Recently I read that 68.6% of the companies responding to a training survey reported that they had a high need for creativity training but did not offer it to their employees (source: “The Ill-Prepared U.S. Workforce”).
Certainly I think that creativity training, done well, can be a worthwhile undertaking. But let’s face it; companies struggling in the current economy are probably not going to see this as a top priority in the budgeting process. The good news is that you don’t have to do training to foster increased creativity on your team; there are other things you can do that cost little or nothing. I believe the most important thing you can do is get people out of their daily routines. Creativity is all about context; put people in new situations and new relationships, and they will tend to have new and different ideas. Here are some specific suggestions:
- Take your team on field trips relevant to your industry. If you’re in the hotel business, take them to lunch at a competitor’s hotel; if you’re in the insurance industry, send them out to pretend to be customers at another insurance company; if you’re in the beer business, take them for the famous tour at the Coors plant. You get the picture.
- Take the team on a field trip that is relevant to absolutely nothing. Then ask them what they learned.
- Encourage team members occasionally to change who they go to lunch with, who they go to for advice, and who they have their “water cooler” discussions with. Encourage them to socialize with the teammate who is most different from themselves.
- Change where everyone sits. I know, I know, this could cause chaos. Maybe you could just do it for a day.
- Cross train, and/or sponsor “do someone else’s job for a day”.
- Change task assignments so that people are working in different combinations and on different tasks.
- Change the meeting schedule and change the way you run meetings.
- Start meetings with crazy questions. “What if we did this? What if we stopped doing that?”
- Bring in a speaker from a completely different industry for an employee meeting. Ask the speaker to discuss best practices in his/her own industry, and then ask your team what they learned.
- Examine your team norms. Do they encourage people to say what they really think? Or do they encourage people to be “safe”?
Lastly but perhaps most importantly, always encourage and reward creativity, even when it does not turn out to be useful. As soon as you punish or ridicule a creative idea, you will begin creating a culture that discourages risk-taking and rewards conformity. Future opportunities will be destroyed.