Over the past years working with the amazing team at Triggre, I have learned a few valuable lessons on how to foster creativity in a team. Just because your team consists of the best people, doesn’t mean that they will be creative. And while it is absolutely true that some are more creative than others, stimulating creativity will nevertheless make a huge difference.
Define a clear goal
One of the most important things to do when increasing a team’s creative output, is to define a very clear goal. A clear goal doesn’t mean something that is defined in detail. Rather, it provides a guideline for the team to decide what to do. This means that a complete design document with all kinds of technical specifications is not a clear goal in the sense that I am talking about. “Making the world’s most efficient solar panel”, however is.
So a clear goal is a little bit further into the future, allowing for more ways to achieve it and doesn’t define details. Let me give you an example. Our product, Triggre, allows users to make software without technical knowledge. Our goal is to make our Designer as easy as it can be for those users, while still being able to make complex business applications.
This high-level goal has led our R&D team to come up with some fantastic solutions, including ways to prevent users making infinite loops in processes and a fantastically simple way of showing the user where something is wrong in his design.
Stupid ideas are good
The more stupid ideas, the better. This may sound counter-intuitive, but this is absolutely vital. As a team, when you’re trying to find a different way to do something, you need as many ideas you can come up with. Even if it is a blatantly obvious stupid idea, it needs to be shared.
While designing a new concept for our Triggre Designer, we would often brainstorm on some of the challenges. These brainstorms were often full of ideas that we knew wouldn’t work because they directly contradicted some part of our design philosophy. Still we shared those ideas and we would laugh at the funniest of them, all together. So how did that help us?
Well, the nice thing about ideas is that, even though they might not completely satisfy all the aspects you want in a solution. They usually embody a new way of solving the problem, if you have a clearly defined goal. Even if the idea doesn’t solve the problem, having a new perspective, no matter how silly, will trigger other ideas that may very well be the breakthrough you are looking for. So whatever you do, embrace stupid ideas. They’re worth way more than you might think.
Trust is absolutely vital
It takes a lot of guts for someone to share an idea, let alone one that is guaranteed not to be the solution. Especially if they’re not the one who’s in charge. On the one hand, saying you have a silly idea helps, but what’s more important is that someone actually gets to the point where they feel they are allowed to come up with ideas that won’t work in the first place. This requires a very high level of trust.
One of the best books I have ever read on creating a team, is The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams by Patrick Lencioni. It is a must-read for everyone who works in a team, leads a team or aspires to work in or lead a team. Yes, basically everyone, except hermits.
The trust needed ultimately comes back to the goal. Everyone on the team must understand that whatever idea is presented, it is done with the intention of reaching the goal. And that presenting an idea will never place them in a position of ridicule, but instead, the idea is highly valued no matter how wrong it may seem. This is perhaps the most important aspect of getting people to share.
As a leader, this means you never make fun of people’s ideas, never raise your voice because you think an idea is stupid, and definitely never take a shared idea as a personal attack. Because if you do, that sets an example for the rest of the team and trust will fade faster than an ice cream on a hot sunny day.
Kill your own ideas
If you are a team-leader, you will have to set an example. Not only by refraining from the negative, but also by showing the positive. One very good way to do this, is to go first with presenting an idea that won’t completely solve the problem, but gets people thinking. And then killing it, saying “Okay, that will never work. Can anyone else come up with another solution?”.
Do this frequently. Make sure you show your team that it is good to offer any idea, and that any idea can be dismissed, no matter who it came from. Keep doing this until you hit that one idea that simply nails it. You’ll know, because everyone agrees it’s the best way to do it.
Creativity is a process
Any solution is always just a step towards a goal. In one of my first blog posts, A guide from complexity to simplicity, I discuss exactly this attitude. It doesn’t matter if a decision you make turns out to be a step in the wrong direction. Just trace back your steps, and take a different approach.
If you want creativity to succeed, you will have to be open to the process of iterative improvement. That means sometimes you’ll find out something doesn’t work (anymore). Don’t get discouraged. A team that’s built on trust, is creative, and is willing to view everything as a prototype, will ultimately come up with a solution that is far superior to anything you can otherwise come up with.