3 ways to tap your creativity at work

six senses dan pink

From ‘A Whole New Mind’ by Daniel Pink

Why Creativity is Important

For CEOs, creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business, outweighing even integrity and global thinking, according to a study by IBM. The study is the largest known sample of one-on-one CEO interviews, with over 1,500 corporate heads and public sector leaders across 60 nations and 33 industries polled on what drives them in managing their companies in today’s world.

One of the challenges that specialists in IT, Finance and Engineering encounter is that they feel the pressure of conforming to a process oriented culture.  Mind-numbingly boring meetings and tick boxing seems to work against being resourceful.

This suppresses the creative thinking that is needed to:

  • generate ideas, whether this is introducing a new product or the applications of coding
  • increase team collaboration in problem solving such as those needed for engineering teams needing to work out operational issues


The Price of Pressure

In the U.S. and UK, 80% of people felt increasing pressure to be productive rather than creative, while the number rose as high as 85% in France.

Yet, with the ground constantly shifting and competitors looming creative thinking is vital.

If you want to breathe life into idea generation and problem solving, use techniques that very few of your competitors are using: theatre based play and visual games.


You don't have to cross-dress to be creative.

You don’t have to cross-dress to be creative.

The Androgyny of the Mind

“A great mind must be androgynous.”  Samuel Taylor Coleridge

You may be relieved (or frustrated) to know that it’s not necessary to do a David Bowie at work.   Regardless, the androgyny that Coleridge was talking about is the ability to access both the analytical and creative, in order to generate solutions and ideas.

If you feel more comfortable with the word ‘resourceful’, then it’s that quality you can be tapping into.   Here  are three suggestions that have been really successful in increasing resourcefulness, with a wide range of teams in IT, Engineering and Finance.

These ideas can be used at the beginning of sessions to shift the thinking from analytical to creative/resourceful and get everyone thinking ‘out the box’



       1. Word Association:

The mind starts to make weird and humorous connections with this game: just what you need to start thinking more expansively.  Simply begin a story with one word and the next person adds another word, triggered but not necessarily connected to the previous word.  Expand it to 2 words per person, then to three.  You can eventually build this up to phrases that make a story.

Unexpected neurological links are formed during this type of ‘play’.  This will impact on problem solving in that you’ll truly start to think more resourcefully as new neurological pathways are formed.

2. Ordinary Objects, Abnormal Use:

Have a pool of objects at hand.   Using a hoop:  one participant jumps into the circle, picks up a hoop: the hoop can be a window; the next person jumps in and the hoop becomes a hole in the road.  Then someone else makes it a giant bangle.

The point is no-one is rejecting ideas, as everyone’s offer is built on what’s gone before.  A common problem with brainstorming is that ‘bad’ ideas are too often rejected.  You need ‘bad’ ideas to get to the top of the pyramid, where the ‘good’ one is.

Had Dr Spencer Silver actually come up with a super strong adhesive, the Post-It Note – made from his ‘failed’ weak version – would never have been invented.

Sometimes, we go ‘wrong’.  And this is absolutely right.

3. Brainwriting:

Write an idea on a piece of paper.  Fold the paper into an aeroplane and throw it across the circle to someone else.  The recipient then adds to that suggestion by writing it in the plane, folding it back and throwing it to someone else.

This stops conversation from being sidetracked and encourages everyone’s equal contribution of ideas, whether introverted or extroverted.


The problem with ‘brainstorming sessions’ is they often muddy two types of thinking: divergent and convergent.  Divergent thinking generates ideas.  Convergent thinking sorts and analyses these ideas towards the best outcome but ideas are often judged and thrown out before the best solution is found.

Improvisation and play can create excellent ground for divergent thinking before input is screened, tweaked and filtered.


I would love to hear how you encourage Divergent thinking in your own departments and to what effect.  What did you find useful?  What changes did you see?  Did your team start to work differently as a result?  Let me know below!


How companies crush creativity

CreativityblocksEven when companies know the value of creativity, they unwittingly block it from happening.

Here are some of the subtle and more obvious ways creative problem solving is squashed like a rat under a rhino.


1.  No time to be creative

If people are rushing from one meeting to another and are overworked, they’ve no time to throw around ideas.  Downtime to think laterally, speak to people and have those coffee machine chats is where stuff gets solved, initiated and created.  Stillness and play are, for the most part, under-rated and misunderstood in business.


2.  Boring meetings

No results and deviating from the agenda don’t help.    Look here for how you can keep people to the point.  Meetings without energy mean that people have to work extra hard at shaking off the lethargy.  Part of the problem is that brainstorming meetings are confused with ones where information simply needs to be given, thereby crushing any vitality that may have been floating in the ether.


