Ten Tips to Make You and Your Team More Creative


Being creative is essential to business: it provides the edge to beat the competition. In an increasingly competitive market, creative thinking is no longer solely the function of departments like advertising and product development; it is now necessary for everyone in the organization.

By following these ten tips derived from our creativity workshop, you will increase your creativity and help your company get ahead.

1) Take Effective Notes

Attending talks and reading to increase knowledge is the first step, but you shouldn’t stop there. Break out a notebook and start taking notes.

It’s tempting to take notes on a laptop, because you probably can type faster than your write. But, writing notes by hand increases retention. And, retention—not note quantity—is the goal.

Creative thinking comes from linking ideas that already exist in your memory in new ways. The more you learn, the larger the pool of ideas you can access.

Since creativity comes from the ability to combine ideas, there’s a more effective way to take notes than just jotting them down on a page: Open a new notebook and turn to the second page so you have a blank piece of paper on each side. (You can use the first page as a table of contents.) On the right page, take down your notes. One the left page, take notes on your notes: write down anything that your notes trigger in your memory.

By using this strategy, you actively create links between new and existing memories. This will start to create a matrix of ideas in your mind, making it more likely that memories—and therefore creative solutions—will be triggered when you’re solving problems.

Our favorite notebooks are these Moleskine notebooks: you can write on the cover, they’re thin enough to serve as a bookmark, and they don’t take up much room in your bag.

2) Cultivate Diverse Interests

Solutions to problems often come from places other than where the problems originated. The idea for the magnetic power cord on Apple laptops came from someone observing a rice cooker. The clickwheel for the iPod wasn’t the idea of a designer, but the idea of someone from marketing.

The more areas you can draw knowledge from, the greater the chance you have of coming up with a creative solution.

You probably have some interest that you’ve been putting aside; you tell yourself you’ll get to it someday. Instead of putting it off, set aside some time each week to start learning. Not only will you get personal satisfaction, but it can increase your creativity at work.

3) Clear Your Mind

You should always begin creative sessions with a clear mind. You don’t want everything that came before it to weigh you down and distract your mind. If your mind is preoccupied you will fixate on the past rather than open your ability to connect diverse ideas.

An easy way to clear your mind is through breathing exercises. Andrew Weil has a great introduction to breathing exercises. Try these two exercises in sequence to start:

  1. The Relaxing Breath: This breathing technique will clear your mind and put you at ease. Start by pressing the tip of your tongue against the top of your mouth, right behind the front teeth. Exhale through the mouth. Inhale for a count of four through the nose. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale, making noise, for a count of eight through the mouth. Repeat three times.
  2. The Stimulating Breath: You’ve cleared your mind, now it’s time to stimulate your mind for the creative work ahead. Close your mouth. Rapidly inhale and exhale through your nose. Aim for about three breaths per second. Continue this for fifteen seconds. With time, you can increase the duration.

4) Work In Bursts

Your mind can’t work nonstop and function at its optimum capacity. Rather than trying to work a full eight hours with only a lunch break, work in bursts. These bursts shouldn’t be longer than 90 minutes, but blocks around 60 minutes are ideal. 

A study using the DeskTime app found that the most productive employees were those who took seventeen minute breaks for every fifty two minutes they worked.

When you take a break, get away from the computer. Walk around and stretch. Or, pick up a book on that subject you’ve been meaning to learn about. The important thing is that you get away from work and the computer.

5) Listen To Others

The key to making brainstorming more effective than working alone is listening to others. Not just hearing them (a passive process), but listening to them (an active process).

By listening, you have access not only to your knowledge base, but also the other members of the group. As a result, something they know that you don’t may trigger something in your memory and lead to a creative solution.

To facilitate your ability to listen, it’s important that you come to the meeting with an open mind instead of coming to the meeting with preconceived solution that you want to be heard. Practicing the breathing exercises (tip #2 above) at the beginning of the meeting will help.

Being attached to the ideas you had before the meeting will prevent you from taking advantage of your creative power during the meeting. The idea you brought to the meeting may not be your best idea. As the philosopher Émile Chartier noted, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when it’s the only one we have.

6) Focus On Ideas Before Criticism

Idea generation and idea evaluation are different mindsets. By switching constantly between them, you hinder you ability to generate your best work.

Start by solely generating ideas. Give yourself a time limit and try and come up with as many ideas as possible within that time (100 per hour is a good number). The creativity coach Tom Monahan calls this 100 mph thinking.

It doesn’t matter how crazy the ideas are, write everything down. Crazy ideas may produce practical ones.

Only after you have finished listing all of the ideas should you begin to evaluate them.

7) Make Creativity A Routine

Creative thinking can become a learned behavior. But, making it a learned behavior requires practice. As a result, you shouldn’t apply creative thinking occasionally—only when there are big problems to solve. Instead, set aside time at least once a week to tackle a problem you currently face. It can be small or large; the important thing is to do it regularly.

If you don’t come up with a solution in your regular practice, that’s all right. You’re training yourself to be able to do it in the long run. Professional writers take this approach: they might not write prolific prose every day, but sitting down and writing every day is important to set them up for success.

8) Set Constraints

It’s counterintuitive to think that setting constraints enhances creativity, but that is what happens. Without constraints, people default to solutions that already worked. When this occurs, truly creative solutions will be rare and game changing ones will likely be nonexistent.

As former advertiser-turned-psychologist Patricia D. Stokes observes, “The creativity problem is strategic and structural. It involves selecting (the strategy part) paired constraints (the structure part) that preclude reliable, successful responses and promote novel, surprising ones.”

When you set out to tackle a problem, look at what’s already in place. Then, create constraints that will force you to eliminate what worked in the past.

9) Activate The Child’s Mind

In exploring how to get the most out of group collaboration, the creativity researcher Keith Sawyer noticed that when children construct games they behave very differently than adults: Adults spend a lot of time setting rules before they begin and then try and stick to them. Children, however, set a few rules and then jump into playing; new rules emerge and some rules are discarded throughout the course of play. With adults, everything is set before, but with children the final product slowly takes form organically throughout the course of experimentation.

Author Kevin Carroll sums up the way children behave: “We voluntarily tested ourselves and accepted failure as a part of play. We ran, stumbled, and got up to run again … When something did not pan out as intended, we came up with a new solution until we were satisfied.”

Not only is this a better way for children to work, but it’s also better for adults. In studying product innovation, professors Kathleen M. Einsenhardt and Behnam N. Tabrizi discovered that “extensive planning wastes time … It may be faster to probe, test, iterate, and experience than to plan.”

The best way to activate the child’s mind is to engage in play. A simple game we use in our creativity workshop is to have everyone stand and start passing an invisible ball. After the ball makes a few rounds, have people start tossing the ball. Then, add more balls. (This game has the added benefit of priming people for working together.) A great resource for games is the work of the theater teacher Viola Spolin.

Activating this play mindset activates the same mindset as creative thinking. In the words of Carl Jung, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.”

10) Don’t Rush To A Solution

Don’t force a solution to come out of one creative session. Great ideas often come from multiple sessions.

After finishing a creative session, set aside the work for a few days (weekends are great for this). The mind will play with the ideas you generated even when you’re not thinking about them. You may even experience a sudden flash of insight when you’re not actively thinking about the problem.

If you don’t have a flash of insight, come back to the problem and generate more ideas. You’ll end up with a lot more than you would if you tried to solve everything in one session; and, the larger the quantity of ideas the greater the quality.


Practicing these ten tips will give you a strong creative advantage. Integrate them into your daily life: make a habit of them.

Let us know how they work for you.

Previous Post Next Post