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Staying Creative in Crisis

Staying Creative in Crisis

Last month we talked about how this particular moment is ripe for business transformation. We’re all in the middle of it, which can be both exciting and daunting.  As business leaders, we want to serve our customers and employees and the world in meaningful, valuable ways, but how do you stay creative in finding solutions when the world is crashing all around you?

The biggest obstacles to staying creative in crisis for me are fear, that brain lock that comes when I’m under pressure to DO something now, fatigue, I’ve been working on the same problem for ages and I just feel burned out, or lack of focus, how do I pay attention to things when I’m feely foggy?

Here are some key tips that I use on a regular basis. I hope you’ll find them useful as well.

5 minutes or less

  • Brain re-set. It’s hard to stay focused when your brain is spinning on the same problem over and over again. Here are two techniques that will literally reset your brain.
    • Walk around the room touching things, calling them things they’re not for 1 minute. This will short circuit your logical thinking, allowing intuitive creativity to rise to the surface.
    • List 10 things that have nothing to do with each other. Great to do with a partner who can call out “nope, that one relates to another one!” This exercise will cause your brain to look for outside-the-box solutions.
  • When in doubt, let a breath out. Most people try to relax with breathing by forcing breath in. The problem with that is that when we are tense or scared, we hold our breath so forcing breath in doesn’t really work. Let your breath out. ALL the way out, then wait for the fresh oxygen to come back in. It will relax your body and your mind.
  • Go read jokes. I’m serious. Good jokes are insights formed into humor. If you want to feel better and think differently quickly, go spend 5 minutes reading jokes. Even kid’s jokes will help.

More than 5 minutes

  • Take a walk. Andrew Weill has long asserted that people just do better when they take a 10-minute walk every day. Looking around you, moving your body, breathing the air – all these things will help calm you so that you can go back to your work with fresh eyes… Stop and look at, feel or smell nature of some kind, even it’s just produce at the grocery store.
  • Dance party Put on some music that makes you want to dance for 5 minutes or more.
  • Go play with a child or animal, full throttle, all your attention.
  • Rest. Lay down and breathe for 10-20 minutes.  Invite your body to untwist, to unfurl, to expand. Ask it gently.  See if you can allow yourself to be supported by the bed or floor, let go of the need to “do” anything, and just be present, using only the energy you need.
  • Explore inspiring stories or ideas. What do you love just because you love it?  Go spend 30 minutes on that! Do you love cooking? Go watch or read about an inspiring chef? Do you love how things work? Give yourself a deep dive into the mechanics of something you enjoy or the history of a person, invention or idea.
  • Tap into brainstorming thought-starters. A lot of times, the new ideas can come from simply asking a better question, here are some.
    • Day in the life. What is a typical day in your audience’s life? How can your product or service make their live BETTER? How could it make it WORSE?
    • If the problem you are trying to solve had a superhero, what would that superhero be called? What would his/her superpower be? What part of that can you use for your solution?
    • Follow the path. A famous landscaper was hired to do the landscape for a college campus. All he did was plant grass. GRASS???!  Six months later, he came back and landscaped around the foot trails in the grass. What is your customer already doing that you can support or be part of? If you don’t know, ask them how they get new ideas, have them tell you a story about their day or business – what makes them feel successful? Not successful? How can you tap into that?

Staying Creative as a Team

Let’s say you and your team have been grinding on a problem for a while, or maybe even just recently but everyone’s exhausted. How do you shake things loose? Here are a few lightning-fast exercises you can do with your team.

Two things are key: fun and silliness. It’s important to give people permission to misbehave with their ideas so they don’t get locked in perfectionism.

Feel free to have the team share between exercises or all at once at the end.

The goal is to come up with the MOST ideas, so you have the best chance to have GOOD ideas. Create first, then evaluate.

 Super quick thought starters – to be done in groups of 1-3 people (no more!)

  • Best ideas. For this issue, what is the BEST thing we can do now? (1 minute to come up with as many ideas as you can – the highest number of ideas gets a prize – candy, toy, something else, you pick.)
  • Worst ideas. Channel your evil twin. If you wanted to create the WORST possible ideas for this issue, what would you do?  (1 minute to come up with these – reward the worst ideas!)
  • Opposite of worst ideas. Pick your stinkiest, most awful ideas. What are some ideas that would be the OPPOSITE of those bad ideas? (1 minute!)
  • Pick an innovator from any field – living or dead. Once each team has picked an innovator, that person is now your new leader. What would he/she do? (2 minutes for ideas here). What parts of that could we actually do?
  • Optional: 4th You are a member of Mrs. Johnson’s 4th-grade class. You visit your company or experience your product/service. How do you make fun of it on the bus ride home? Now Mrs. Johnson has assigned you the task of solving this issue. What do you come up with?  What part of that could you actually use?