3.  Contracts don’t last as long as the cycle of the project

This means staff won’t even see the outcome of their designs so they will have little care about contributing to how the end looks. Furthermore, a lack of job security can affect the ability to think differently:  people will be more concerned with redoing their CVs.


4.  Demanding on the small stuff

Sweating the small stuff can be crucial but is more often a comfort blanket. Preoccupation with detail can delay reaching goals and result in bags of wasted time.


5.  ‘Yes but’

There are a thousand excuses for not being creative. Some organisations prefer to stick with the familiar old devils.   Changing – even if it makes more business sense – seems like too much of a hassle.


6.  Pressure for results

Too much stress on delivering outcomes rather than allowing time to test and tweak can mean relying on some half-baked idea from last time.  Oh well, keep your fingers crossed and hope, this time, it works.


7.  No allocation of resources

Time’s the big one but people, equipment and money may come into play as well.


8.  Too many ideas floating around and not captured centrally  

It’s fun coming up with ideas but how are they captured and seen through to realisation?  Innovation is creativity captured and made into something. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in free thinking which isn’t bad in itself but may not result in the Next Big Thing.


9.   Demoralising environment

No natural light; sticking the kitchen half way down the corridor; lack of comfortable seating areas; screens everywhere: basically, a modern-day workhouse.


10.  Lack of cohesion between people

Too much tribalism between departments results in a limited way of approaching issues.  Groups that have no spirit of cohesion or too much fear and negativity around them will be very hesitant about giving their ideas, or building upon those of others.


Look here to see what other companies like Intuit and 3M are doing to make creativity lead to innovative, money-making ideas.


3 ways to instantly increase your focus


He’s been listening to waterfalls

Motivation is like catching butterflies. Even if you work out what drives you now, that can change tomorrow.

Are you one of those people who can’t get down to work at your desk but whose focus turns razor sharp in the bustle of a cafe?

Your surroundings can put you into a completely different gear. Here are some ways you can adjust your environment to make you more productive, focussed and creative.


Your soundtrack:

Music: Put some music on: it may be Primal Scream or Schubert as long as you can zone out to zone in.

Atmosphere apps:   Some people love apps like Coffitivity that offer listeners the sounds of various coffee shops around the world.  You can enjoy all the benefits of a coffee shop, without having to pay for your ‘dry-skinny-soya-latte’. However, the app doesn’t come with service.  You’ll have to get off your butt and make your own until they come up with an app for that too.

I’ve recently downloaded an app called Nature Sounds that’s improved my own focus 100%.  I have a mind that spans outwards and flies around so this helps me to stay on the task.  I love the sound of the roaring fire but the waterfall may well have you running for the loo.



I have a friend who’s just received an advance from a publisher for her 3rd book. The previous 2 written entirely…in bed.  One of my clients, a CIO, finds he works so much more productively in the kitchen at home.

I’d just moved and had to practically burrow in and out or mounds of empty packing boxes, to access my kitchen.  I discovered that my concentration was intensified when surrounded by brown card and in the absence of a huge advance from the publisher, it was just what I needed to finish the book.

Now, I’m not suggesting you live like a rabbit in a cardboard hutch but being aware of the order you need around you can help you knuckle down.



So many articles suggest that in order to be productive, you need to get up before the crack of dawn.  It’s got to be before 4am and not a minute later or you’ll spend all day playing catch up.   However, energy is cyclical. While I agree that early mornings can be tremendously energizing, it’s not the be all and end all of a day’s focussed work.

Night owls often feel a rush of ideas or focus at midnight. There are some who even regard the hours of 2pm-6pm as their peak period for productivity.

It’s a case of personal preference. What’s yours?


So soundscape, place and time cover the environmental aspects of motivation.

Being aware of these aspects of motivation can have you feeling more in control of your actions and zipping through your ‘to do’ list in no time.


What specifically drives you? Let me know below….

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20 reasons why you’re not creative

noideasThe very word ‘creative’ is a tripwire to many people.  After all, unless you’re paid to produce a video or write a script, what use is creativity in the workplace?

In fact, it’s simply the ability to solve problems or be resourceful.  To quote Steve Jobs, “Creativity is just connecting things.”

Looking at it this way, it’s probably not hard to see why an IBM survey revealed that CEOs all over the world rated creativity as the top leadership skill.  That’s ‘the‘ top, not ‘one of the top’.

So what stops you from being creative?  In a workshop I ran on Creative Problem Solving, the group generated a whole list of blocks.

