15 Principles That Will Help You Be More Creative At Work

From my 12 years of experience as a creative process facilitator with hundreds of individuals and organizations, I have gained the following lessons and insights. To do so calls for a shift in mindset, set of tools, and "container creation" compared to the work involved in facilitating analytical processes. Here are just a few of the many helpful guidelines and techniques I've picked up throughout the years.

Facilitating Innovation and Maintaining Workplace Dynamism

1. Create a plan and live it. Clearly define your goals, both professionally (by leaving with a Strategic Plan) and personally. Human creativity is an inherently organic process that is charged with feeling. In fact, the more the inspiration and enthusiasm, the more substantial and consistent the resulting creative output. Facilitation comes from a deeper place of meaning when it is done with the intention of encouraging the development, innovation, and self-awareness of the people being served. Thinking about the service you are delivering - the gift you are offering - both in the planning stages of the program and in the room as you facilitate will help you be more creative in your support of that service. The ability to think creatively is stunted by hyper-focus on the task at hand. Sincere emphasis on what is yours to GIVE (rather than how you come across doing it) makes your participants more open to exploring new things with you, whether consciously or unconsciously. Some "yes, ands" are added to tried and true methods in creative facilitation.

2. Pay attention not just to events but also to awareness. By emphasizing the role of consciousness, its transformative potential is unlocked. The debriefing process is an integral aspect of any effective facilitation. It connects the past with the future by bringing together the lessons learned. Debriefing the creative process requires attention to both the internal and external activity of the participants. This leads to introspection, which in turn increases the likelihood of participants maintaining their level of creativity and collaborative spirit long after the workshop, program, or process has concluded. Participants' ability to navigate and grow their creativity beyond the workshop setting depends on their level of self-awareness in regards to what emerges within them while they create.

3. Recognize the natural reluctance to try anything new. An essential characteristic of the creative procedure is resistance. When it is permitted to impede progress, however, it becomes unhealthy. (by overemphasizing it and spending too much time engaging it, or by not acknowledging it all and trying to barrel past it). You should expect pushback. It's common for people to avoid discussing unfamiliar topics out of nervousness about venturing into uncharted terrain, and this avoidance can take many forms, including deflection, sarcasm, distraction, disengagement, or, most commonly and quietly, talking about what's already known. Instead of trying to suppress or ignore it, it's better to face it head-on and work through it as it arises. When something is anticipated and recognized in advance, it is given permission to develop in its own time. It's the "contraction" that goes along with "expansion" in the creative process. This is shown in nature's ingenuity. Just before it opens, the flower experiences the greatest amount of opposition from the bud.

4. Be at ease with "failing," or making mistakes. Improvisational theater has taught us a valuable lesson. Improvisers don't look at blunders as permanent setbacks. We prefer to think of them as live, interactive invitations to learn and experiment. If you want to truly master the art of guiding a transformative creative process, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the explorer. Creativity, in contrast to facilitation, is dependent on unknown factors. What you're willing to experience for yourself is what you'll be able to help others achieve more effectively. The riskiness of applied creativity comes from its inherently exploratory nature. And that implies your experiment may fail or have results that are unexpected. Let it ride. Make use of that insight as feedback to either make adjustments for the future or to steer the group in a new direction. If the facilitator isn't prepared to handle the difficulties of creativity, the group's ability to think beyond the box will suffer. (Take an improv class if you can; it'll help you get over "the fear of failure" and become more at ease with thinking on your feet faster than anything else.)

5. Change on-the-fly. Maintaining just the right amount of structure while yet allowing for release is a constant balancing act. If you're a facilitator who needs to keep things on track, practice letting go, switching gears, and adapting the agenda on your own time. Use a continuous cycle of interaction, feedback, and adjustment using the real-time feedback loop. It's a never-ending journey, and just like mastering anything else, it requires regular effort. If you do it often enough, it will become second nature... and exciting! Following the creative vitality of what is trying to develop in the room will need less effort than trying to adhere to the exact blueprints. If something more pressing is happening in the room, you may need to change your "agenda." Without it, you might get people involved and maybe even thinking differently, but you won't achieve much in the way of actual innovation. In order to foster the creative process, it is necessary to respond dynamically to the uncertainty inherent in novel situations. Let your hair down and enjoy yourself :-)

6. Use your Creative Edges rather than your safety zone. The result is an atmosphere that is both vibrant and active. The four of you are a team. It's possible that this goes against the grain of our "expertise" culture. Paradoxically, you need to have a firm grasp on your actions before entering the room, but once there, you can relax a bit and react on the fly. Participate in your own process of discovery, rather than judging others as the authority on their originality. Let yourself be taken aback. Don't put limits on their creativity (or your own) based on your own knowledge or assumptions. Your willingness to be surprised by what appears in the space you've created is a necessary counterpoint to your function as creator and keeper of the container. Openness is key in creative facilitation.

7. Recognize the variety of artistic approaches. To elaborate on point number six, there is no such thing as a "one size fits all" strategy, method, methodology, or paradigm. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creation. Realize that everyone in the room is at a different place in his or her creative process comfort zone and will have a different experience. Every person has a different set of creative experiences stored in their mind. You equip them with know-how and methods, but be open to learning from them in ways you never imagined. Your personal toolkit of Creative Practices will grow as a result.

