Creative thinking for teams: 4 exercises

Need a fresh perspective or idea to revive a stalling project? Try one of these creative thinking exercises with your team
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creative thinking

Instinctually, humans think in a very rigid way. We approach thinking in terms of black or white, and rarely do we force ourselves to think outside of the box. It’s often difficult to see past what is presented to us, what is known, and what is familiar.

This type of thinking, I believe, is detrimental to both business leaders and entrepreneurs whose success depends on their ability to stand out in a crowd. Opening our minds to a different way of thinking enables us to effectively pursue individual and group goals, become effective problem solvers, and identify and realize promising opportunities.

[ Do you make thoughtful decisions? Read also: 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide. ]

As CTO of Clearbridge Mobile, I’ve found that having my team participate in various creative-thinking exercises has helped us open minds, teach new skills, and innovate. Below I will outline four creative exercises I frequently practice with my team to continue to develop our ability to think differently.

How do I make my team more creative? 4 exercises

1. Group brainstorming

For this exercise, it is important to get the entire team involved, regardless of what projects they are working on or their roles within the team. Get each member to write down specific challenges they are currently facing on separate pieces of paper and tape them to a wall. Then, simply get everyone to walk around the room and stop at each piece of paper to write down an idea that can potentially solve that specific challenge. Everyone needs to write an idea on every piece of paper and build upon what others have said.

Why it works:

By allowing employees to interact with individuals from different departments, they expose themselves to different areas of expertise, different interpretations, and perspectives that may spark new ideas that solve their specific challenges. This exercise also ensures that everyone can participate and contribute in the brainstorming session without feeling self-conscious. The physical movement involved in the exercise is also beneficial as it helps to free up an individual’s thinking and perspective.

[ Do you struggle with creativity? Try tapping into your right brain: Emotional intelligence: How to exercise your right brain muscles ]

2. Limitations and restrictions

This exercise is both simple and effective. If you find yourself stuck on a certain aspect of a project, or don’t know how to get started, set some restrictions and limitations for yourself. For example, if you’re tasked with writing some ad copy, set a limitation on the amount of words you can use. This will change how you approach the task and will force you to carefully consider your choice of words. This can result in powerful copy that would not have been possible had there been no restriction on the word count.

Why it works:

Think about restrictions and limitations not as barriers, but instead as a puzzle that holds the opportunity for creativity.
While this exercise may seem counterintuitive, it actually forces individuals to approach a situation in a way they may have never thought of before. Restrictions take away some of the choices available to us, and provide a starting point. With the example given above, the person tasked with job would have to shift their frame of mind to focus on how they can get their message across in only 10 words. It is important to think about restrictions and limitations not as barriers, but instead as a puzzle that holds the opportunity for creativity.

3. Write it down

When you have an idea or observe something that inspires you, write it down. That’s it. This extremely simple exercise can be practiced daily. I challenge each individual on my team, as well as myself, to capture that moment of brilliance. It doesn’t matter whether you keep notes on a cellphone, a voice recording, or on a pad of paper. The point is to always have something close by so that whenever an idea strikes, you can quickly jot it down before it’s gone. Challenge yourself to capture an idea, or a moment of inspiration everyday.

Why it works:

Our short-term memory only holds a thought for approximately 15-30 seconds
The purpose of this exercise is to capture the sudden moments of insight individuals tend to have late at night, in the shower, or while driving. Our brains are constantly making connections and associations with other people, things, and ideas we come across. Because our short-term memory only holds a thought for approximately 15-30 seconds, it’s important to write those ideas and inspirations down right away. Having an arsenal of ideas in your back pocket is great when you’re searching for a creative solution or searching for that spark of inspiration to innovate a new product.

4. Mind maps

This exercise can be completed either alone or in a group setting. Start by writing a general idea you or your team has in the middle of a blank piece of paper. From there begin to make connections that build off of that main idea and write them down. For example, if your main idea is mobile app development, a connection that might branch out from that is Android vs. iOS. Use each connection to generate new ideas. For example, under Android vs. iOS, you might branch out to native app or web app. If you find yourself or your team struggling to come up with connections, try to reframe the main idea or theme and start a new mindmap to get a fresh perspective. Once finished, decide which idea you would like to move forward with.

Why it works:

As the connections on the map start to grow, individuals will find their brain start to open up and discover new, innovative, and sometimes unpredictable ideas. Mind maps are a great tool for facilitating divergent or unconventional thinking as it helps to generate ideas. Unlike a to-do list, a mind map helps individuals guide their thought process, uncovering ideas that exist deep within their mind.

Boosting team creativity pays off

Creativity is the key to success, but thinking outside of the box is not always easy. Thinking differently comes down to one’s ability to shift their thought process to take the path less travelled. The exercises listed above will help leaders and entrepreneurs look at situations from a different lens, to find other perspectives, and to identify unique opportunities. Whether it’s innovating new design solutions for products, launching influential marketing campaigns, or just developing a different way to do something, having the ability to think differently than everyone else is the key to success.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

As CTO of Clearbridge Mobile, Sanjay Malhotra has built an agile team of mobile experts who have created award-winning solutions for media, telecom, fintech, healthcare, mobile payments, and QSRs.

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