Harness Creativity by Thinking Inside the Box

Four ways of challenging your work team:

Creative ideas are the lifeblood of any young business, so how do you get more of them out of your team? Encourage an adventurous, risk tolerant and playful environment in which employees feel safe to toss out any left-field ideas that occur to them and pursue hunches without fear of ridicule.

Instead of setting your team free of constraints, you should be providing them with better ones, in effect offering them a carefully constructed box to think in. Why keep your employees’ ideas constrained? It simply works better. If asked to develop a new idea from scratch or with limited constraints, the creativity generated is less than if structure is provided.

Of course, if you’re going to lock your esteemed collaborators in a box, it better be a nice one.  The objective with the ‘better box’ is to define a challenge or question that is not overly broad, yet is not too specific. You want to define challenges that are ‘just right.'” Here are four tips on how to strike that balance:

  • Make sure your challenge does not imply a specific solution. For example, when NASA tasked a crowd with creating a “zero-gravity laundry system,” the wording alone precluded other possible cleaning methods—or even self-cleaning clothes.
  • Make sure your challenge does not imply a specific “solver.For example, it was assumed that only oil experts could solve a specific problem associated with the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In the end, a chemist who had solved a similar problem found the solution.
  • Make sure your challenge is not overly abstract or fluffy. For example, the United Kingdom wanted to improve its educational system. With a challenge framed this broadly, the type of solutions could be endless, ranging from teachers and their pay, to schools and the curricula.
  • Make sure you are solving the right challenge. A mouthwash manufacturer, after receiving feedback from customers, set off to create an alcohol-free version. This proved costly and less effective. As it turns out, customers weren’t concerned about the alcohol content; they were opposed to the burning sensation. Creating a non-burning alcohol-containing mouthwash was a lot easier.

Reframing your idea-generating questions slightly could pay big dividends. “To create a better box, consider asking: “Who else has solved a problem like this?”.

 The quality and quantity of solutions will increase significantly, as well as the relevance.

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