At Work

Three Ways to Exponentially Increase Our Workplace Creativity

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On my morning run, I catch first glimpses of seasonal beauty breaking through on the landscape. It’s early October, so I should not be surprised, but I’m still a kid in serious awe each autumn. Slowly descending a hill, there I spy it. Just atop a cluster of trees, an explosion of burnt-orange leaves. Within the next ten hours, I began seeing similar deep hues dusting other tree lines, including a fresh blast of golden mums and pumpkins, now gracing the ground level in flowerbeds everywhere. Harvest orange has arrived for the season, in all its amazing glory.

Most of us love fall colors and find ourselves in awe at the creativity that emerges with the season. And it’s not just the leaves and overall fall décor. We experience it via multiple sights, sounds, and flavors. (Did I mention pumpkin spice coffee and salted caramel mochas?)

With such applause for fall creativity, there are moments I wonder:

  • How could I personally be more creative in my approach to projects?
  • Are there ways to gather more and better ideas?
  • How do I inspire my team in order to increase our skills in creative thinking?

This is an area where I’m constantly aiming to stretch and grow. Throughout my leadership experiences, I’ve found these ideas are extremely useful in exponentially increasing creativity.

1. Make time for story time.

I had heard of this practice, but rarely ever actually practiced it. So this past year, I started to  regularly do storyboards. It’s proven to be simple, profound, fun, and amazingly productive. I gather over-sized whiteboard paper and various colors of Sharpie markers. At the top of several sheets, I label the various sections, breakdowns, chapters, or pivotal movements. Then, I just start splashing thoughts—somewhat color-coded—and brush-stroking ideas under each heading. Along the way, we constantly push the envelope by asking “what if” questions and challenging our assumptions.

I love to use the “what if” question.

It opens new doors, breaks through stereotypes, keeps people dreaming, and stretches the borders in fruitful ways for leaders. When I’m done, I usually have seven to ten sheets hanging on a wall, full of fresh ideas from which to choose. Such an exercise can be done either on my own or with our team. This past year, we’ve used storyboarding to deliberately design big initiatives, a fresh series of talks, and other exciting projects.

2. Go play!

Richard Allen Farmer urges us to have more fun in order to stimulate creative thinking:

The person who would be authentically creative must not despise the power of play. In our fun we see parts of ourselves we do not normally see; we get a different perspective on an old problem. We grab hold of images to which we would otherwise not have access.

In the 1990s, Nissan was attempting a fresh breakthrough in design for their popular Pathfinder SUV. Jerry Hirshberg, head of Nissan’s U.S. design studio at the time, sensed one afternoon that his team was bogged down, frustrated, and suffering from blocked conceptual creativity. His solution was nothing short of genius.

He led the company’s entire staff, including the shop, secretaries, and maintenance crew in playing hooky to go to the movies for the afternoon. Hirshberg delightfully reported:

Upon returning from the film, there was much chatter among the staff about how delicious it had been to leave…knowing we had been ‘baad’ together. As everyone returned to their work…tension in the building began to dissipate. Within days the ideas again started flowing, knotty problem areas unraveled…a sure sign that a strong concept was emerging.

Here’s a must-do on a regular basis with your team, especially when you sense you might be stuck in a deep rut or paralyzed by group-think. Go play!

3. Take big cues from your Creator.

The opening pages of God’s story demonstrate the magnificent collages and cadence of creation (Gen. 1). We are wondrously treated to an encounter where God is the most creative design worker ever. With the completion of his deliberate, colorful accomplishments each day, he pauses to reflect and celebrate: “And God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:10).

At the culmination of Day Six, humans were created in God’s likeness, his very image. Consider this: the image of God (the imago Dei) included our commission to be “fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth”—to “have dominion” over it all. There’s no doubt about it, we were called to be creative workers, just like our creative God.

We can draw abundant motivation by remembering God’s amazing original designs, and then get motivated by the realization: we each possess the imago Dei. His very image and his call have come to you and to me.

What might happen if we choose to respond to God’s call to greater creativity? What if we hear God urging us to live out his call in fresh ways?

Create with panache. Work with style. Rule your domain with generous imagination. Make things wonderful. Organize with flair. Be boldly intentional. Design beautiful things. Make life healthier, humorous, holistic, and holy. Above all, mimic God and be lavishly redemptive. (And when in doubt, choose orange!)

Editor’s note: Learn more about God’s calling for your work in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.

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