8 Quick Ways to Unlock Your Creative Potential

Today's customers aren't looking for the same old, same old. Try these practical tricks to spark some creative thinking in your company.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
January 28, 2014

"There is no doubt," says renowned creativity expert Edward de Bono, "that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns." 

A 2012 Adobe study on global creativity shows that eight in 10 Americans believe that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth, yet a full 82 percent feel they're not living up to their creative potential.

One of the reasons for not attempting to be creative—apart from time constraints and the pressure to be productive—is most people's deep-seated fears that they may not have what it takes when it comes to creativity. But creativity is essential for success in any business. Maintaining the status quo only leads to mediocrity.

Guard against becoming stagnant by updating your services, looking for a fresh approach, sprucing up your offerings and continuously looking for novel and improved ways to serve your customers. To stimulate your creativity, here are eight practical exercises, tools and concepts to help you develop and enhance your creative thinking so you can creatively solve problems and come up with new ideas for your business.

Develop a Customer Journey Map

The most fertile ground for creative ideas can be feedback from your own customers. A customer journey map can show you how your customers view you by mapping out all the steps customers go through when they engage with your company. It's an incredible tool that can help you differentiate your service from that of your competitors by helping you understand what your customers' needs are at each of those steps, how well you meet those needs and what you can do to creatively improve. If you need help setting up your own customer journey map, check out this step-by-step guide by BigDoor, a company that helps brands build customer loyalty.

Create a Table of Contents for a Book About Your Problem

Michael Michalko, author of Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, provides a wealth of tools for generating creative ideas to solve problems. One such tool is a table of contents for a book about whatever problem you're trying to solve. It's surprising how quickly this method generates ideas you may not have thought of. You could also try Michalko's Thinkpak, a brainstorming deck of illustrated, idea-stimulating cards.

Use Lateral Thinking Techniques

Lateral thinking, the brain child of de Bono, is a creative-thinking process that looks at challenges from entirely different angles, as opposed to the conventional, more linear or logical approach. One such method, outlined in de Bono's book, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, is the "random word technique." This idea-generating tool involves choosing any random noun and coming up with as many associations that that word conjures up, then brainstorming any ideas that each association sparks for solving your problem.

For example, you might want to innovate the products you offer at your bakery. The random word you chose is "eraser." What associations come to mind when you think of the word "eraser?" You might think "pencil." What ideas does a pencil give you for innovating your baking products? How about creating small baked goods in the shape of colorful pencils and selling them in a package of 12? Your slogan could be "A healthier pencil to chew on." This might generate further ideas for introducing a line of baked goods that would appeal to children.

You can do the random word activity on your own or in a team to quickly generate many ideas. Give it a try. You'll be amazed at how effective this tool is in sparking new ideas.

Set Up a Google Alert

Set up a Google Alert for a problem you're trying to solve or for inspiring creative ideas in an area that's of interest to you. Collect as many ideas as you can. It's quite likely that your problem isn't new and others have found creative ways to solve it. Even if the exact answer isn't there, you'll derive inspiration from the many entries that are related to your problem.

Draw a Fishbone

"When you're stumped," says Keith Sawyer, author of Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, it may be because you haven't identified the true cause of the problem." The "fishbone” technique he created—so-called because the finished diagram looks like a fish skeleton—helps you determine all the possible causes of your problem.

You start by writing your problem on the right side of a piece of paper. Draw a circle around it—that will be the fish's head. Then draw a straight line from the circle to the left, and draw “bone” lines above and below this central line at 45-degree angles. On each of the bones, write one possible cause of the problem.

Use the IDEO Method Cards

IDEO, an innovative design company, created a pack of 51 cards representing diverse ways design teams can understand the users they're designing for. The cards showcase different design methods and explain how and when the methods are best used and how they can be applied to real design projects.

Even if your business isn't design-related, you can derive inspiration from these cards. As IDEO states, its cards are relevant to groups that aren't engaged in design. The tool can effectively help you explore new methods to problem-solving, gain different perspectives and inspire your team to be creative and try new approaches. The cards are also available as an app.

Use the Reframing Matrix Technique

The Reframing Matrix tool was created by Michael Morgan, CEO at Herrmann International Asia, and discussed in his book, Creating Workforce Innovation. The tool helps you look at business problems from a variety of perspectives that can yield a greater range of creative answers. The tool is based on the premise that different people, with different experiences, view issues from different angles. To use the tool, create a simple, four-square grid. In the middle of the grid, write down the problem you want to solve. You then have two ways to use the tool. The first is to use the "4 Ps" approach to look at your problem from the following viewpoints: product, planning, potential and people.

The second way to use the tool is to look at how other professionals or specialists would approach your problem. For instance, a medical doctor would look at it with a different set of eyes than an engineer; a sales manager would view it differently from a gardener. Use your imagination to see what different specialists would look at—wearing a different hat will force you to expand your thinking. A full illustration of this technique can be found at Mind Tools.

Establish a System to Collect Ideas

Ideas can pop into your mind at any time, but if you don't have a way to capture them, you'll most likely forget them. One of the most effective things you can do to be more creative is to start an idea journal. It doesn't need to be elaborate. Just carry a small memo book such as Field Notes with you wherever you go. The material you collect in it will be your inspiration for new, creative ideas.

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

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Photo: Thinkstock

President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.