Ten ways to encourage creative thinking

Drawing a lightbulbYou can help your firm innovate by creating a culture in which all employees are actively encouraged to put ideas forward. But how do you get the best from people and encourage them to be at their most creative?

  1. Stress the importance of creativity. Ensure all your staff know that you want to hear their ideas. Unless they understand how innovating your business processes can keep your firm competitive, your efforts at encouraging creative thinking risk falling flat.
  2. Make time for brainstorming. Allocate time for new ideas to emerge. For example, set aside time for brainstorming, hold regular group workshops and arrange team days out. A team involved in a brainstorming session is likely to be more effective than the sum of its parts. Individuals within the team can feed off each other – exploring, testing and refining ideas. You should also give individuals the space to reflect privately on their work if you think they need it.
  3. Actively solicit ideas. Place suggestion boxes around the workplace, appeal for new ideas to solve particular problems and, quite literally, keep your door open to new ideas.
  4. Train staff in innovation techniques. Your staff may be able to bounce an idea around, but be unfamiliar with the skills involved in creative problem-solving. You may find training sessions in formal techniques such as brainstorming, lateral thinking and mind-mapping worthwhile.
  5. Cross-fertilise. Broadening people’s experiences can be a great way to spark ideas. Short-term job swaps and shadowing in-house can introduce a fresh perspective to roles. Encourage people to look at how other businesses do things, even those in other sectors, and consider how they can be adapted or improved.
  6. Challenge the way staff work. Encourage employees to keep looking anew at the way they approach their work. Ask people whether they have considered alternative ways of working and what might be achieved by doing things differently.
  7. Be supportive. Respond enthusiastically to all ideas and never make someone offering an idea, however hopeless, feel foolish. Give even the most apparently outlandish of ideas a chance to be aired. 
  8. Tolerate mistakes. A certain amount of risk-taking is inevitable with creative thinking. Allow people to learn from their mistakes. Never put off the creative flow by penalising those whose ideas don’t work out.
  9. Reward creativity. Motivate individuals or teams who come up with winning ideas by actively recognising creativity, for example through an awards scheme. You could even demonstrate your recognition that not all ideas work out by rewarding those who just have a rich flow of suggestions, regardless of whether they are put into action at work. 
  10. Act on ideas. Creative thinking is only worthwhile if it results in action. Provide the time and resources to develop and implement those ideas worth acting upon. Failure to do so not only means your firm will fail to benefit from innovation, but flow of ideas may well dry up if staff feel the process is pointless.

For more ideas on how to encourage creative thinking, see: