At Øredev, the IT software developers conference in Malmo, Sweden, earlier this year, Denise Jacobs spoke about bringing more creativity into the workplace and how to ‘get‘ creative. Project management can be a rather rigid discipline, but it doesn’t have to be. You can bring creativity to work, and tap into the ideas that you have and those of your team. Here are two of her ideas for working with others to boost your own creativity.
Collective ideation is a fancy title for bouncing ideas off other people. Denise recommended incubating your ideas, as ideas aren’t really an ‘ah ha’ moment. Instead, they tend to bubble up to the surface and they build up over time. Ideas need networks to ‘brew’ properly and they come from a variety of sources. Denise suggested avoiding sameness – at work this could mean putting together diverse project teams. “It’s so much easier to be around people who think like you,” she said. But that isn’t the way that ideas become real. “Hang out in diverse environments as that’s really helpful.”
Invite other people to wander, and wonder, with you – lunch and learn sessions on project techniques or risk mitigation options are one way to do this. If you are in a more intellectually diverse environment it is easier to have ideas and build on ideas.
She also recommended sharing your mistakes with others. As project managers we should all be doing this anyway through post-implementation reviews and project retrospectives. But chatting about mistakes, rather than reviewing them formally, can be another useful way to get ideas of how to do things differently.
“Give hunches time to develop into something else,” she said. “Co-work to collaborate; co-working helps ideas process a lot.” Pair programming or pair testing in an agile project environment is one example of co-working, although you could adopt the same techniques with any project management approach.
One exercise she invited us to try was ‘Yes, and’. When someone has an idea, say, ‘Yes, and…’ instead of ‘Yes, but…’ “See if you can add to the idea and do something even better,” Denise said.
While a lot of what she suggested would work best in an unstructured way, you can put some structure around it if that makes you feel more comfortable. For example, you can capture ‘Yes, and…’ ideas in Seavus DropMind or another mind-mapping tool.
Learn. Teach. Master
Denise went on during her presentation to say that we are always learning. She talked about being able to learn from children because they are naturally creative and able to put different ideas together in ways that seem natural to them although they may never occur to us as our brains would automatically program out any ideas that seem illogical, to the point where we wouldn’t even mention them, or think of them.
She took that example of children being teachers of creativity into something concrete we can all do: teach what you know. “Don’t let your fear of not knowing enough keep you from sharing it.” This fear can strike in the form of Imposter Syndrome and if you can overcome it you can be a really great teacher. And we all have something to share: our project management experience. Even the most junior project manager has learned something of value on his or her latest project.
Teaching can be done in a number of settings, for example through lunch and learn sessions. These don’t take much commitment and you can easily prepare something on a single topic that lasts about 30 minutes. Then invite comments and thoughts from your audience. Facilitate a discussion, and learn from what people have to say – they may build on your own thoughts and share experiences of their own.
If you can, volunteer to be a mentor. That is a more ongoing commitment but it can be very rewarding for both the mentor and mentee. It’s a more sustained form of informal teaching – sharing your skills, network and experience over a period of time. You could even say that this is actually quite a formal arrangement, especially if you have a mentoring contract in place or a formal scheme run by your company.
Another easy option is just to offer people help: when you hear someone ask about how to use that feature in Microsoft Excel or DropMind, get up and show them. Don’t wait for someone else to share their skills when you can share yours.
“Through learning and teaching you’ll reach mastery,” Denise said. “Inspiration favours the creatively disciplined mind.”