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How Can I Improve My Marketing Team’s Creative Thinking?

By Stephanie HawkinsAug 21, 2014

Creative marketing team

Creativity isn’t just about picking the right shade of teal for your logo—it’s also a vital ingredient for overall business success. Jack Canfield, who wrote the Good Thinking series, says, “Improving creative thinking skills is the key to improving business performance. What differentiates great and not-so-great organizations is if and how they encourage employees to think more effectively.”

According to The Creative Group, the top 5 impediments to employee creativity are:

  • Heavy workloads
  • Tight deadlines
  • Business processes
  • Managers/clients who aren’t open to new ideas
  • Limited budget

You might not be able to do anything about some of the items on this list. However, as the leader of a marketing organization, there are some small changes you can implement to make your team more creative. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are six tips.

1. Stand up

Recent research suggests that standing up during meetings leads to improved creativity. In a recent Washington University study, workers were given 30 minutes to create a university recruitment video. One group worked in a room without chairs. The other group worked in a regular conference room. The group forced to stand came up with more innovative ideas and produced a better video than the group that sat down.

2. Let others speak first

If you offer your opinion on an issue before it’s been put to the group, it’s highly likely you’re squelching the team’s creativity. As the team leader, you’re an authority, and when you offer an opinion on an issue, it’s more likely your team members will default to agreeing with you rather than formulating their own ideas on the subject. When you do offer your opinion, Canfield suggests trying to find three positive things to say about the idea in question, even if you think it’s a bad idea overall. This method will help your team learn how to brainstorm creatively.

3. Say “Yes, and…”

Try this idea from Marvin Amberg of Caseable: For every solution that gets thrown out during a meeting, go around the room and have every person say a sentence or two that begins with “Yes, and…” For example, if someone in the group suggests doing keyword research to improve a client’s SEO, the next person’s sentence might be something like, “Yes, and we can assign different keywords to our different buyer personas to help them find us in organic search." According to Amberg, “Slowly, the team will start to loosen up and come out with a long list of creative approaches.”

4. Brainstorm in the morning

A recent report from The Creative Group revealed that marketing teams produce stronger creative work when strategy and brainstorming meetings intended to produce new ideas are held before lunch. To strengthen your idea-generation skills even further during these meetings, try a method called “reverse brainstorming,” which works like this:

  • Identify the problem and write it down.
  • Reverse the problem by asking, “How could I make this worse?” or “How could I cause this problem to happen?”
  • Brainstorm the “reverse problem” and let the ideas flow.
  • Once you’ve gotten all your ideas for the reverse problem down, try flipping them into solutions for the original problem.
  • Evaluate what you’ve got. Are there seeds for a potential solution anywhere in your answers?

5. Compete with other marketing teams

To inspire more creativity than you’re currently displaying, try entering your team’s work into marketing and design contests. Competing with peers can be a huge motivator, and knowing your work will be evaluated by industry experts you admire can push your team to think more creatively. Here are a few ideas for competitions you can enter your team into:

6. Nurture your individual creativity

To motivate your marketing team, you yourself need to stay creatively inspired. In its report, Creativity on a Dime, The Creative Group offers the following suggestions for recharging your own individual creative batteries:

  • Take an improv class. NPR reports that business schools like Duke, MIT and Stanford are all teaching improv as a way to help professionals improve their creative thinking skills.

  • Play the “Good and Bad” game.This recommendation from creativity speaker and author Sam Harrison works like this: At the end of each day, take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. In one column, list all of the good things that happened to your over the course of your day and, in the other column, list all of the bad things.“I’ve never had a day where the good didn’t outweigh the bad,” Harrison said. “That gives gratitude and inspires me to be creative. After all, creativity is a joyful, positive activity.”

While the word creativity may carry a whiff of the inessential, it’s really anything but. In fact, some of the companies ranked as the world’s most creative are also among the world’s most profitable and powerful organizations, including Intel, Apple, Merck, Boeing and Verizon. If pro-actively nurturing your marketing team’s creative thinking skills could turn your company into the next Apple, what are you waiting for? Start with a (reverse) brainstorming session first thing in the morning—but not until you’ve signed up for your first improv class. 

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photo credit: Scott Robbin

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The Author

Stephanie Hawkins

Stephanie is a Strategist at Kuno Creative and writes about content marketing, buyer persona development and inbound marketing strategy for Brand & Capture. She lives and works in Raleigh, NC. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter!
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