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Creating a creative environment for brainstorming

What is a creative environment?

A creative environment is one where people feel comfortable in expressing their ideas and where constructive support is given in the development and analysis of those ideas.

You are in a creative environment when
  • Your ideas are listened to and investigated before being judged.
  • You feel appreciated when you suggest new ideas.
  • You can suggest solutions to other groups without feeling like you are intruding.
  • Your manager spends time with you and explains the reasons and politics behind projects.
  • You are given the freedom to do your work in your own way.
  • You are not observed or judged all the time.
  • You do not have to pass all of your messages through your manager.
  • Experimental methods are encouraged.
  • You feel comfortable talking with anyone in your organization (top managers included).
  • You feel comfortable talking to your subordinates without having to order them about.
  • There is someone that will listen to your ideas.
  • The generation of good ideas is rewarded, verbally or otherwise.
  • You are treated with respect and as someone who can contribute to the organization.
  • You are appreciated for what you do.
  • You are appreciated for who you are.

How do you start creating this environment?

Of course, you say, this sounds great, but how can I create such an environment? The answer is simple (and nothing new!): do to others what you would like done to yourself. You will find that if you give creative space to other people, they will give you space to be creative back.

  • You need to stop criticizing or prejudging other people's ideas and should actually encourage people to share them with you.
  • It's your job to help people turn their unformed ideas into reality by giving encouragement and suggestions and by asking helpful questions.
  • You must never steal their ideas or pretend they are your own or people will stop sharing their ideas with you.
  • You must be bold and ask people for their ideas even if you appear slightly foolish for asking and even if you have a valid suggestion yourself. If you do not use their ideas, explain why not but remember to thank them anyway.
  • Seeking opinions builds respect and confidence. It also builds a creative environment.
  • "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Tips for specific roles

Tips for directors

You are in a much easier position to change the environment of your company. However, you must bear in mind that the current environment has been established by yourself, your colleagues and your predecessors over a long period of time. To really change the environment of a company it is your influence and power which will make the difference. You have the authority to make the changes happen to the whole company whereas people lower down the management structure can only influence a much smaller part. They may be struggling against a wall of critical thinking and rules whereas you are in a position to change those rules and create new ones which will increase creativity. You are a role model for how to succeed in your company so you cannot just tell others to be more creative if you do not accept their ideas.

  • Start an initiative into creativity and brainstorming. Make someone responsible for it so that it actually happens.
  • Recognize that it will not take a short time to change the whole company culture.
  • Give training to all your staff on creativity and brainstorming (eg. contact us to arrange for this website to be installed on your own network).
  • Send a message to everyone to say that your company lives by the ideas of its staff and that you are backing an initiative to increase the generation and introduction of new ideas.
  • Tell every group to discuss creativity and the need for new ideas.
  • Start an employee suggestion scheme with prizes for the best ideas. Reward all ideas and the people that make them. (Read up about employee suggestions schemes - it's a complex issue.)
  • Let your employees know that you are open to suggestions and that just because you give a specific solution doesn't mean that you aren't open for alternatives and you don't like to be challenged. (Too many employees are worried to speak out against the ideas of their managers even if they know the idea will not work.)
  • Thank people when they challenge your ideas. Be careful not to be defensive. They are challenging the idea, not you!
  • Reward people who have lots of little ideas, not just those that have the biggest ones.
  • Run your own brainstorming sessions and actively join in. Be the first to suggest radical ideas and to put forward proposals which contradict the current way of working. Acknowledge that the ideas are only put forward as a stimulus.
  • Ask to be invited to brainstorming sessions held by people lower down the corporate ladder. Be a good role model and let someone else lead the session. At the end, thank and congratulate the facilitator however they perform. You could later send any suggestions with a lighthearted memo.
  • Discuss corporate strategy with people who are not normally the decision makers. The people in the field are often the people who really know the direction the market is going.
  • Start up lists of problems and opportunities which you would like answers to and invite suggestions from everyone. Publish the list of probortunities and ask people to add to them. (NB. You don't have to publish the lists of the solutions if you don't want the competition to know about them.)
  • Get everyone in your company to prepare probortunity lists for their own work and to share them with their managers. If you ever wanted to spot gaps in the market this is an ideal way.
  • Learn how to help ideas and not to kill them.
  • Install our brainstorming software on your computers.

