Creative thinking for non-creatives

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Written by Guy Walsh

I’m a huge purveyor of using creative skills in everyday work environments.

Whether you consider yourself to be working in a creative business or not, there is no doubt that you will have to spend some of your workday solving problems and overcoming challenges.

The best leaders know that to get the most out of their teams, their colleagues need to feel engaged and part of the business. But even if you’re a freelancer working on your own, this technique can help you generate an infinite number of ideas for overcoming obstacles.

The technique? Never reject anything.

It’s that simple.

I spent ten years working as a professional actor. I made my living working mainly in immersive and interactive experiences. This meant that I had to have amazing improvisational skills.

The foundation of improv as a performance vehicle is the ability of all the cast members to say “Yes, and…” to any given suggestion. If someone enters the stage and says “Hi Sam”, you have to accept that your name is now Sam. If someone says “This is a lovely living room” you don’t want to say “Actually this is the garage” because this will affect the performance negatively. It will ruin the flow of the scene, the audience will feel disconnected, and this ungenerous act will likely upset your scene partner. In improv, we call this blocking.

So how can we apply this to work environments?

Let’s say you’re in a team meeting that’s been called to try to find a solution to an ongoing issue within the business. Your team are enthused that they’ve been invited and they’ve all come in with lots of ideas.

Ben throws out an idea, but you don’t think it will work. So you quickly shut it down. Dena lays out a four-step plan to increase sales. You don’t like the second step, so you decide that won’t work and tell Dena as such. Lou offers their perspective on the issue, but you think they’ve misunderstood so you tell them their ideas aren’t practical in the current context.

There’s one other person in the meeting. Unbeknownst to you, Rebecca has formulated an almost-flawless plan to plug the hole in the business.

The problem is, Rebecca isn’t going to tell you.

You see, you shut down Ben, Dena and Lou so quickly that Rebecca is now nervous about saying anything. Plus, their plan included a variant of step two from Dena’s plan, which you’ve already made clear won’t work.

Some people said I should have said no to this image. But you never know when someone may want a photo of a sexy Guy holding a gun while wearing a navy cap and firearm.

That’s all very well Guy, but what am I supposed to do? Tell them their ideas are great?

A-ha! Let’s not get caught in a world of duality here. This isn’t a good/bad situation. Also, let’s hold off on that judgment for a while…

Create an environment where suggestions are welcomed and noted. Keep an open mind. See, you never found out what Dena’s steps three and four were – and if you’d given her the opportunity to finish there might have been some gold there.

An easy way to do this in a group situation is to write up all suggestions on a whiteboard.

Once everyone has finished presenting their initial ideas, you can then discuss the pros and cons of each individual suggestion. But here’s the key – you STILL don’t reject any ideas or comments.

Now review the ideas with your desired outcomes in mind. Does one of the elements give you some of the outcomes? Play with that idea for a while. For example, if someone throws out a marketing idea that doesn’t fit within the company ethos, but is proven effective, is there a way to tweak it to make it fit? Can you swap out an element of that plan to make it work?

Maybe the idea is too costly. Can you take a key element of the idea and create an alternative route to the outcome, while staying within budget?

These sorts of questions won’t even present themselves if you shut down ideas and suggestions before you’ve considered them fully.

Remember – keep the flow, keep the engagement, and resist any form of blocking.

But Guy, I’m a freelancer. How am I supposed to do this on my own?

A good question.

The answer is simple: the process remains the same. Put all your ideas down on paper – and this is the important bit – WITHOUT JUDGING THEM. Don’t ever cross anything off. Then work through them one by one.

If you’re struggling to generate enough ideas, you can always use AI to help you.

The principle of “Yes, and…”

Whether you’re doing this on your own or with a team, when you hear a suggestion, think “yes, and…”, and see what else you can add to the idea. Here’s how it might work:

Ben: “I think we should target freelancers aged 35-45.”

You: (in your mind) Yes, and we can find them on social media.

You: (out loud) “Yes, and where can we find them?”

Ben: “On Facebook and Instagram.”

You: (in your mind) Yes, and we can probably create some great content to attract them.

You: (out loud): “Great. Any ideas on how we get their attention in a saturated marketplace?”

Dena: “We can create some useful how-to guides and entertaining videos.”

Rebecca: “Oh, it’s funny that you said that, can I share this plan that I wrote with you?”

And on it goes…

While playing around with camera settings ahead of a shoot, I took this selfie, which I think is the best neutral photo of me that I’ve ever taken. Just dropping the pressure to get something “right” can make a huge difference.

The potential of “Yes, and…”

The beauty of “Yes, and…” is that its potential is limitless. You’ll never run out of ideas, and if you’re working with a team, an additional benefit is that your team will feel fully engaged in your process. 

Generating ideas for a photoshoot

You’ll be unsurprised to hear that this is how I work when we’re generating ideas for your personal branding photoshoot. At our initial meeting, we’ll throw around as many ideas as possible and at our second meeting we’ll find the ones that stick.

There really is no such thing as a bad idea. The more ideas the better. Removing judgment from the seemingly banal, the OTT, and the inappropriate ideas will open doors to a whole world of vibrant, exciting opportunities.

Let’s get you booked in for that shoot.

Book a call with me today.

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