How do you inspire people to open their minds in a way that unlocks the creativity within your organization and achieves the best results? Let me share a story about how a former colleague in the advertising industry attained legendary status for his ability to unlock creativity (and have a great time in the process).
His goal was to change the way products were marketed in his client’s business. He wanted his team to think in entirely fresh ways about their jobs and change the way their product was viewed. To that end, he took the whole creative and account team to Las Vegas.
He told them almost nothing about the trip. The team arrived in Vegas, and for three days, he told his team, there was nothing on the agenda other than having fun. So they went out eating, drinking, gambling, clubbing.
On day four, he gathered the group and told them, “We need to change the way products are marketed in this industry. We need to be creative, different, unique. We need to appeal to our client’s core young male audience — and they play lots of video games.”
While he was speaking, video game systems were being installed in team members’ rooms. For the next three days, he instructed, their job was to play video games. They were supposed to think about the whole experience of playing a game, including the graphics, the sounds, and the characters that appealed to the target audience. He wanted them to consider how game designers presented content, how they manipulated the look and feel of the product for the customer. He asked them to pay attention to the scoreboards, sound effects, and every other little trick the game designers had devised. Most of all, he wanted his team to think about how his client could build upon video game innovations to make their real-life products win over a new generation of customers.
After three glorious days in the sun, his team wasted no time in unleashing their creativity and changing the way people used their client’s products. In short, they came up with a unique look that separated them from everyone else in the industry.
Could his team have accomplished the same results playing games back in their New York offices? I doubt it. By taking his team to Las Vegas, he shifted them from work mode to play mode. He put people together who normally did not have much time to interact in a social setting. The days of partying in Las Vegas brought them closer, building camaraderie and a sense of teamwork. Two guys in a hotel room playing a video game see their jobs differently than they would if seated in adjacent offices at their computers.
I’m not saying you need to take your team to Vegas (or anywhere else) for six days. But to foster creative teamwork, you need to find a way to get them out of the office mindset and break down their natural resistance. You need to tap the genius within each of them on a regular basis. Being creative applies to all aspects of your business, from building something cool to breaking down barriers when trying to sell your product.
You can tap your employees’ creativity by following these recommendations:
Get groups together.
When you’re launching a new business or product, team members are busy. All of them have their heads down, focused on what they’re responsible for. Most of their time is spent working with other people in their department. The creative and technical people don’t get much time to interact. There are ways to change that.
At Xoom, we had pizza and beer at 3 p.m. every Friday. People from different groups got to interact in a social environment. As the company grew, those Friday afternoons offered an opportunity to meet new team members, and together we evolved a shared vision of the company. Even if people with different responsibilities looked at the company in different ways, over beer and pizza, we came up with some of our most creative — and collaborative — ideas.
Get out regularly.
Do something outside the office at least once a quarter. The activity doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant. You might schedule a happy hour, miniature golf, or go-cart racing. Whatever it is, getting people to engage in a new setting can build relationships and inspire creativity. By gettingyour employees out of their comfort zones and getting them to interact with one another can open their eyes to new possibilities.
Declare that for a few hours every month, no one’s allowed to use their computer or smartphone. In place of screens, issue every employee a notebook and ask them to spend the time writing, sketching, and diagramming their thoughts and ideas on how to improve and innovate the business. The novelty of putting pen to paper will force them to think in a different way. After the exercise, encourage them to tear pages out of their notebooks and post them on a brainstorming wall.
You win some, you lose some. But people need to be encouraged to take risks and be creative. They need to know that even if something doesn’t work, these experiences are all a valuable part of growing a business. One way to do this is to encourage your team to experiment with side projects. Many of these will fail, but odds are one of them may turn into your next big idea. And if they try something that doesn’t work, there’s no concern that it will put the entire operation — or the person’s job — at risk.
If something doesn’t work, still celebrate that your team took a shot.
People who are the most successful and creative are the ones who take risks. They try, they fail, and they learn from their mistakes. Create a culture where taking a shot at something new is celebrated, as long as something is learned.