Five Ways to Inspire Creativity at Your Organization

By • November 5, 2012

By Dana Plotke

If you are reading this article, it’s safe to assume that you have some kind of interaction with so-called “right brains.” Maybe you manage a right-brainer or two, or maybe you are one. From the editorial guru to the design genius to the fundraising mastermindthat’s right, I said fundraising (you can’t tell me that getting people to part with their money in the economic climate we’ve seen over the last few years doesn’t require an element of creativity)being creative in today’s work place is both an asset and a necessity.

  • The concept of brainstorm is not new; we just have a lot more ways to do it and the pace of innovation is faster.
  • Successful organizations create a relaxed, inclusive atmosphere for brainstorming—but they do so with context, limits and desired outcomes in mind.
  • Everyone at your organization can come up with great ideas. Smart managers have learned to listen more and talk less.

Creativity is the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc. So, when we’re talking about inspiring this kind of behavior in othersor in ourselves for that matterthere are few key principles worth considering.

1. Brainstorm (or not)

 “When we collaborate, we pull ideas out of the recesses of one-another’s brains,” says Jeanne LaBella, senior vice president of publishing for the American Public Power Association based in Washington, D.C.

Since the concept of brainstorming was first invented by Alex Osborn, one of the founders of BBDO, in the 1940s, the creative process has been changed in many waysof course, I’m talking about technology. Now, individuals can “brainstorm” with Google, generating a plethora of ideas without any real human interaction. For those who still want the human response, a post to Twitter or Facebook can stimulate a dialogue with people from all walks of lifenot just the creative team and colleagues assigned to your project.

I can’t say I was surprised when I read a recent Fast Company blog post calling the brainstorming process B.S. The blog cited numerous research studies and quoted scientists who have found both physiological and psychological reasons brainstorming sessions don’t really work.

As Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, stated in the Fast Company blog post, “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

LaBella reinforces this sentiment. To avoid the group think mentality, “Let the individuals think first, then get them together to brainstorm, ” she says.

2. Listen more, talk less

 When you reach a certain level in your career, it’s easy to feel like you’ve seen and done it allespecially if those around you are just starting out. After all, how could you be an effective director of whatever if you’re not directing others on who/what/when/why and how, right? Wrong. The quickest way to get your staff to come up with more creative ways to accomplish the task at hand: Stop directing and start listening.

Kim Howard, editor-in-chief of the ACC Docket of the Association of Corporate Counsel, takes this simple, straight-forward approach to heart. “I ask them what they really want to dowrite, edit, project manage, etc.and then we focus on their core interests and do our best to build something new into their current job.”

3. Drinks on the house!

No, I’m not endorsing getting your staff intoxicated. But, promoting a relaxed environment that is conducive to team-buildingwhether from sharing a couple of vanilla soy lattes, having lunch brought in once a month; or taking an outing that everyone on your team will enjoyis a good way to get the creative juices flowing and signal that you are committed to the creative process.

4. Provide context and set limits as needed

Believe it or not, sometimes it makes sense to think inside the box. Creative teams need parametersmost of us have real budgets, real time lines and real senior management teams or boards that we report to, so the idea of total creative freedom isn’t practical. Whether you’re working with an internal team or an outside vendor, be sure that you provide the proper context around the project or problem you are trying to solve and hopefully you’ll not only get great ideas, but ones that can be implemented.

5. Reward creativity, remove the risk

“I encourage creativity in my staff by giving them the freedom to do so. All ideas are discussed and considered and many are implemented,” said Howard.

One of the most memorable concepts ever shared with me by a former boss was this: The only people who aren’t making mistakes are the people who aren’t doing any of the work. Since I was at the beginning of my career and part of a newly formed creative services department for a mid-size Fortune 1000 company, there were plenty of both—mistakes and workto go around. We had to test a lot of ideas to know which ones were going to work, but we never could have done so if the fear of retribution was looming over us.

6. Bonus Tip: Give them time

It’s not fair to say to someone, “I want your best, most innovative work … and by the way … I need it tomorrow by 9 a.m.” Yes, we are living in a faster-paced world. Yes, we are expected to multitask more than ever. And although the most creative solution is often a simple solution, I encourage you to give your folks time to figure it out and enjoy the creative process.


Listen, nurture, lead and frame your brainstorming sessions with these tips in hand. Before you know it, you’ll be delighting your members, volunteers and board with your newfound creativity, and having more fun than you thought possible during the collaboration process.

Dana Plotke has worked in B2B marketing and communications for more than 15 years, with a focus on association media and events since 2002. She leads the marketing efforts of Naylor, LLC.

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