Colourful leaves
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Someone who is a team lead in a corporation asked: “How would you inspire a stakeholder group to be more creative/innovative?”

Here are my responses.

Build rapport by seeking to understand them and their needs. The group has to know and feel that I am on their side, especially if they have had prior experience with didactic/patronising consultants. In other words, they need to give me permission to engage with them. No one can be forced into being inspired!

Identify and celebrate prior efforts in creative problem-solving. We are a problem-solving species; we will naturally seek out solutions (effective or otherwise) to problems. You have probably been solving problems creatively for longer than you think! You can only get better from this point.

Demonstrate practical creativity and ideation techniques. Show how creativity can directly improve your situation. Show how creativity can be a methodical problem-solving process anyone can engage in. Dispel the myth that creativity is dependent on random strikes of inspiration.

Facilitate collaborative design sessions. Enable hands-on experience working on solutions to real problems they are experiencing. Use my experience and expertise to guide their thinking and enhance their ideas. These sessions are about them.

Build confidence to exercise their innate creativity. Ideally, affect changes to their work environment, to create a safe space to try new ideas and make mistakes. Less about teaching them how to be creative, and more about giving then tools to enhance what they already do, and confidence to play (try new things.)

Give permission to play. Overt permission giving by saying “you have permission to play, try different things, succeed, fail, etc.” And help then cultivate an internal permission to play.

Protect your team’s psychological safety. Creative play, the ability to ask “what-if” questions, no matter how silly or impractical, is essential to revealing alternate perspectives and coming up with new ideas. Creative play can only happen in a psychologically safe environment. Judgement, dismissal, ridicule, admonishment, or crazy-strict rule-following can quickly shut down creativity. Even if the wider organisation is psychologically unsafe, you as a team lead can create your own pocket of safety within your team.

Model creativity every day. Your day to day attitude and behaviour at work signals your acceptance of creative thought. Be open to suggestions and alternate viewpoints, especially the oddball ones (just because you have heard and understood an idea does not obligate you to agree with it or implement it.) Be willing to have a laugh and not take things too seriously. It is unsurprising that many breakthrough ideas come from a throwaway joke in the kitchen or by the watercooler. Be willing to push someone to explore their idea, and to build on that idea, regardless of where it may or may not lead. Be open to letting your team try new ideas and fail at them. Be OK with your own failures. No one expects you to have the answer to everything and be infallible,