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This is a continuation of my previous two blog posts on “Innovation: The Catalyst of Continual Improvement and Lean” and “15 Ways to Spark Corporate Creativity and Make Your Lean Journey Better”. In this blog post, I will take a look at how individuals can boost their creativity. How do you get your own creative juices flowing?

  1. Become more of an observer. Observe people, situations, and places. Become more aware. If you have low emotional self-awareness, it will improve with this focus. Quick Exercise: Without looking, describe your phone home page and any other pages. What are the colors, icons, arrangements, etc? How did you do? How many times a day do you look at your phone? But do you really observe and truly see?
  2. Become more aware of your environment. When you start to observe more, you will start to notice your surroundings in a different way. Try this exercise. Point at various things in the room and name them out loud. Example: chair, table, desk, computer, monitor, etc. Now point at various things in the room (they can be the same objects) and name the last thing that you pointed at. Example: point at chair, then point at table and say “chair”, point at desk and say “table”, point at computer and say “desk'', point at monitor and say “computer”. Now point at all of the things in the room (it can be the same objects) and name them ANYTHING you want to name them. Do this and then read the debrief.

    Debrief: Did you have “rules” with your pointing and naming the objects ANYTHING? Most people say no. Did you have the rule that you couldn’t name it what it really was? Did you have the rule that you name it a category like fruits or animals? Did you have the rule that you had to be clever and innovative when naming? Did you have the rule that you had to be really good at this? So maybe you did have some rules. The first point is that this exercise creates more awareness. Your brain knows what a chair is, so it doesn’t process that information. But when you point and name something else, your brain is forced to process that information. It creates a hyper awareness. You have awakened the brain from its sleep. Look around the room and see if there are things that you didn’t notice when we first started this exercise.

    The second point is that we all have these rules and limiting beliefs. Don’t automatically put things in categories or make rules. Be wide open to anything. If you want to do a final test, point and name things in the room and truly make it stream of consciousness. Truly name the items the first thing that pops into your head and be open and relaxed. It’s harder than it sounds.
  3. Build in reflection time every day. There are hundreds of stories about “eureka” moments in the shower or sitting under a tree. This allows your brain to process and make connections.
  4. Get out of your routines. Drive a different way to work, towel off from the shower differently, dress with a different order, use your opposite hand all day, or tie your shoes differently (don’t use your thumbs). Do anything to get your brain out of a subconscious fog.
  5. Expand your knowledge. Know a little bit about a lot of different things. Creativity comes out of the merging of different ideas. The more ideas floating around in your brain, the more possibilities for connections and creative thought.
  6. Play like a kid. Play. Make mistakes. Be silly. Dance. Pretend. Make stuff up. Be with kids.
  7. Disconnect from the world. I encourage everyone to completely disconnect from the world: no television, no email, no phones, and no tablets. And something miraculous happens around the third day. Everyone starts freeing their brain and getting amazing insights and thoughts. Try it!
  8. Get a little crazy. Do something weird, yell at the top of your lungs or talk in a strange voice.
  9. Do something outside your comfort zone. Join a dance class, acting class, or improv class. Learn something new like chess or rock climbing or computer code writing.
  10. Know that everyone is creative. Creativity is like a muscle; it can be developed. When you look at the typical profile for most construction partners, they score high in reality testing (black and white thinkers) and problem solving and low in flexibility. This is not an ideal profile for creativity, but the good news is people can change.
  11. Accept that more heads are better than one. Bounce ideas off others. Brainstorm in diverse groups without any censorship. Different perspectives can generate amazing creativity.
  12. Start writing things down. Make lists. When you get an idea, capture it. Keep writing, even after you have exhausted all possibilities.
  13. Reframe the problem. Create an unusual solution and then ask yourself, “Why is this a great solution?”
  14. Use a ridiculous correlation. Randomly put your finger in a book, look for the nearest noun and ask yourself, “How is this problem like a [fill in the blank]?” Brainstorm in this manner will help give you some perspective on the problem.
  15. Don’t say “no” or “yes, but...” or “I tried that before and it didn’t work.” Say “yes, and…” to build on the ideas generated.
  16. Use Your Subconscious. Plant a problem in your brain before bed and see what your subconscious comes up with the next morning. Think of a problem you are struggling with, then take a walk in nature and DON’T think about the problem. When you return, see what your subconscious comes up with.
  17. Know you are truly unique. Your brain is the only brain that thinks like you do. Celebrate that and promote that and know that you can break through anything. Lack of experience can be an asset. Sometimes a master can’t see past how he’s always done it.
  18. Get physical. While you are thinking, do a physical activity such as walking, stomping, shaking, dancing, or running. It will help your brain work better.
  19. Ask the right questions. Instead of asking “paper or plastic?” ask “how would you like to carry your groceries home?” A canvas bag might be the “right” answer. Try this exercise: Download the nine dots. Connect the nine dots by drawing only four straight lines. Now look at the solution.
  20. Improvisation Drive. When driving, look for roads, bridges, overpasses and highways named after people. Take that person’s name and make up a story about them. You can do it collaboratively or alone.

A famous creativity experiment asks people to connect nine dots using four straight lines without lifting the pencil from the paper. Try it and see what you come up with. Don’t look below for the answer!

Here is the “answer”. This is where the saying “thinking outside the box” comes from.

But what if you took a different approach to this problem? What if you asked How many ways can you connect these nine dots with as few lines as possible? When you ask that question, you get all kinds of creative solutions, such as:

  • one big fat line;
  • one line that circles the earth three times and connects each row of dots;
  • one line, where the paper is folded and the dots are all stacked on top of each other; and three lines, where the dots are fat and the lines form a “z.”

By asking a different question and expanding those limits, the number of ideas and potential solutions expand as well.

The next time you are faced with a dilemma, the next time you want to develop a strategic plan, the next time you are stuck, and the next time you want to try to do things differently, spark the genius in yourself and cultivate creativity in your company by creating an atmosphere of innovation.

If you do these simple things: promote innovation, create an environment where people can flourish, and insert lean culture into everything we do, you will not only have better projects and business success, but our industry will thrive beyond anyone’s expectations.

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Brent Darnell is an international best-selling author and leading authority on Emotional Intelligence. He is President and owner of Brent Darnell International, a training and consulting company that maximizes companies’ success by tapping into the “soft” skills, or the Emotional Intelligence of each employee. Brent has been awarded with the prestigious honor of being named among Engineering News-Record’s Top 25 Newsmakers for his transformation of the construction industry’s Alpha Males.