QUICK QUIZ: Which assignment do you think a creative person would like more:
- Write a story about anything.
- Write a story about a duck.
If you’re like most people (which, of course, you’re not-you’re better), you said Assignment 1. It’s obvious, isn’t it? I mean, creativity is all about freedom, no restraints, “Don’t box me in, man!” Right?
The surprising, non-intuitive truth is that the vast majority of creative people would prefer Assignment 2: Write a story about a duck.
Now, why is this? And what does it have to do with you?
The reason is that creative people like to have a focus for their creativity. If you ask them to write a story about anything, their creative minds will flutter around to and fro, like a butterfly looking for someplace to land. But if you ask them to write a story about a duck-ahh! Now they have something they can sink their teeth into! Even better if you ask them to write a story about a left-handed duck.
The only mistake would be if you told them what story to write, how to write it, or, worst of all, if you wrote it for them. Any of those will kill their creative drive.
And that’s where you come in.
If you want your team to come up with creative ideas (and you do want your team to come up with creative ideas; more about that later), give them a focus for those ideas. Let’s look at two assignments that you might give your team:
- How can we make more money?
- How can we get 30-year-olds to buy more red wheelbarrows from our website?
You will probably get more ideas from Assignment 2. And those ideas will probably be better and more creative. Anything involving energy is more powerful when it’s focused (think of a flashlight vs. a laser), and creativity involves energy.
As a leader, you want your team to be creative-no matter what kind of team you lead. Creativity is largely about finding better ways to do things, and if that’s not of interest to you, then-let’s just say it-you’re a pretty crappy leader. But of course you’re not a crappy leader, are you?
So the next time you need creative ideas from your team, put some limitations-some restrictions-into your request.
- How could we do this in 2 weeks or less?
- How could we do this for under $100?
- How could we do this if rubber bands had to be involved?
If you have actual restrictions, then use them. If not, make something up. Because the simple act of creating a restriction will force your team to think more creatively. And when your team is thinking creatively, then the next idea could be the idea. Or the idea that leads to the idea.
Bottom line: If you want your team to think out of the box, make the box smaller.