Today’s business world prizes innovation and problem solving. Both require creativity.

At least 60 percent of CEOs rate creativity as the most important quality in a leader, writes analyst Brian Solis for Marketing Land. “Yet only 25 percent of workers feel they’re living up to their creative potential,” he reports. How can leaders spark more creativity at work? Office culture can set the stage, and everyone just might have a little fun in the process.

7 ways businesses can spark more creativity at work

Step away from devices. What we call multitasking is too often a constant state of distractedness. Creativity needs free-range mind meandering to allow thoughts to bump together in different ways, and that can’t happen if we are filling every available moment with digital stimuli.

Get physical. Engage the senses. Put on some music. Give everyone actual paper and colored markers to visualize ideas. Encourage people to keep tactile toys like modeling clay or Lego bricks at their desks. Move around. Take a walking meeting out into nature, where you can smell growing things, hear birds, and feel the breeze on your faces. —Speaking of which…

Change up your environment. Even inside the office, try periodically moving things around. Building in the unexpected helps our brains to make new connections instead of reinforcing old pathways.

“At least 60% of CEOs rate creativity as the most important quality in a leader, yet only 25% of workers feel they’re living up to their creative potential.”

Say yes to the improv mindset. You may have heard of the contrast between yes/and and no/but thinking. It’s a guiding principle of improv comedy that basically means everyone’s idea is accepted as a good one to build something new on. “Shooting down the initial idea squashes creativity,” writes Hugh Hart in Fast Company, in sharing what he learned from Kelly Leonard, Second City executive.

Make friends with failure. Some of the things you say yes to won’t work, and that’s okay. The part of the brain that makes new connections literally won’t function and creativity shrivels when people live in fear of making a mistake. Michael Jordan and Thomas Edison are cited as champions of failure as part of their extraordinary successes, because each failed more attempts than not. The key, says Solis, is to analyze what didn’t work and switch it up for the next try.

Diversify your ensemble. Metaphorically speaking, mix it up like a cool combo: quiet strings, loud brass, punctuating percussion, maybe some woodwinds to tie it all together. Intentionally put people with different perspectives and styles together and give everyone an equal voice. A collaboration of people who would not ordinarily work together might be just what’s needed to solve a problem or create a campaign.

Abandon the pyramid. Top-down leadership mitigates against most of the above. Pass the baton, or the talking stick, and let people play.

Second City exercises to build creativity muscle

Hugh Hart explains in his Fast Company article about sparking creativity at work that most of the improv exercises devised by Second City are actually techniques to train people to listen. You might want to try these three to spark more creativity in your office.

  • String of Pearls – With everyone in a line, the first person is given a sentence to open the story, and the last person is given a sentence to end the story. Story creation happens when each person in the line, consecutively, makes up the next sentence in order to connect the story to the final sentence.
  • Last Word Response – People pair up. One starts the conversation with one sentence. The other’s response sentence must start with the same word the partner ended with. The conversation continues this way back and forth as they see where it ends up.
  • Gibberish – Participants talk one at a time in unrecognizable gibberish, using tone of voice, facial expressions and other body language to convey meaning. Others must try to interpret what is being said by reading the nonverbals.

We’re all for sparking more creativity in your office

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