Tips for middle-level managers

You are in a position where you can highly influence the creativity within your group, yet will often find it hard to change the corporate structure and company-wide rules. You will be able to help your company become more creative but you will be much more able to make a creative environment for those employees under your direct supervision. The expectation is that by doing this for your own group, you will all exceed expectations and that you will be able to tell your colleagues how to do it. Meanwhile, you will try to manage your managers using a creative probortunity list which will highlight to more senior managers what can be achieved through the creative brainstorming process.

Tips for workers and new starters

When you have no management authority or you have just joined a company at the bottom of the management ladder then you will probably think you are in a very weak position for developing an environment where you and others can be creative. When there seem to be strict rules for doing everything and there is an adversarial corporate culture it can be a daunting task seek any kind of change and it's easy to feel that you should just go with the flow, keep your head down and do what everyone else is doing. This is especially true if your manager tells you how to do your work and they check regularly to see if you are doing so.

If the top managers of the company have got there by being purely analytical and by ordering their subordinates about then it is easy to follow their example and forget about being creative and just follow what everyone else did to get promoted. Unfortunately you will become bored, uncreative and critical, and you will be sacrificing yourself for a meaningless existence. You need to decide if you can change the working environment around you. If you decide you cannot change it then leave and get a better job.

  • Learn about creative thinking techniques and practise them so that you can turn on your creativity instantly.
  • Organize training on (and become a trainer of) creative thinking courses for your colleagues. Say that it has always been an interest of yours.
  • Organize brainstorming sessions, initially with your peers and then invite your managers along later. Tell them about our great website with free training (www.brainstorming.co.uk).
  • If there are no people to brainstorm with then start individual brainstorming using the advanced techniques. Buy software or other materials that can assist you.
  • Show the results of your brainstorming to your colleagues and managers. Show them the long list of initial ideas and then indicate which ones you have selected. Explain how you arrived at the final ideas from the initial ones. Explain the thinking behind it and tell them that you find the techniques useful.
  • Whenever you have a superb idea, tell people that you got it from using advanced brainstorming techniques. This will not only make them interested in the techniques but they will also give you the freedom and credibility to be seen using them at later dates.
  • Start up lists of problems and opportunities facing your department, company and industry. Share them with your boss. Specifically tell them that you are not putting forward suggestions but that you are thinking about the wider picture and want to find out if these problems were the real ones. Tell them that you will think about the solutions later.
  • Start up lists of problems and opportunities facing you and your job role. Share them with your boss at the earliest opportunity so they learn that you are always looking for problems to solve. This way they learn not to just expect polished and finalised solutions to be presented to them.
  • Encourage your managers to produce their own list of problems and opportunities. Explain how useful they will find it and how beneficial it will be to show their own manager that they are thinking of the future and trying to influence it.
  • Learn the reasons why creative thinking techniques work so that if anyone is critical of your ideas then you can readily explain your reasoning. Why not educate others in what has worked for you?
  • Be forgiving and understanding of ideas given by other people. Your own tolerance of challenging ideas will be reflected by others. Be open to ambiguity.
  • Openly thank your manager for the flexibility and space that they give you to be creative. Explain to them how helpful this is to you and how good and productive it makes you feel. Thank them to their face and also tell your manager's manager and your manager's colleagues. Become the person that people want to give creative space to, because they will be rewarded for it.
  • In a very harsh environment you may need to analyze all of your ideas and only ever present your best ones. It may be necessary to just tell your manager that you have specific ideas and that you got them using creative thinking techniques, but not to reveal the intermediate ideas if they will be criticized or taken into consideration.
  • Learn how to help ideas and not to kill them.
  • If your company encourages training in creative thinking you could go on the course or become a trainer yourself. If they don't have a course, ask if you can set one up using software and all that you've learnt from this website.
  • If you can, speak to a director and ask them what they are doing to increase the creativity of the company. They may not know that they can. Too many people think that they need to employ "creative people" and they do not realize that everyone is creative and that their creativity can be brought out using creative thinking techniques.
One of the key things for workers to realize is that once people think you are a creative person, it is only then that they give you the space to be creative. They will also attribute your successes to being creative. The more you mention your use of creativity and how helpful it is, the more people will accept you having good ideas because of it, and they will also accept that you need thinking time to generate your ideas.

If you have any tips and help you would like to add to this list, please email them to us and we will share them with the world.

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