Project management changes the world. That's one of the most appealing aspects of the field. You could be designing a sports stadium, a satellite or an application. All of these projects change the world.
There's just one problem. When you face major challenges, you may get stuck. You may think that success is impossible given your resources.
Creativity is the solution. Creativity is a skill and practice that can be honed and developed over time.
If your project team struggles to produce creative ideas, don't worry. You simply need some creativity tips and exercises. Think of these practices as the mental warm-up to use before you start an intensive brainstorming session.
In reviewing these creativity tips, look for one idea that you can implement this week. One implemented creative idea is more valuable than five ideas that you read about. Let's get started. Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. - Edward de Bono
1) The Alternative Uses Test
This classic exercise is perfect for project teams. In the alternative uses test, you consider an object and have to list all of the alternative uses for that object. In the context of a project team, I suggest setting a time limit of 10-15 minutes for this exercise. For example, consider a pen. It is much more than a writing instrument. Consider these alternative uses for a pen.
- a straw
- a stapler jam repair device
- package opening tool
- a fashion accessory
- a gift
2) Share a magazine outside of your comfort zone
I first learned about this exercise from Daniel Pink's book 'A Whole New Mind.” Creativity is shaped by the information we absorb. Next time you visit the book shop, look for a completely an unfamiliar magazine. If you're in the financial industry, look for a magazine about franchises, home decoration or creative writing. I implemented this exercise for myself today. I had a great time browsing Scientific American Mind and the Intelligent Optimist. One lesson (or rather a reminder) from this reading is that some stress is good - it can lead to growth and development. In your next team meeting, share one article that prompted new ideas or share an inspiring example.
3) Watch a TED talk together
TED talks are some of the best short presentations available on the Internet. Best of all, they are free and provide plenty of good ideas. For creativity and leadership, I suggest investigating one of these presentations.
- How Schools Kill Creativity by Sir Ken Robinson. If you've ever felt that your creativity has been stifled, Robinson shows that you're not alone. You may even be inspired to dance!
- The Tribes We Lead by Seth Godin. The challenge of leading and bringing together people is very relevant to the project management community.
- Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson. I read Johnson's book on this topic a few years ago and found it fantastic. His premise is that innovation and creative ideas emerge from an organic, gradual process. 'Eureka” moments are only part of creativity. For history buffs, I recommend reading the book for more examples and in-depth discussion.
Choose one of these presentations and watch it over a lunch and learn session. Some members of your team may be inspired immediately. Others may take longer to absorb the ideas. I suggest presenting one of these presentations to your project team and then following up a week alter with your own thoughts.
4) Go for lunch on Friday
Sharing ideas is difficult. All it takes is one hostile reaction to make you think twice about sharing a new idea or approach on your project. Taking time to build business relationships is important. Increasing the level of trust on your project team will make team members feel more comfortable about contributing. To get the most out of this recommendation, follow these three points. The final point is especially important.
- Leave the office. A physical change of environment makes a difference.
- Go somewhere completely new. View this lunch as an opportunity to explore your city. Who knows you may discover a great place. Taking the initiative to suggest a new restaurant is one way to stimulate your creativity.
- Avoid bringing up work topics. For an hour, avoid talking about your projects, deadlines and other work activities. You can talk about your upcoming vacation plans (I often find that is a great conversation starter). I also like to share my impression of books and movies I've recently experienced.
5) Experiment With Unconventional Productivity Tools
New tools and ways of working are another way to spark creativity. If you use Outlook, Word, Excel, Access and other productivity tools all day, changing your tools helps. Here are two new tools you can use to spark new ideas.
A mind mapping application lets you make notes and arrange them visually. I find it an exceptional way to identify new connections. Mind maps have application beyond project management. You can improve learning with mindmaps.
To get started with mind mapping, try out iMindQ.
I love using Moleskine notebooks and vary one around with me almost all the time. When you have a notebook on hand, you can record ideas easily. This week, I had a few ideas while going for run. Thankfully, I had my notebook in my gym bag so I could capture the ideas.
6) Work alone (and apart from the project team) for an afternoon.
In 2012, the New York Times reported on a study investigating the productivity of programmers. Privacy played a key role. As Susan Cain reports in The Rise of the New Groupthink:
'It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. Sixty-two percent of the best performers said their workspace was sufficiently private compared with only 19 percent of the worst performers. Seventy-six percent of the worst programmers but only 38 percent of the best said that they were often interrupted needlessly.'
It's important to recognize that you need some time alone to generate new ideas. I find the effort of tuning out conversation and background noise in an open concept offices slowly erodes my mental effort. Increased creativity and better productivity are two excellent reasons to adopt work from home days at your organization.