My wife and I have been contemplating what Halloween costume to get for our toddler. More precisely, my wife has been day dreaming of this for over a year since she was disappointed in my costume choice for last Halloween. (For the record, I stand by my idea of going as a family of skeletons).
Although my son is too young to really be interested in a costume, I love seeing how putting on a superhero cape or a crown can easily transport kids to an entirely different reality. It doesn’t even have to be a literal costume piece. When a kid picks up a stick, they become a pirate with a sword, a wizard with a wand, or a witch with a broom. They are incredible at suspending their disbelief and seeing opportunity in everything. If I use a stick to cast an invincibility spell on my nephew, he doesn’t say “That’s a stick, Uncle Josh, so there’s no way you actually cast a real spell.”
We frequently help clients discover a creative or innovative solution to a complex challenge that has been nagging them. To do innovation work, we have to open ourselves up to possibility, just like a kid who sees a wand instead of a stick.
Why is it so much harder for adults to suspend our disbelief and stay open to new possibilities (especially when faced with a challenge)? Why is it often more natural for us to see what is not rather than what could be? My assumption is we lose that ability because, as we mature, we are asked to flex it less and less.
Creativity is just openness to possibility. And it’s a practice. So, how can you practice and flex this skill? Here are 4 steps to flex your creative muscle.
1. Replace your certainty with wonder.
If you find yourself saying declarative sentences in meetings like “Our customers don’t want to…” try replacing the certainty with a little curiosity by starting the sentence with “I wonder….” Even if you think you know the answer, pay attention to how opening up to possibility changes the energy of the room and invites others to create solutions alongside you.
2. Explore seemingly unrelated fields.
We all feel the pressure to read every HBR article that is directly relevant to our work, but it’s also worthwhile to learn about unrelated areas. Learning about topics you aren’t an expert in forces you into a beginner’s mindset and allows you to be truly curious. Plus, you can bring in analogous learnings by identifying cross-industry patterns to enrich your own work.
3. Take an improv class with your team.
Improv is becoming a popular business training tool. It isn’t about being funny but is instead about learning how to say “yes and” to anything your scene partner throws at you. Once you practice this in an improv class, it becomes easier to respond to a co-worker’s idea with a “yes, and can we make sure to…” instead of “I don’t think that will work because…” If you are going to start an innovation project at your company, taking an improv class as a team could be a powerful way to set the tone for the work ahead.
4. Expand your creative toolkit.
Our Designing for Growth book is full of frameworks that will help you break out of those thinking ruts. One tool I love using is Thief and Doctor. With this tool, you don’t look at your direct competitors (though you could). Instead, you look for other situations where people face similar conditions as your customer. For example, when administering medications, nurses need to be completely focused and have no distractions, similar to pilots when landing a plane. So you steal ideas from how cockpits are designed and you doctor them to fit your scenario. This simple tool can help you stretch your thinking beyond your context. Download the Thief and Doctor template here.
So this Halloween (and always for that matter), pay attention to how kids approach creativity and make a goal to do one thing a week from the list above that lets you build your own creative practice. Or better yet, think of your own and leave it in the comments below.