Chances worth taking: 10 ways to build your team’s creativity

Take a Chance

As I handed her my business card, the woman smiled and said, “You must really enjoy your work.” I answered without hesitation: “I am having the time of my life!”

In the days since that quick exchange, I’ve been mulling why I love my job. Many of the reasons revolve around my independence as a self-employed business person. Entrepreneurship has plenty of perks.

But here’s the thing. Though I work solo, I seldom work alone. And the moments that light up my days are ones of creative collaboration. Teamwork. Banter. Conversation.

Creative collaboration is my number-one source of professional joy.

I get this in spades with Jill Pollack, my partner in Story Mode. To serve our clients and grow our business, Jill and I are in a constant state of generating ideas, solving problems, asking “what if.”

We approach everything as a creative challenge. We see every moment as a chance to take a chance.

And because we flex our creative muscles with one another, Jill and I have the strength and credibility to get otherwise cautious business people to take creative chances with us. The results? More ideas. New ideas. Better ideas.

You can move your team in this direction, too.

Start by taking some playful chances at work.

Here are 10 creative challenges to encourage your crowd’s creativity—whether you’re a team of 2, 12, 20, or 200.

  1. Accumulate an unbroken chain. Many factories track and celebrate days without a safety incident. What action or achievement can everyone on your team sustain, day after day? Days when you learn something new? Days when everyone arrives—and leaves—on time? Days without swearing? (Note: I would bring down the team’s performance on that last one.)
  2. Harness the Power of 39Hold a weekly brainstorming session where the conversation doesn’t stop until you have 39 options or ideas. Rotate responsibility for the topic. This week Logan wants 39 questions new hires might ask. Next week Sophie will gather 39 ways to say, “May I help you?”
  3. Mass-produce OOO messages. Write a collection of unexpectedly honest (possibly hilarious) out-of-office messages for the various things that keep your team from answering email: vacation, sick days, long meetings, business travel, continuing education, workouts, long walks on the beach. Maybe you’ll even use them!
  4. Shorten your meetings. For the next week, shave five minutes off every meeting.That staff meeting that starts at 10:00? End it at 10:55. Use those spare moments in service of creativity. Take a timeout. Take a walk. Take a breath, for God’s sake. Finish the week with a 25-minute discussion about how everyone used those tiny wedges of time to nurture creativity … and sanity.
  5. Draw your jargonSet up a physical or virtual bulletin board to share everyone’s hand-drawn representations of the words and phrases that have taken hold in your team, organization, or industry. What does an “integrated solution” look like? How about “customer focus” or “key performance indicator”? Put your visual brains to work, translating verbal gibberish.
  6. Ban PowerPoint. Seriously. Ditch the slides and find other ways to communicate. Try props! Do it for at least a week. Okay … insist on it for just one day. But everyone has to participate.
  7. Hold a contest. Any kind of contest. Who can blow the biggest bubble? Bake the best brownie? Get to inbox zero?
  8. Compose a character. Invent a nemesis or hero to represent your team’s quest. If you’re all about improving the bottom line, create a costly villain to be your enemy. If you’re revving up for retention, invent a goddess of loyalty. What do these characters look like? What do they wear? What weapons or tools do they carry? What’s their catchphrase or signature move?
  9. Cast your feature filmImagine a big-time studio wants to tell your team’s story in a major motion picture. Choose an actor to play everyone in your movie: team members, customers, advisors, notable extras. Will Wanda Sykes appear because she’s the CFO’s doppelgänger, or because she has the right attitude?
  10. Create a team anthem. Revise the lyrics of a popular song to make it yours. “Highway to Hell” could easily be transformed into the “Right Way to Sell,” don’t you think?

What’s the point?

Obviously, to have a little fun. But also to become a stronger team. To break free from the shackles of “the way we always do it.” To surface ideas you didn’t even know you had. And to take some creative chances—because you can.

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