As a child, creative thinking seems to come naturally. There’s no fear of being ‘wrong’, no expectation of what we’ll produce and no pressure to produce it – when we create as children, we allow our most authentic selves come to life and with that, our most creative, innovative ideas arrive. The problem is, come some point in adulthood, we lose the ability to ‘create’ freely and organically. We come to questions our ideas, sabotage our progress and eventually, assign ourselves the ‘non-creative’ label. Then, we stunt creative thinking altogether. We forget that creativity isn’t just about using pencils: it’s about generating new ideas that can push our businesses into new territory which is fundamental to the development of both start-ups and established companies alike.
Nicole Velik from The Ideas Bodega has worked with countless brands, from eBay to Foxtel and The United Nations to extract the creative self within. What she’s learned, and what she now passes on to her clients, if that in order to move forward as businesses, we need to be able to access and harness our creativity. Here’s how to do it:
If you had to explain your job to a 5 year-old, what would you say?
In part, my job is to help people become child-like again. As adults, we lose access to that inherent creativity we once had as children that came so naturally. My job is to nurture their neoteny and be a catalyst to get that back (although I wouldn’t use the word catalyst or neoteny with a five year-old!) Basically, I sit around talking about ideas all day.
So can creativity really be taught? Or at least be developed?
It’s important to know that creativity is not limited to the arts. I teach people to become great creative thinkers, innovators and problem solvers.
Your ability to come up with a great idea at work has nothing to do with your ability to paint, draw or play a musical instrument.
Creative thinking is like anything else, the more you do it the better you get but there are processes and techniques that I teach that make it easy for anyone to come up with really incredible, game changing ideas. Anyone can learn and apply these techniques. It’s not reserved for those in the Creative, Marketing, Innovation or Design departments.
What’s the trick?
The trick is to break our familiar thinking patterns. As humans, we want to take the path of least resistance and that often means rehashing old ideas – ideas that worked in the past. If we’re rehashing old ideas, we’ll never come up with anything truly innovative. The more you work in the same job or on the same brand or product, it becomes increasingly difficult to come up with fresh ideas. The techniques I teach literally break those familiar pathways in the brain and send the brain down a totally new pathway. There, we can access new and exciting ideas.
What’s the greatest insight you’ve learnt about people and organisations in seven years of doing this work?
That creativity is between us, not within us. Humans have an amazing ability to be creative together. In fact, that’s where the magic happens. It’s those organisations that encourage cross-pollination between departments, functions and levels that are doing the best. I strongly encourage all my clients to do this. Some ways of collaborating are putting creative briefs out to the whole company, inviting people from outside your team into a brainstorm, or it could be as simple as putting chairs near the kitchen to encourage off-line conversations as that’s where the best ideas usually arise.
What are the best things leaders can do to unleash their employees’ creativity?
The most important thing is to create an environment where people aren’t scared to share their ideas. In a brainstorm for example, leaders need to create a neutral playing field so that everyone feels equal to share ideas even if the creative director is in the room. What I do is tell people to ‘leave their titles at the door’ when they enter the room for a brainstorm.
What I’ve realised is that it’s the small habitual things that happen every week that make a team creative. Leaders need to instill these behaviours. It could be a weekly brainstorm, a weekly inspiration session, watching a TED talk or bringing in an external speaker from another industry to inspire the team creatively.
How can we start doing this, today?
Firstly, often the best ideas come when we question the very basic things about a challenge, product or service. One technique is to divide a page into two columns. On one side, write down all the rules, norms, assumptions, the most basic things that you would never think to challenge. Recently, I was working with MTV on innovating a music festival experience. One rule or norm is that you always pay for a ticket before entering the festival. What if you broke that rule and only paid after for the stages you visited? This is an example of looking at the ‘norms’ of a situation and flipping them on their head.
Secondly, stop looking at your competitors! No wonder it’s a sea of sameness when we walk down a supermarket aisle – everyone is copying everyone else. Rather than looking to your competitors for ideas, look at who else has successfully solved the same challenge that you have. Often we think that our challenges are unique to our industry but they’re not.
Did you know that the packaging for roll-on deodorant was created by looking at a ballpoint pen? Different industries, same challenge. I was running a brainstorm for CIT, a large commercial lender. We actually stole an idea from an online dating site. In fact, every online dating site was using this piece of technology but we were the first to take it into the world of finance. I always say to my clients that when you steal an idea from within your industry, well, that’s just stealing. When you steal an idea from another industry and bring it into your industry for the first time…well, that’s innovation!