8 Exercises To Quickly Boost Creative Thinking In Teams
Let’s start off with an activity to test your level of creativity, shall we? Let’s say you’re given a paper clip 🖇 — list down or sketch as many ideas you can think of using the paper clip. We’ll give you a minute for this…
Most people can only think of 5–10 ideas on average; how many did you manage to get? This is a great way to test how much of a divergent thinker you are, your ability to think out of the box and metacognition. We ran a similar exercise with a group of people in our workplace except instead of a paper clip, we gave them a curved line, to begin with, shown below, from which they had to complete the drawing. After which, they had to take turns to pitch what they drew to everyone else.
Here’s the curved line they had to start out with:
Here's what they came up with:
As you can see from the drawings, everyone had a different interpretation and outcome from the line they were first given. Each and every idea translated into something so much bigger.
This little exercise measures creativity based on four components:
People tend to associate creativity with the ability to come up with something artistic when in actual fact, creativity is the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena and to generate solutions. Creativity can be found all around us; in food (these pastries are 😍), life hacks, engineering and Design Thinking all involve creativity.
A creativity research study was conducted by George Land in 1968 to test the creativity level of 1,600 children aged 5; which was also the same test he performed on NASA scientists and engineers. 98% of them were deemed as “creative geniuses” based on the solutions they came up with. With these outstanding results, he decided to test them on children aged 10 and 15 as well. Surprisingly, the percentage dropped to 30% and 12% respectively. The main takeaway from this experiment was that non-creative behaviour is learned. Creativity is not learned, but rather unlearned. The primary reason attributed to this is that education tends to focus on the regurgitation of facts rather than focusing on gathering new experiments. Children should be given the freedom to let their mind run free with ideas and then evaluate them, allowing them to make their own judgement. Everyone has the potential to be creative and innovative.
To confirm this, the same test was then given to 280,000 adults with an average age of 31 and true enough, only 2% fell within that range. Young children have brilliant ideas in their first few years of life, after which synaptic pruning takes over which causes some synapses to be used while others are not. This ultimately leads to the discrepancy of creativity as they age. So do we want to live in a world where solutions are going to be based on the “right answers” and are repeatable? Or do we want to have new solutions and possibilities to solve the problems that we have never encountered before?
With creativity being highlighted as one of the top three skills by the World Economic Forum needed in the 21st century, inculcating and encouraging a creative mindset amongst teams is absolutely necessary. Being able to be a divergent thinker is one of the many benefits of inculcating a creative mindset. Anne Manning, from Harvard University’s Professional Development Team and founding partner of Drumcircle, defines divergent thinking as the process of coming up with ideas by exploring all sorts of possibilities. It is usually free-flowing, spontaneous and involves working on multiple creative ideas that are evaluated. If you can be a better divergent thinker, you will be able to reach deeper patterns in your thought process and even arrive at a totally different way of doing things the way you normally would.
In a time and age where collaboration tools like Slack, Notion and Google Docs are so readily available, in-person meetings and interactions are losing its power as the true magic and best ideas are formed when people are fully present and communicating with one another. In light of that, here are some great ideation techniques you could try at your next meeting to get those creative juices flowing.
Most people tend to always rely on verbal communication so getting them to draw something and work on their visual skills can be rather refreshing. The rules are simple — all you have to do is draw your neighbour on your left! Set a timer for 1–2 minutes and you are good to go. We may not all be artists but that’s the point here. Showing your vulnerable side is going to lead to more open, dynamic and positive discussions.
2. Make Your Own Sandwich 🍔
This exercise is bound to get all those creative juices flowing. As the name suggests, participants are to get a blank piece of paper and simply make a sandwich that reflects their personality. I came across this from Jon Steinback’s article on creative exercises for creative teams and was so intrigued that I could not help but to add it in.
3. Whatchamadrawit 📝
I came across this wonderful and creative ice breaker at Google’s Design Thinking In Action (DTIA) event in 2018. Each participant will be given a card from the deck and they will be required to draw out what it says. For example, the card I got read: “Draw a planet where people live upside down.” Once everyone is done with their drawings, everyone will get an opportunity to share how that drawing links to their job or personality. You can purchase the deck via Amazon here. Here’s what I came up with:
4. Channel Your Inner Artist 🎨
You will need to form teams of 4–6 participants for this exercise and print outs of some random objects for this. Each team will appoint an artist within their group. The artist will then be separated from the rest of his/her group. The rest of the group will pick out an object from the box and instruct their designated artists to draw it out without revealing what their object is. This may seem really easy but the one-way communication of instructions from teams to their artists have to be rather precise to get the drawing right. The group whose drawing is the closest to the actual item they picked wins the game. This exercise not only improves creative thinking but also improves communication within teams.
1. Collaborative Sketching 👩👩👦👦
Collaborative sketching is one of many ideation techniques in which the universal language of drawing is used to build upon each other’s ideas. Each participant will sketch out an idea related to a central concept or topic you wish to explore further. After this is done, sketches will be passed over to the person on your left and he/she will be given 2 minutes to add onto that idea. This will continue until your own sketch is returned to you. The final sketches will then be reviewed and discussed. Here is a more detailed explanation of the entire process. You could alternatively download the full Design Innovation Guide for more activities and insights here.
2. Concentrate On Quantity 💯
Inspired by Tim Brown’s Ted Talk on Tales of Creativity in Play in 2008, this exercise was created by Bob McKim from the Stanford Design Program. Participants will each be given a piece of paper with 30 empty circles on them and a pen. They will then get 3 minutes to fill up as many circles as they can — the idea here is to focus on quantity, not quality and to prevent yourself from censoring and trying to perfect an idea that is “not adequate”.
3. One + One = One ☝️🏼
Before you start, you’ll need to get print out some random objects here. Each participant will then pick out an object and place it on their heads. Participants will then go around their team and combine their object with someone else’s to come up with a new concept or idea. Here’s an example:
4. SCAMPER 🍰
Scamper is a creative technique used to expand and improve on ideas by testing, questioning and tackling it using different approaches. This process involves 7 steps and forces individuals to approach the problem they are addressing in unexpected ways. Form teams of 5–7 participants each and state the problem your group would like to solve or the idea they would like to further develop on a piece of paper. Let us use an example of a store that sells cupcakes in this case. Listed below are the relevant questions that can be asked in the process:
Using pictures to interpret ideas is the key takeaway from the exercises. Unlike text, sketches are not limited to social signifiers and connotations, they provide a great avenue for discussion as they can be interpreted differently by everyone and lastly, building upon each person’s idea instils a collaborative mindset. The main objective of the above-mentioned exercises is to push out as many ideas as possible by channelling the creative side inside us and giving our creative impulses a chance to flourish. In addition, they also help to provide:
Creativity empowers people to discover new opportunities, come up with original ideas and to be able to adapt to different situations to solve complex problems. As artificial intelligence continues to become a big part of the world we live in today, process jobs are becoming more and more obsolete. With robots taking over jobs that can be repeated, companies and institutions will be looking for candidates who are able to think out of the box, able to innovate with new constraints and lastly, able to quickly adapt to new situations with working environments becoming more and more dynamic.
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