These fifteen brainstorming prompts will help you and your team solve problems together.

Most of us don’t invest enough time to develop our core muscles. Organizations, too, tend to have an under-exercised core: the creativity of their people. To strengthen this area of your corporate culture takes a commitment of time and resources, says Carol Kobza.

The results of the IBM CEO study released during May says CEOs want and need creative leaders who can “embrace ambiguity,” “take risks that disrupt legacy business models” and “leapfrog beyond tried-and-true management styles.” Executives surveyed call out creativity as the most important attribute needed in their people. I wonder how many are taking the all-important step of setting aside the resources needed to strengthen their creative muscles.

I have scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and yet I’m prone to believing that I have the Herculean strength to lift a piano. Not surprisingly, I wrenched my back last week. When my new physical therapist asked me, “Have you done Pilates?” I had to reply, “No.” I had talked about doing Pilates for years and actually began to believe that I practiced it. But I had not invested the resources needed to build my core muscles. Now I’m learning how to bend and lift in ways that engage my core muscles that have grown weak from lack of practice.

Resources: One of the elements of an environment that fosters creativity

Organizations have an under-exercised core, too – the creativity of their people. Like Pilates, meditation or other disciplines, we might believe creativity is important. But it takes more than belief. It takes setting aside resources of time and space.

Organizations can begin to strengthen their people’s innate creativity through consistent practice with simple, low-cost methods and tools. Then, when asked for the Herculean effort required to embrace ambiguity, take risks or find totally new ways of managing, their people can call on their creative muscles.

A few examples of how your organization can exercise its creative core:

Develop a creative community

Try creating a network within your organization made up of small groups of people with diverse thinking styles.  One of the best ways to identify and capitalize on creative thinking style is through the use of the Kirton Adaption-Innovation inventory or KAI.  Groups that have diverse viewpoints within them become more effective at solving problems, generating fresh ideas and fostering innovation.  In addition, they increase creative collaboration because individuals learn to understand that those with styles different from their own are not simply to be tolerated but valued for the unique perspectives they bring.

The groups in this community might meet over lunch once a month and be presented with a challenge or problem to solve.  More importantly, they are given time, without a deadline, to let the challenge simmer in their minds until they meet again.

Practice problem finding

Someone who is a problem finder can be seen as negative or not a team player.  However, problem finding can lead to more creativity and innovation.  Charlie Prather of Bottom Line Innovation has a method for problem finding within his Bottom Line Innovation method that he calls “WIBNI.” To find problems, gather your creative community and ask them to complete this question:  “Wouldn’t it be nice if…?”  Once you have gathered many responses, organize them into categories.  What emerges, through expert facilitation, (note: emphasis on expert facilitation)  is a set of great challenges to address.

Develop great questions

Once you have developed a set of great challenges, it is truly an art to translate them into a great question.  A great question is broadly stated enough to help people think big and yet focused enough to guide idea generation.  A great question begins with these words:  “How might we…?”

An example of a question that is too broad:  “How might we plan an effective and entertaining company conference?”  A question that has a bit more grit:  “How might we plan a conference that enables and inspires our people to recite our company strategy to their friends?”

For individuals:

Put your strengths to work

Marcus Buckingham’s research says that four out of five people hate their jobs.  One of the major reasons identified for this is that people are suffering from the tyranny of being good at something.  Just because you’ve become a good, for example, marketing strategist, doesn’t mean that you are using your innate strengths or that you love it.  A strength is an activity that makes you feel strong.  A weakness is an activity that makes you feel weak or bored.  Discover your strengths, use them in your work, and your work will become more satisfying.  It follows that those who are more satisfied in their jobs are more creative.

Avoid cynics

Creativity feeds on hopefulness and positivity.  When coaxing your creativity to emerge, stay away from cynics, who try to look more intelligent by squashing ideas.  If the cynic happens to be you, try turning off what Professor Michael Ray calls the inner voice of judgment or VOJ for one full day. Instead of judging, simply observe and notice how often you need to censor your inner critic.  If you’re dealing with an entire group of cynics, try a tool called PMI.  When discussing options and finding others coming to conclusions too quickly, ask three questions:

  1. What is positive about this idea?
  2. What is negative about this idea?
  3. What is interesting about this idea?

Through my presentation, “We’re Too Busy to Be Creative,” I offer more methods and tools that organizations can use to build their creative core.

Carol Kobza has spent more than two decades fostering creative growth in organizations as diverse as Hallmark Cards, Inc., and the National Endowment for the Arts. At Hallmark she served as art director, innovation team leader, innovation process manager and idea manager, leading teams of executives and staff to develop new products, new brands and growth strategies. She inspires people to be more creative through laughter, learning and finding the inner reserves of creativity they need to make their work meaningful and fulfilling.

Listen to this podcast to find out what roles curiosity and humility play in innovation.