Tips for creative or innovative thinking at work

This isn’t the ideal environment for creative or innovative thinking. Photo: Michael Loke on Flickr 

During some recent presentations on innovation and technology trends, I’ve been asked for day to day advice, techniques and tips for creative or innovative thinking at work.

In summary, creativity or freshness comes from breaking habits, which are often unconscious behaviours – those things we do without even thinking about it. So here are 10 ideas for breaking habits to foster more creative or innovative thinking at work:

1. Meet customer facing staff, e.g. sales, front line support. Carefully listen to their anecdotes. If you don’t usually speak directly to customers, you’ll probably find the stories revealing. I’ve seen CIOs’ jaws drop when listening to customer service staff.

2. Read different publications. Whether it’s news websites, social platforms, newspapers, even the trade press of a different skill (e.g. legal press if you work in IT). You’re seeking different opinions to your usual ones.

3. Have lunch or breakfast with people outside your usual social group. I.e., meet other people in your organisation. If you work in a small office, have lunch with people you don’t usually socialise with.

4. Try technology/ app challenges and ‘games’ with others – e.g. “avoid the big five”. Try not to check your email or use your phone tonight or this coming weekend. Avoiding the big five involves picking one from Facebook (which includes Whatsapp and Instagram), Microsoft, Amazon (which includes Prime video), Google and Apple and not using it for a week. Sounds easy? In the second week don’t use another one. By the fifth week you can’t use any of them – it’s quite hard.

5. Change your transport to work. Usually drive to the station? Try driving part way and walking the last mile or take the bus. And secondly, behave differently on the transport. Instead of reading a newspaper, watch what other people are doing. Look around at the adverts. Look out of the window. You’ll appreciate the time to think.

6. Ask different vendors/ suppliers to present to your department during a lunchtime or a Friday afternoon. Listen to their views and observations of subjects. Most of them will gladly do it for free.

7. Arrange a team meeting after work specifically to create new patents and ideas to solve business issues. Ask your company if there is a reward structure in place for filing patents. At my previous company (Sonera) every person listed on a patent was offered a bonus for writing up a new idea, a higher bonus if the company thought it was worth filing a patent, and a maximum bonus if the patent was filed. We always had these team sessions in the local pub, which simultaneously helped team morale and the company patent pool.

8. Take advantage of travelling. This applies to going abroad or other cities in your own country. Observe how locals use technology in relation to your business. What communication tools do they use? How do they pay? What social networks do they use? What’s the most common phone you see people using?

9. Subject to confidentiality, discuss challenges with people outside of work. You’ll hear whole new creative thinking, and often you’ll hear critical, objective thinking that you don’t hear inside work. I’ve discussed new concepts to my family around the dinner table which sounded amazing in the office earlier in the day, and sounded ludicrous when repeated to the family.

10. Become a challenger. (Warning: you might lose work friends on this one). Play Devil’s advocate in your next meeting. Challenge statements and processes in meetings. “You just quoted x percent – where did you get that from?” “Why do we need to do the next step in the process, how can we do it more quickly?”

Please use the comments field below to let me know if you have any additional tips for creative or innovative thinking.

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