Breaking Through the Corporate Creative Barrier

By Judy Carter

When your boss asks you to make a report more creative, do you panic? When you ask your staff to come up with innovative solutions, do they just give you the same old, same old? Do you wonder why your assistant can’t seem to make up a more creative excuse as to why you didn’t make it to a meeting?

If you are wondering where all the new ideas have gone, you’re not alone. Many workplaces are a dry well when it comes to inspiring creativity. Companies may claim that they promote creativity and want their employees to “think outside the box,” but most corporate cultures crush originality. They want their staff to obey procedures, conform to the dress code and stay as late as it takes to get two people’s work done and then wonder why their employees aren’t budding Warren Buffets or Steven Spielbergs.

Corporate America desperately needs imaginative ideas in all aspects of business to create the original new products and services that make consumers (and keep the shareholders) happy. Novel approaches in customer service can turn an irate customer into a loyal one. Inventive ways to do something as simple as answering the phone can turn a first-time caller into a long-term client. A laugh-out-loud presentation can turn a lackluster sales team into a fired up sales force.

Unfortunately, more often than not, most workers leave their creative thinking behind as soon as they close their front door. The majority of people simply don’t have the time to even consider developing an “artsy self,” with all their looming deadlines, bursting in-boxes, and unanswered emails to deal with. For most of these harried souls, putting a “smiley” at the end of a text message is the closest they can come to creative. Now, that’s original!

So, if you are wondering why you can’t “think outside of the box,” it’s probably because your boss has you sealed inside of it.   The question is:  How do you break out of that box…without losing your job?    

For most people, there is a bridge that needs to be built from the business mind to the creative mind. Here are five tips that can assist anyone in getting, and keeping, the creativity flowing:

1. Arrange at least 30 minutes of quiet time a day: Your creative mind has probably been telling you some great ideas, but you can’t hear them through the cacophony of noise that surrounds you:  demanding boss, screaming kids, and the blare of TV, iPods, and cell phones.   With so much information constantly flowing in, it’s no wonder people have a hard time getting their ideas out. With all these elements demanding a piece of our “brain real estate,” it is up to us to find the time and place where we can shut out all noise and get in touch with what’s going on within us. The seed of an idea needs a quiet place to germinate and grow, to be fertilized by all new the information you’re receiving. Take a 30-minute walk alone, without your iPod, without your Treo, just by yourself.

2. Don’t sit down - get physical: Your boss wants you to write a presentation. You sit down to write it and type gobbly-gook into your laptop. Where do you find the quick turns of phrases that will wow your audience? How do you come up with the new ideas that will astonish a client? Do what the pros do - throw a ball. Sitting down in front of a computer can really stifle creativity. Studies have found that repetitive motion helps access the creative mind. Singer-songwriter Paul Simon writes lyrics by throwing a ball against a wall and talking out loud. If you feel weird talking out loud while playing with your yo-yo or taking a walk, put on your cell phone headset, so your family won’t think you’ve gone bonkers.

3. Capture Your Ideas When They Happen: Write down your ideas when they happen. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll remember that fabulous idea you came up with on your way to the bathroom - you won’t. So many of the students in my comedy workshops watch sitcoms and say “I had that idea for a sitcom!”  Yeah, but the guy earning the big bucks is the one who wrote it down. If you don’t like writing, carry a digital recorder with you. I remember having dinner one night with the late, great comedy genius, Steve Allen. Throughout dinner he got out his cassette recorder at least eight times to capture an idea.

4. Reality Check Your Ideas: Just because you think your ideas are stupid, doesn’t mean that they are. If you are normal you probably have a critic meaner than American Idol’s Simon Cowell in your head denigrating your ideas. “You call this an idea? Idiot!”  Critic attacks kill creativity. We might all still be sitting in the dark if Ben Franklin had thought, “You fool, grown man don’t play with kites.”  Your critic wants to keep you safe by protecting you from the unknown. Creativity takes you to uncharted waters. So of course it gets scary. “Alert, alert, new idea coming in. Prepare to shoot it down.”  Recognize your critic for what it is, thank it for sharing and then move on.

Sometimes a seemingly stupid idea can lead to a brilliant innovation. Before disregarding an idea, get a reality check by sharing it with a trustworthy person.

5. Schedule creativity into your day: We all make time for paying our bills, doing errands, even for watching “Desperate Housewives,” but how about scheduling creative sessions into your day? If you are a manager, schedule weekly brainstorming meetings.   Schedule your own personal creative sessions into your Palm Pilot. Studies show that early morning is the best time for creativity because you are still on the edges of your unconscious mind. Keep a pad of paper by your bed and write for fifteen minutes before you get out of bed. Try this for a week. Don’t worry about spelling, or grammar. If you are really stuck, try writing with your other hand. Pay attention to your morning thoughts and you just might find that hysterical opening for a speech, a novel solution to a problem, or a new idea for a movie.

Read other articles and learn more about Judy Carter.

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