Feeling Stuck? Try these 5 Techniques to Spark Creativity

August 12, 2019

tips for creativity

Creativity is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s essential to thrive in today’s workplace. In fact, it’s the most in-demand soft skill in the world right now according LinkedIn Economic Graph Data.

Why? In the face of increased automation, there’s no shortage of machines crunching numbers. What organizations need is the unique value that only humans can provide: the creativity to solve the challenges revealed by those numbers. There’s no better investment you can make today than strengthening your creative skills

Innovation leader and bestselling author Lisa Bodell knows this well, having coached people at Citibank, Novartis, and HBO to tap into their creativity “on demand.” In her course, “Unlock Your Team’s Creativity,” she shares her insider knowledge with accessible strategies to help you and your teams spark that next disruptive idea.

Here are five techniques to start using today:

1. Shake up your setting

Stuck in a rut? Shake it up. 

“A predictable routine is the enemy of innovative thinking,” explains Bodol. And according to a  recent Fast Company article, routines limit the brain’s ability to build skills and knowledge. Whether you’re facing writer’s block on your own, or trying to spark more inspired collaboration in a meeting,  Bodol recommends forgoing your usual routine in favor of a new environment, like this:

  • Change the location — look beyond the walls of the usual conference room and meet at a favorite cafe, or get yourself outside for some fresh air... and fresh ideas!

  • Change the props — push the chairs aside and conduct a meeting while everyone is standing up; or queue music for yourself or team, using new tunes to set a new tone.

  • Change the agenda — keep people engaged with the surprise factor, like kicking off the meeting with an unexpected icebreaker, even if everyone knows each other.

  • Change the players — instead of the usual suspects, invite a surprise guest to the meeting who can contribute new knowledge and experience to the task or challenge at hand.  

2. Try a ‘forced connections’ exercise

When brainstorms stall, and post-lunch lethargy sets in, give “forced connections” a try. The equivalent of a caffeine boost for a tired collaboration, this technique guides people to engage with a creative mindset. 

Start by writing the team’s brainstorming goal on the whiteboard or, if you’re doing this on your own, in a notebook — ‘improve the features of Product X,’ for instance — suggests Bodol. Then switch gears by shifting focus to describe an object in the room, like a Hydro Flask water bottle — it’s “durable,” “sleek,” “portable.”  

Now you’re ready to force the connections with an open-ended question: How can you improve features of Product X to make it more durable, sleek, portable? Portability may lead you to think about mobility, which then prompts ideas for geolocation.  

What may seem rigid at first is actually a playful exercise that will inject fresh thinking when the brain just isn’t storming.

3. Ask killer questions

When we focus only on finding answers, we often bypass a critical step: making sure to ask the right questions. By asking uncomfortable questions without easy answers, we’re more likely to spur a thoughtful response, and in turn, action.

So what is a ‘killer question’? It’s open-ended, provocative, and takes a positive or negative stance on an issue. For example: 'What do you hate about the current approach?' will lead to far more interesting conversation than 'What can we improve in the current approach our product marketing?'

As Bodol puts it, asking provocative questions will help you pinpoint the most pressing issues and hone in on ways to unlock creativity in the challenge you face. You can even turn the technique on yourself to problem solve your own career path!

4. ReThink reality

It’s not always easy to tap into your imagination at work. So to “see beyond what is and imagine what could be,” Bodol recommends using a technique called “ReThink.” 

Simply choose an everyday object, like a paperclip, and get ready to reimagine it. Forget everything you know about that object, then rename it, and give it a brand new backstory. Maybe the paperclip is a zipper pull that can be manufactured on children’s jackets?

It’s not about landing on the perfect idea; it’s about shifting your mindset from a known reality to imaginary play. Once you’ve warmed up with a few different objects, repeat the technique with an existing product — you’ll be surprised where it leads you!

Case in point: one pharmaceutical company found new potential in their glaucoma eye drops, repackaging them as a cosmetic to stimulate growth in eyelashes and eyebrows.

5. Shift the impossible to possible

Working in a negative environment? Too many cynics at the table? When innovation stalls, the “impossible to possible” technique can save the day. 

To help you think constructively about solving an important issue, choose one of three categories of impossibilities: 

  • Industry — What things will never happen in our industry?

  • Customer — What would customers say we never do?

  • Organizational — What cultural things would never happen in our company?

This is a great icebreaker for a group meeting or when you’re feeling stuck. You can break into two groups, list every single impossibility you can think of, then switch lists, and turn your colleagues’ impossibles into possibles. 

Or tackle it solo, acting as your own negative thinking editor to come up with creative solutions. 

Think critically about how to solve each one: Where would you start? What resources do you need? Share your solutions, then decide which ones should be acted on. 

Bodol knows that inviting other perspectives — even if it’s challenging yourself to think differently — can shatter norms and lift morale. After all, “detailing what can’t happen creates a path to discovering what can,” she says.

Like all skills, the more you’re willing to work at improving your creativity, the better you’ll get.

Like these techniques? Lisa Bodell’s Unlock Your Team’s Creativity course features short, actionable videos to help you tap into your most creative self. 

Some other LinkedIn Learning courses you might be interested in are: