How to unleash creative thinking in your business

Group of coworkers taking part in thinking exercise during meeting

Article by Chris Thomason, Author of ‘Freaky Thinking; Thinking that delivers a dazzling difference

All businesses, even small and not particularly sexy ones, require creative spikes from time to time – perhaps in sales, rebranding, or even maintaining staff morale.

But creative thinking is rarely easy to generate. You have to make it happen. And to make it happen consistently, you need a process that is easily adopted and can be repeated at will. The Freaky Thinking process is the first fresh approach to business thinking in the last 70 years and is based on neurological research and the way employees think naturally.

You may believe the most important part of a thinking exercise is creating ideas which become the answers to your question. But finding the right question initially is far more important; how much use are brilliant answers to the wrong questions? Here are five steps to follow:

  1. Define the Killer Question

You know you have found your Killer Question when it inspires you and when you recognise that answering it well will produce significant benefits for your organisation, your team, or yourself. A Killer Question ignites genuine curiosity and personal interest in finding great answers. When you reach this point, write down the question in its original form – do not attempt to modify it or you could end up trying to find answers to something else. Just keeping the question in your head can result in drifting away from what fired up your passion for finding answers.

You should also check it with your colleagues to get their input, and if you are not the ultimate decision maker, obtain support from your superior before you start. This will be validation for you that you are asking a great Killer Question that others may want to support you on.

  1. Deconstruct the Killer Question

Your Killer Question might be too unwieldy to answer effectively as a single entity. You can resolve this situation by creatively breaking it down into four to ten sub-questions, and then answering these individually.

Regarding the scope and scale of your thinking, it is enticing to want to target everybody (or everything) with a massive change. But most large organisations rarely want a dramatic, radical change – that is often viewed as being too risky. Usually, big things start off small as a way of gauging success.

To deconstruct your Killer Question, think about who and/or what will be affected, and consider the impact level. Will just a few people be involved in the changes, or will it be most staff? Is the scale of the change modest or sizeable – how radical are the changes?

It is often helpful to break down your Killer Question by looking at extremes: a modest change as a way of gauging the impact of much larger changes; or a radical shift likely to disrupt initially and bring huge rewards later.  Then consider options occupying the middle ground and also look at combinations.

  1. Unleash your creativity

Inspiration is not guaranteed, no matter how many baths you run. For creativity to happen, your imagination needs a workout. There has to be some effort.

One route to inspiration is to take current ideas and look for fresh combinations. An original idea could be hiding somewhere in the mix, or the originality can be found in the combinations themselves.

Another route is to increase your pool of knowledge by recruiting Pathfinders.

Your Killer Question may be new to you—and it may be new to your organisation—but is it new to the world? Is this the first time that this question has ever been asked in the history of humanity? Probably not. And if this question has been asked before, then it has likely been answered before. So, the answers to your Killer Questions already exist, you’ve just got to uncover them. This is where Pathfinders can help you.

Pathfinders are individuals who can indirectly help you address your question. They may not have the specific answer, but they show you a path you can take based on their knowledge and experience that may lead you toward a useful solution to your Killer Question. Often, they may not completely understand your question or the issue that it relates to, so you have to explain it differently to them. You must abstract it so they can understand it more easily. The farther away they are from you and your immediate team, the more you must abstract it to help them.

  1. Select the best ideas

You may have heard of ‘quick-wins’, but this term can sometimes seem a little derogatory. These small, early-win ideas can often be of more value than bigger ideas.

Win-Quicklies are ideas that can be implemented speedily as proof points for some part of your Killer Question’s final solution. And every organisation likes to see a win quickly to prove that something much larger is feasible. They help minimise risk for the team implementing it, and they help you (as the conceiver of the idea) to see your results sooner. Potentially, you would like to see several Win-Quicklies going live rather than one bigger, slower-moving project.

You assess your Win-Quickly ideas for their effectiveness to prove something and how easy the idea is to deliver. The ideas that rate high on both these measures are the ones you want to progress, whereas ideas that rate low on these measures should be avoided.

  1. Boost into great concepts

You may think that offering a complete and packaged solution to a Killer Question will see you being hailed as a hero by the key stakeholder you are sharing it with. But that is rarely the case. A senior person is likely to have more knowledge than you of activities underway in your organisation that your proposal needs to align with. So be flexible. Sell your concepts as adaptable solutions they can support, shape, and benefit from.

Enter the process accepting that your contributions may be adapted and take pride in the fact that what you came up with formed foundations for the ultimate solution.

About the author

Chris ThomasonChris Thomason is the founder of Ingenious Growth which helps organisations change their thinking to boost innovation, productivity, profits and most importantly, staff satisfaction. After buying a failing manufacturing company and turning it into one of the largest in its sector, Chris now teaches the innovative ways of thinking that lead to his business success. Chris is author of eight business books including The Idea Generator, Freaky Thinking, and Excellence in Freaky Thinking. Chris’s clients include UPS, Canon, O2, Vodafone, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Touchnote, Lloyds Bank, Toyota, HSBC, Scottish Widows, South African Airways, American Express, and many more.