See if any of these strike a chord:

  1. You’re too tired or drained from the day that’s been or was.
  2. Identity  –  ‘I’m not a creative’.  Creativity is who you are, black and white.
  3. If you’re successful, people will want me to do this again.  You can’t guarantee achievement when pure chance is what helped me the first time.
  4. If you achieve your goal, then your profile’s up and so you’ll be easier to find and shoot down.
  5. What’s the point?  Nothing will come of your ideas anyway.
  6. You’ve got so many ideas,  you don’t know where to start.
  7. You can only generate ideas with people you trust and the opportunity doesn’t happen very often.
  8. No-one will listen to you.
  9. You’ll be stigmatised/outcast/mocked/considered to be an upstart.
  10. You don’t have the money/time/equipment.
  11. You’ve failed too many times to believe you can be successful with your ideas.
  12. You can’t be creative until you’re financially secure.
  13. It’s not ‘important’ enough : it’s play you can only allow yourself to do in the shadows.
  14. It’s too much effort to put an idea into reality
  15. By concentrating on that, you’ll neglect things that really matter.
  16. Being creative means you don’t want a proper job and can’t hold one down.
  17. Creativity is frowned upon in your culture: it’s a sign of weakness.
  18. Your parents/teachers told you that you weren’t creative and it still sticks.
  19. Creativity makes you feel so happy: you haven’t deserved it.
  20. Creativity?  What’s that?

Addressing blocks in being creative – as well as revealing what creativity actually looks like in practice – is vital to understanding how to do it.

Let me know of any specific block that comes to mind in the comments below:


 If you want to know how you can apply creativity to problem solving and enrich your world, click here for a sample outline.

Toilets, Tea and Inspiration

Gimme the Gamma Mama

You may think he's doing nothing but he's being creative.

You may think he’s doing nothing but he’s being creative.

“Just think about it deeply, then forget it…then an idea will jump up in your face.” Donald Draper, Season One, ‘Mad Men’.

Even though the TV series, ‘Mad Men’ was about the world of advertising, it does explain why we get some of our best ideas whilst walking to the toilet, doing the washing up or getting into the car.

The lightbulb moment is really an unforced revelation of the sub-conscious.  Whether you call this being creative or resourceful, we all need to know how to solve problems and get ideas.

So, how do we encourage this ‘unforced revelation’ that leads to a bright idea?

Get your Gamma going

In order to get those ideas flowing, you’ve got get your Gamma going.

Gamma waves start in the chunk of the brain in the right neo-cortex, the part of the brain that understands the unconscious, metaphors, jokes and dreams.

Scans have shown that gamma activity signifies new connections between neurons, the formation of new pathways in the brain.

If you want to see where the Gamma waves start, look below: hopefully, this is what your brain looks like:

Hopefully, your brain looks like this.

Hopefully, your brain looks like this.


Gamma brain waves are involved in higher mental activity and consolidation of information. The spike, emanating from the right part of the brain, could fire off new pathways in any part of the brain.

To get the gamma going, the best state for this is to generate Alpha brain waves, the energy level that happens when you feel relaxed and open.

That’s why when you play, feel relaxed, or are doing something other than working on ‘the problem’, you get your best idea.

It’s the moment you give up racking your brain and walk to the loo, then ‘ping!’, you have a light bulb moment.

The very act of switching ‘off’, has actually allowed other parts of the brain to switch ‘on’.

Do as Draper says:

1) immerse yourself in the problem;
2) relax/go for a walk/make a drink;
3) The idea will suddenly creep into your head. No need to reach out for it.

So the question is, when you get stuck with issues, how do you or your teams find a way through? Do you use ‘play’ or ‘letting go’ in your idea generation? Alternatively, what specific techniques do you find generate ideas and solutions?

Let me know below and join the discussion below!

See you in those comments!

10 ways to keep ideas flowing

treeBrainstorming conversations can topple into idea-crushing ones.  It’s easy to hear yourself saying, “No, I don’t like that idea.  I’ve got a better one.”  or “That’s a bit stupid. I can’t see it working.”

You’ll end up talking to yourself because no-one will want to offer anything.

However, you can make suggestions or steer a conversation to a different angle without knocking someone’s offer to the ground.

Theatre improvisation techniques are a great way to develop this skill but very few companies get the opportunity to experience these.  I won’t deny you, though, as you can take the fundamental concept of improvisation – accepting ‘an offer’ or an idea and then making it into something else – with these 10 phrases:


1.    How about….?
2.   What if we were to…?
  What are our alternatives…
4.   What about…?

6.   One way out would be to…
   Another way of doing that would be…
8.   Wouldn’t it be a good idea to…?
   How would it be if….?
Maybe we could try to explore this another way.


Pay attention to your body language and intonation, making sure that your non-verbal communication isn’t shouting: “What ARE you thinking?!”  Look and sound interested.

So not this:                                                           But this:

sneering facelistening body language