How to Build Creativity and Innovation Muscles

Do you encourage creativity in yourself, your team and your organization? Or do you tendLight bulb in hand 3424750103_f9d17b737e_z to squash it? If you want to strengthen your innovation muscles or your team’s, try these tips:

  1. Plan time for creativity. Distinguish creative time from productive time. I knew a faux finish painter who illustrated this concept: “Customers would watch me standing in an entry way and ask me when I was going to start working. I explained that the up-front part of the work was mostly thinking and creating in my head. Once I finished this phase, I would move into execution mode and they’d be able to see progress. I budget for and approach creative time totally differently than productive time.”
  2. Brainstorm individually. Professor and author Leigh Thompson found that individuals who brainstormed alone generated over 20% more ideas that were over 40% more original than groups brainstorming. Need new ideas to tackle old problems? First, give people 10 minutes individually to list their ideas. Then let the group discuss, decide and build out the best ones.
  3. Watch out for burn-out. Innovation and productivity both take a hit when people are fatigued and stressed out. We have more capacity to innovate and produce when we get good rest, exercise regularly, eat well and tend to our social and spiritual lives. Is there a physical deficit or relationship issue that is sapping you or a team member of energy, focus and creativity?
  4. Get out of the box or rut. To think outside of the box, it can help to get physically out of your cubicle or office. Go to a new place to work for the afternoon. Talk to a different person. Read about a new idea or topic. Listen to a speaker you’ve never heard before. Then look for a lesson you can apply to a current challenge.
  5. Bring fun and creativity into executing. Creativity shouldn’t stop when an idea is solidified and design is done. Inject some fun as you implement the design or repeat routine tasks. A senior leader in one company sent messages twice a month reminding employees to submit time and expense reports. Finally he asked someone to turn this boring reminder into a funny and entertaining message. People began to listen and looked forward to them. Where can you get help injecting some fun into a routine task?
  6. Tone down the put-downs. Being creative involves putting your idea – and yourself – out there. That’s risky. Too often, people discourage creativity and vulnerability with put-downs, overly tough critiques and sarcastic digs. The next time someone steps out there with a new idea, try complementing them instead of immediately focusing on what might not work.

Building creativity muscles takes focus, encouragement and vulnerability. What’s your next step to strengthen innovation in your sphere?

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Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. In his work as a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps senior executives and their teams get creative and practical to clarify and achieve their goals. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr