5 Ways to be More Creative this Year

5 Ways to be More Creative this Year

This time last year, most of our innovation team were pretty new to PPL and innovation, myself included. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last 12 months, as well as learning blueprinting and creativity, so here are my top five tips.

1. Surround yourself with new and interesting people

We’ve all heard the quote by Henry Ford: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” The same applies to the people you work with. If you are looking for new ideas and new ways of working, ask new people to help you. We all have a tendency to collaborate with people we know and like. They are more likely to share our way of thinking, confirm our ideas and not make waves. Unfortunately, although collaborating with friends is conducive to a cushy working environment, it also promotes boring thinking. Instead, collaborate with people who are different from you, people who you do not know, people who disagree with you. They will provoke you and you will provoke them. There will be tension. But out of that tension will come some truly original ideas; ideas that would never have grown had you collaborated with the usual people.

2. Ask questions and then ask some more questions

You can NEVER ask enough questions. Often when we go to a customer to do a discovery session, they don’t really know what they need. They think they do, but when we question them some more, we get to the heart of the problem and find some pretty amazing discoveries. Kim’s favorite question is “Why?” I personally like “What would that do for you?” It asks them to look at why they need the problem solving, but also hints at the benefit and value of solving it.  This helps you to prioritise and decide how much effort you are willing to put into solving it. Regardless of the questions you use though, the main point is to keep asking questions until the why and the value is obvious. When a colleague asks for your help, make sure you fully understand the problem to be solved and why it needs to be solved.

3. Keep it simple, keep it short

Successful ideas are usually not overly complicated. Don’t worry about producing thousands (or even hundreds) of new ideas or about showing how amazing your idea is in its complexity. The best solution is usually the one that is easiest to grasp, implement and understand. Instead, worry about creating 1 solution that is of high quality and that meets your customers needs perfectly. If you struggle to think of new ideas, go back to tip number 1 and number 2. They’ll help you to thoroughly understand the situation and then get help in the idea generation stage.

In the same vein, when trying to come up with new ideas and to help keep your mind focussed, remove all distractions.  Put your phone away and turn off the ringer. Make a determined effort to not check your emails or use your laptop during this time. The typical knowledge worker is on-line all day, receiving and reading a never-ending stream of emails, messages and calls. When she leaves her desk, her smartphone ensures she never misses any communication. It also ensures she never has time to stop and think. As a result, she never allows herself the opportunity for an idea to take root in her mind and develop into a vision with innovation potential.

4. Slow down and reassess to avoid mistakes

We all make assumptions. It’s natural. We get excited when we’re doing a good job and we’re happy with the direction a project is going. That being said, before moving from one stage of NOB to the next, before launching an expensive R&D project and before presenting a business case to your direct supervisor, make sure you are heading in the right direction. Is the market research as complete as you realistically can make it? Did you probe enough to get at the real heart of the problem (real unmet need)?  Are you 100% sure that you are right and that if you continue you will be successful? Blueprinting and Creativity are not linear processes. You often have to circle back and check to make sure your previous assumptions and conclusions are still valid before continuing on. Otherwise you could waste time, effort and resources solving something that doesn’t need solving.

5. Play at work

I often get asked how does the innovation team find the time to make the fun videos and games we use on a regular basis. Or I get asked where do our creative ideas come from? Depending on who in the innovation team you ask, you can expect to hear a range of answers. However, you will find a consistent word in all of those answers: “play”. Creative people do not generate ideas. They play with ideas. Children are at their most creative when they are at play. Musicians play instruments. Actors perform in plays. You should play too!

You can play with ideas by joking with colleagues, doing role-plays, building ideas with toys (such as building blocks, Lego, Meccano and craft materials) or just being silly (and yes I did just say that!) Play with ideas about how your organisation might look, or what your primary product will be in 50 years. Define outlandish goals, like taking over the world, and play with ideas about how you might achieve them.

In time, you will find that some of the ideas you develop in play are worth taking very seriously as potential innovations.

Hopefully the above five tips will help you not only in 2015, but in the years to come.  You don’t need to be Walt Disney to have a dream or vision of what life could look like in 50 years time. You don’t need to be Steve Jobs to come up with a groundbreaking, market changing, disruptive new product. And you certainly don’t need to be a “Creative Type” to be innovative or creative in your jobs. Just try!

Alesandra BlakestonInnovation Program Manager


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