Imagining the future: Ignite creativity in teams with these 5 behaviors

You have a team dedicated to addressing the emerging trends affecting your industry and your company. They’re a seasoned bunch of dedicated colleagues who know the business and understand their mission. Then why can’t they make any progress?

It’s because anticipating and meeting the challenges of tomorrow has little to do with knowledge or experience.

Knowledge and experience can save you from the problems your company/industry faces today. But all knowledge is time-stamped and has an expiration date – it is not of the future. Solving problems that haven’t even surfaced yet requires something else. In this hyper-dynamic business environment we see change as not just inevitable – it’s incessant. Your long-term business health will be dependent on a culture where teams design change that is imaginative, influential and important. This requires creativity.

Don’t worry. Everyone on your team already has within them all the creativity needed for the challenge. Including you. The creative synapses simply needs to be coached to develop its strength and reliability under pressure.

As their leader, you can get those synapses firing in your team by modeling, encouraging and acknowledging the following five behaviors.

Curiosity is essential to igniting the imagination. Curiosity is the difference between what is known and what is not yet discovered. Curiosity is grounded in asking provocative questions that go beyond the certainty of current thinking to seek a deeper understanding of all aspects of a challenge.  Curiosity exposes limiting beliefs and assumptions that discourage teams from meaningful progress. Most importantly, curiosity fuels creativity.

Develop curiosity by asking yourself and your team members open-ended questions aimed at uncovering new awareness about the topic or challenge. Here are a few examples to get you thinking about provocative questioning for your situation:

If resources were not an issue, what’s the one thing we could do differently to capitalize on this trend?

What do you wish we did better here?

What is the opportunity underlying this challenge?

What is possible?

What if nothing changed?

What assumptions are we making?

How will this change affect us for the mid-term? Long-term?

Acceptance is sometimes linked with complacency or agreement but in the context of solving future problems now acceptance is inclusivity, tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, and an openness to novelty. Acceptance fosters a safe environment for brainstorming a broad spectrum of new, and sometimes wild, ideas. A “yes, and” attitude kindles acceptance.  “Yes, and” replaces judgement with collaboration – keeping the mind open to hear the merits in every idea and build on them to strengthen potential solutions.

Protecting open-mindedness may require identifying and eliminating limiting beliefs and assumptions that threaten development of the broadest array of options to be considered as solutions. Challenge the team to remove bias and filters that inhibit creativity around the problem at hand.

Acceptance demonstrates a patience in and trust that the group has the resources within them to succeed in the challenge. It requires knowing when to give and when to withhold input so that the members aren’t robbed of the confidence and joy experienced when the answers come from within the group.

Acceptance fans the flames of risk-taking, encouraging team members to dare themselves to generate numerous and novel ideas.

What are all the underlying factors affecting this situation?

How does this belief limit us?

In what ways might we strengthen this idea?

Support is created when all team members are valued for their diverse superpowers. These are not defined by job title or function but by individual intelligence styles. If your Clarifiers are snuffing your Ideators and your Developers are cross-wise with your Implementers it may be time for a discovery exercise to build appreciation for the spectrum of colleagues’ styles as a whole greater than the sum of the parts. A single log can burn but it won’t create warmth. When this appreciation is genuine team members will allow space for each other’s contributions. The energy created by this alignment is to creativity what reciprocal heat is to fire.

Model supportive behavior by openly honoring and celebrating the uniqueness of each team member. Look for ways to acknowledge strengths and contributions without administering praise or compliments. Keep the emphasis on the person not the results. If you focus on them former the latter will take care of itself.

“I want to acknowledge how you applied your tactical thinking skills to this action plan.”


“Nice job finishing the action plan!”

Focus honors the importance of the work at hand by keeping the challenge forefront at the table. Focus allows teams to adhere to the creative problem solving process by staying attentive to the discussion at hand while placing it in the broader context of the stated challenge. It is important to stress that focus shouldn’t damper or extinguish fun.

The process of creating innovation may not be linear. At times the team will need to circle back to fact-finding or even re-formulate their challenge statement. It is the group leader’s responsibility to recognize when diversions are necessary and steer accordingly. Focus stokes group productivity and efficiency in the development of influential, ground-breaking solutions.

Commitment to the group and its capacity for resourcefulness, collaboration and creativity strengthens the alliance of the team toward, and their confidence in pursuit of, novel solutions which create new value in the marketplace. Team commitment may falter at any phase of the creative problem solving process. Steadfastness is needed to detect fading commitment early and re-invigorate members to “burn” more brightly, as you would tend a fire when you see the flames give way to glowing embers.

Consistency is another hallmark of commitment. It’s important that you, the leader, show up consistently for the group. Model this by your reliability, accessibility, integrity and authenticity and require the team members to meet the same standard. When all team members exhibit these traits each can more fully commit to the others and the task at hand.

Finally, at the beginning of each team session (and to clear the mind and energize as needed during the session), practice creative thinking skills in play exercises that build creative muscle in a no-risk way. Here are some tools and techniques to help you get started.

Creativity can be coached and – just as your team has all the resources within it to excel in their quest for change that is imaginative, influential and inclusive – you have it within you to inspire your team’s best performance and provide the figurative fuel, heat and oxygen for an intensive blaze of creative problem solving.

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