How To Inspire Workplace Creativity

One challenge most leaders face is how to inspire more workplace creativity. Elevating people to higher standards of performance and inspiring useful ideas requires igniting their imaginations.

Open-door leaders are keen to prevent complacency and lethargy. They know that mental grooves of habit eventually form ruts of routine. When people see things the way they’ve always seen them, everything stays the same, dulling work to the point of drudgery.

Inspiring creativity and imagination often requires disrupting people’s mental routine and catching them off guard.

For example, a large manufacturer of paper plates held a series of marketing meetings. The division’s leader wanted people to remember that they weren’t just selling plates, cups, and napkins. They were working for a brand that was deeply connected to the family experience. To lift people out of the rut of discount thinking, he conducted a brainstorming meeting at a beautiful community park near the corporate headquarters.

The meeting was different because it was set up as a backyard barbeque. There were picnic tables with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, an outdoor grill sizzling with hotdogs and hamburgers, even outdoor games like horseshoes and tetherball. Of course there was something else too: lots of the company’s plates, cups, and napkins. They weren’t just commodities; they were an essential part of the experience.

The division’s open-door leader had helped people shift their thinking away from commodities and toward values and traditions. The employees started seeing that on any summer day, their products were smack-dab in the middle of people’s backyard barbecues, picnics, and family birthday parties.

By choosing to get people outside of their thinking routines, away from the four-walled environment of their workplace, the division leader helped shift people’s thinking for the better. When people started percolating on new marketing and product ideas, the word “discounting” never came up. Instead, they started talking about creative marketing campaigns designed to inspire the feelings of a warm summer afternoon. They talked about partnering with an outdoor grill company. They talked about new “summer flower” design borders for their plates and napkins. They talked about creating an interactive website where customers could swap their favorite picnic recipes.

By shifting people’s thinking and getting them away from the ordinary work environment, the open-door leader opened up a space for people to think in a more inspired way.

What are some ways that your organization typically tries to inspire creative ideas? What about the approach works well? What opportunities for improvement do you see?

First, identify a few one-word examples of unproductive or outdated thinking (e.g., apathetic, fearful). Second, list the healthier and more productive words you’d like reflected in people’s attitudes (e.g., initiative, courageous). Finally, list actions that you could take to shift people from the first column to the second (e.g., jointly set ambitious goals, institute temporary job rotations). And remember to set a deadline for finishing each action!

How can you inspire creativity in your workplace this week?

photo credit: Christopher S. Penn


Leaders Open Doors

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