Creating a Culture of Creativity

Earlier this year, as my team was brainstorming ideas for new tools for our website, I suggested we create a series of videos and other tools we would offer in a membership area so that people could experience our program online for the first time. As it turned, out we weren’t quite ready for that. Still, it became a jumping off point for a discussion about how we can provide more through our website. 

The best ideas tend to emerge by extending, deepening, rethinking, and reframing previous thoughts, suggestions, and solutions. Many ideas seem wrong or somehow off base at first, but by deepening and discussing and reframing them, they often become more coherent, interesting, and feasible.

By rebuking people for mistakes and failures, we stifle creativity. If my team had simply dismissed my ambitious suggestion about a new set of offerings on our website, we never would have deepened and extended the idea to a point where we’ll be ready to launch some of the new tools in just a few months.

Likewise, if we recognize and reward only the person with the idea that gets adopted, we neglect those whose suggestions may have laid important groundwork. For innovation to occur, we need to not only be open and receptive to ideas that don’t quite work, but to actively acknowledge and encourage them.  That’s what happened for me, and it inspired me to keep pursuing possibilities in the weeks ahead.   

For leaders, it’s often important to stand back, especially in the early stages of any creative process, allowing their teams to brainstorm without feeling pressured by the opinion of the head of the group. By creating a democratic atmosphere where everyone’s ideas are considered equally valuable, the final product will often be much richer – and the members of the team more encouraged to contribute and grow.   

Here are a few first steps to designing a team that is freed, fueled, and inspired to bring their own ideas to the table:

Make the Time. Encourage employees to take uninterrupted time to brainstorm and come up with new ideas. Creative thinking isn’t done at our desks with phones ringing and emails blinking. In a world in which time is a scarce and limited resource, it is crucial to schedule sacrosanct time, just the way you would for any other meeting.   

Value Renewal. One of the key stages of the creative process is called incubation. It occurs when we step away from a problem we're trying to solve and let our unconscious work on it. This can be going for a walk, listening to music, meditating, or even taking a drive. Leaders need to understand that time away from work can be just as valuable as time at a desk.

Practice Deconstructive Criticism. When you feel the need to criticize "constructively", resist it. Any sort of criticism tends to shut down the person to whom it is directed – and often others in the group as well. Rather than making declarations, be curious and additive. Join the ideas of others, even if you then push them in a new direction.  

Reprinted from

Emily Pines is the Director of Web Marketing of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Follow Emily on Twitter @emilyjanepines.

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  • Jeffrey Baumgartner

    Nice post.

    Interestingly, some new research seems to show that you can actually get better results when you allow criticism of ideas. or and scroll down to the last article.

    Also, as you noted, when you reward one person for an idea that is in fact the result of collaboration, you tend to demotivate others. Moreover, this tends to discourage collaboration. Why share your ideas when someone else might get the credit? Not surprisingly, rewarding teams is a very effective approach towards collaboration within teams and competition between teams. This combination of collaboration and competition sparks a lot of creative thinking.

    Jeffrey Baumgartner
    Author of The Way of the Innovation Master

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    I've also heard when searching for creative answers go for quantity, not quality, in order to expand thinking. There will be time later to evaluate. I also recommend, when trying to get a god idea and struggling, start coming up with as many deliberately bad ideas as possible, it gets the creative mojo workin'

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Time Management Coach for Authentic Leaders.