8. Learn to recognize the rhythms of your own imagination. You may be a facilitator even in challenging situations thanks to this. Another paradox: while everyone has their own unique technique for coming up with original ideas, there are also universal patterns that tend to emerge in the creative process as a whole. Your own exploration and education will yield the richest insights, albeit they may evolve and grow over time. Use what you already know and be willing to always say "yes and" to other people's suggestions. Find the trends, not just the methods. While you can only go so far with your existing skills, you may constantly expand your toolkit by identifying and applying new patterns and ideas. Begin at your current skill level, be kind to yourself as you improve, and gain knowledge through hands-on practice. The real-world adaptability that comes from gaining insights from experience and observation is something that can't be gained through reading a book.

9. Strive towards a harmonious equilibrium that is constantly evolving. Changes in both directions. Neither the left nor the right hemisphere. In other words, structure AND movement. Combining introspection and activity. That's why it's one of the post's recurring themes: it's inherent to the whole creative process... and to being human. Paradoxes abound throughout the creative process. Creating an environment conducive to innovation is also important. Every situation, project, and group has its own unique dynamic equilibrium that allows the largest amount of creativity to emerge. Too much structure stifles imagination, while too much freedom leads to disorganization. Structure and fluidity coexist harmoniously. This is why it's important to engage in activities that engage both hemispheres of the brain: the right to reach HIGHER levels of ideas and information, and the left to analyze and structure that information.

10. When leading a group, be flexible and let them take charge of organizing themselves. There is a natural tendency toward self-organization at the heart of the creative process. Something greater than the sum of the parts arises, and it is both coherent and unexpected, as is often the case in improvised jazz or improvised drama. It's not unlike the feeling you get when everything falls into place in a way that's both brilliant and unexpected. This is always a possibility in any group setting. The idea is to not exert too much authority over the situation, leaving room for the next level of inventiveness to develop. This requires faith in the creative process itself and the ability to discern, as in an improvised performance, whether to take the lead and when to follow. Without a doubt, communities are able to self-organize around a creative activity, and in doing so, a collective creative intelligence can emerge that is greater than the sum of its parts. Nature is on your side, so to speak. Humans have an innate capacity to construct meaning, and creative processes tend to be autonomous. You can more easily progress to more coherent, meaningful, and sensible levels by striking a balance between leading and following in the here and now. All "Eureka!" moments are rooted in common sense at the elevated level. Simply put, we've been taught to anticipate every possible contingency. Instead, we may figure out how to collaborate with our inherent inventiveness.

11. Focus on making it secure rather than cozy. When people feel protected, they are more likely to take risks and explore new areas. When things are always the same, innovation stops. It's not the same thing to ask folks to share what they know as it is to lead them into something they don't. Taking someone too deep, too quickly might cause them to panic, shut down, and lose trust in you if you haven't done the "container creating" to make it safe beforehand. Nothing novel is revealed under either scenario. Discover the sweet spot between predictability and anarchy, where fresh ideas can flourish. Facilitate a secure environment while leading people into unfamiliar area. The creative process often involves moments of discomfort. In fact, you may have done more of an information-gathering procedure than a creative one if everyone in the room is completely at ease the entire time.

12. To have enjoyment is to serve a purpose. New studies show that having a good time and letting your guard down can help you solve tough problems at work and in life. Fun, play, and "lightening up" are no longer seen as frivolous activities that can only be done in your spare time. It releases mental energy for more creative thinking and physical energy for safer, more productive group work. To be more specific, I am unaware of any studies that show that serious people are more productive than lighthearted ones. Helping others be creative requires you to be able to access and enjoy your own sense of humor. And, having the insight to introduce it with intent and in a way that is acceptable (and not shut people down). Each community and culture has its own norms. Once you've connected with your "deep fun" self, you may pick and choose which strategies to employ. Always learn about your participants before leading a session.

13. The space you provide for other people is strongly related to the narratives you tell yourself. Examine the memories you have stored that involve imaginative thinking or childlike play. Do you consider them in addition to or instead of a company's bottom line? Most of us were taught that creative pursuits should wait until we have "real work" under our belts. The new narrative behind Applied Creativity Facilitation is that it is fundamental to the actual job at hand. It's not just a good way to break the ice and get people talking to one another; it can also help alter individuals, teams, and companies, foster growth, and boost profits. Do you believe the myth that creativity only exists in the realm of the arts, or are you aware that it permeates every individual, organization, and system? What myths do you tell yourself about your role as an Artist? The ability to facilitate a new story for others in the room comes from knowing both oneself as a Creator and that one is entering a room full with other Creators (whether they are aware of it or not).

14. Use your judgment as you diverge...and then merge. Your presence, flexibility, and agility in thought... and judgment... are all necessary to facilitate transformational creativity. Discernment ensures that any ideas generated in the room are on-topic, useful, and relevant (and not just a bunch of random creative [removed] unless that's the point). This necessitates the availability of Convergence in addition to Divergence procedures. Divergence probes, finds, yes-ands, and accepts to broaden the scope of possibilities; it opens up more avenues of inquiry. Convergence is the process of selecting and using the most pertinent information while discarding the rest. Expand, contract; explore, refine; appreciate logic and intuition; plan, and be spontaneous; all require a dynamic equilibrium. Learn whether you are more at ease with diverging or converging, and then work on devoting equal time and effort to each. 

15. Creativity rituals before a session might help you get in the zone. Creativity, by definition, is full of vitality and novelty. Leading a group into the unfamiliar is not "business as usual," but rather facilitating novelty. It's important to be tough, adaptable, compassionate, and a "expedition guide," all of which can be greatly aided by entering your own non-habitual condition first. Taking some time for yourself before the facilitation to engage in pattern-breaking activities in order to boost your own energy and become present, attentive, and responsive is a great method to achieve this goal. The more holistic thinking and feeling there is, the better. It's all about who you bring in.