situation. In the second chart, mention the obstacles for achieving your goals and in the last chart, mention where you want to be. We would begin to notice as we write down that most of the obstacles can be converted to “How to” problem statements on their own.
- Reading articles and stories
Now and then we should keep reading articles and stories that we have not read before. We need to be aware that we are following this method. Creative ideas bounce off when we come back. We need to keep the problem statement active in our sub-conscious mind.
When we come back and look at the current problems, we would be finding it in a totally different light. It would be a surprise that we have not thought about this before.
- Take a walk
Take a walk in the park and come back to revisit the challenge. You will notice something different already.
- In other’s shoes
Whenever you are in your organization, spend some time observing your organizational hierarchy. People work in different roles and grades. You can start visualizing the problem from a senior’s perspective. For e.g. “How the CEO of the company would look at the challenge” then go on to do it in the middle management positions of the company and also how the same problem would be handled by an employee at the lowest level. See yourself in their shoes and view the problem and see how it would affect them and their world.
Generally, when a deadline is imposed we would look at the problem differently. We would state the problem and its requirements in a different manner. It is good to view this under different time scales in days, weeks and months.
- Consider “What if” scenarios
Consider different scenarios that would make a different assumption about the problem. Ask “What if” to generate different “How to” statements. For e.g. “What if a war broke out” and how would you see the problem now?
- Go beyond the normal
Look for scenarios where you deliver beyond the normal. Kind of being extraordinary. Instead of the usual 10-20% improvement, go for 70-80% improvement in your product or service and then see how you would rephrase or look at the problem in a totally different view.
- Huge resources at your disposal as a gift
Visualize what you would do if you had huge resources at your disposal given to you as a gift to handle the problem. How would you view the problem? How would you direct your staff to get your work done? What work would they do? What can you learn from this? These are some the scenarios to consider to view the problem in new light.
- Shout the drawbacks of your best product or service
Find faults and drawbacks of your best product or service in market areas and niches where they are actually hopeless. This way you will end up finding far more useful ideas for improvement. You will be seeing the problems in new light.
Practical method 2: Ask the question “What’s the way out”?
This addresses the question “what’s the answer to the stated problem” within your current work area.
Let’s look at some of the practical ways in addressing “what’s the way out?” This aims at breaking down the tunnel vision. Our view broadens and we start looking at the fresh aspects and perspectives which we have not covered before in answering the question and in the process generating some creative ideas.
Some of these methods below inspire us to take action in a never before seen ways and we wouldn’t have known that there is a possibility of taking an action this way.
- Twist existing service or product attributes
Most of the attributes of a product or service are measurable. It begins by twisting your key attributes and see what would be the result. We can choose one of the attributes like size or weight and twist it a bit, either increase it or decrease it and see what would be the results of such twists or making changes are. How does it impact the customers? What are the benefits that come out of such twists in the attributes? What effectiveness and efficiencies, we can bring in with such changes or twists.
Let us say that your company is making airline seats. Take up one key attribute and work with it till the end. For e.g., if we make a change (Increase) in the “size” of the seat, to a disproportionate level (Either too big, like a bed or like a kid’s seat) then in these scenarios, how would it affect the customer satisfaction? Would we have to compromise on the number of seats on the plane? The answers to such questions provide us clues as to the direction we need to take to make our decisions.
- Imaginative downgrade or invert
Let us say if our question is “How to increase the brand awareness the product”. Then how would you answer, if you totally invert the question or put it in opposite way for e.g., “how to downgrade the product”. The answers to such inversion would generate creative ideas to actually increase the brand awareness of the product in this case.
- Practical Day Dreaming
Just relax! Sit back and say “Wouldn’t it be so beautiful, if I were to… ”. Image yourself to be having limitless capabilities, then what would you do in this scenario?
Sometimes you need to move out of your analytical mind and see things more intuitively. Move slightly away from your left brain to your more artistic right brain. Creativity, creative ideas for answering and a way out of your problems come easily when you perceive and see through your intuitions.
- In someone else’s shoes
Taking another person’s opinion for providing a creative solution is another practical way. Here, we can choose a person, it could be a historical figure, celebrity or a fictional person. It does not matter whom you are choosing as long as you know a bit (characteristics) about that person. Now imagine yourself to be that person. How would you respond? How would you find a way out?
- Creating an analogy
By creating an analogy for the problem we can generate creative ideas and associate with the problem For e.g., if our main problem or question is “How to reduce costs by 10%” then an analogy for that problem could be “It is like riding a roller coaster ride” or it could be “Holding a hot potato in your hand”. So, once after we have made this analogy, we can justify its associations with the main problem. We can also justify its validity. By doing this we can generate create associations with the main problem and there by some creative ideas.
- Identify a word off-hand
We can quickly choose a random word or a word that comes to your mind off-hand. Then generate associations with that word and we can relate it back to the problem or question.
- Pick an object
If you are working in a group, allow the group to be split for a few minutes and tell them to come back with any object they have found on the way back. Ask the group to talk about the object they have picked up on the way. Make associations with the main problem. You are bound to have some creative ideas on the way out for the problem.
- Create meaning out of gibberish sentences
The human brain has the natural ability to make meaning out of the disorderliness and chaos. So, take a random gibberish sentence and force a meaning out it. For e.g.:- “the beast in the forest of bees” try to make a meaning out of this sentence. Then make associations with the main problem. See, how we can relate the meanings you make out the sentence with the main problem.
- Making random scribbles
Just close your eyes make some random scribbles for a minute. Allow yourself to flow and see what associations you can make with the problem at hand with the drawings you have made. What does this remind you of? See what is interesting and does it relate to your problem?
- Spend time with Kids
Kids come up with all kinds of possibilities without any per-conceived ideas. Kids can be given a context, we need to phrase it in such a way that they understand the problem or question. We can ask their inputs and take suggestions.
- View in its constituent parts
All problems can be split into components or various parts. We can then handle each of the parts one by one to make it more manageable.
- Learn from nature
There is lot to learn from nature. By observing how nature works, many great associations and ideas have been adapted. We can think about an analogy to the problem in a way how it occurs in the natural world. We can then look for ways in which plants or animals would solve and have found a way out of the problem.
Ref: Brain Clegg, Paul Birch: “Instant creativity”, simple techniques to ignite innovation and problem solving, Kogan page, 1999.
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Further reading resources
1. The creativitypost – Quality content on creativity and imagination
2. Greg Farley blog – Bringing the creative edge to innovation
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