August 13, 2018

Three Strategies To Improve Your Creative Thinking

Discussing the importance of pausing and taking the time to dream, Bill McDermott, CEO of high-tech company SAP, once said in an interview, “Most people today are so driven by the short-term and the pressures of the day-to-day that they never take the time to put their feet up on the desk and look out the window and dream. They are constantly in meetings, many of them internal, burdened by PowerPoint.”

McDermott is swiftly cutting a knife wound on three critical issues that plague our organizations.

First, we are refusing to give ourselves the time to dream, to ideate, and to allow creative sparks to permeate our “always on” workplace habits. With no time to give our minds the chance to wander, the likelihood of original thinking wanes. With no time to look out the window, busyness wins.

Second, McDermott alludes to a general crisis in for-profit organizations that is known as short-termism. There is a pressure to meet unwieldy quarterly revenue and profit targets—often to appease market analysts. Thus a quest for short-term bumps on stock pricing causes employees of all stripes to make bizarre and often negatively impacting decisions. The story of Wells Fargo is one to consider. Theranos is another. When short-termism is the goal, creative thinking is sure to be shelved in favor of misbehavior.

Thirdly, we’re addicted to meetings. (And PowerPoint, too.) Being in meetings all the time can negatively affect our creative thinking. The term “soul-sucking” comes to mind. Research conducted by the National Statistics Council indicated 37% of total employee time is spent in meetings. High-tech firm Atlassian found employees attend 62 meetings every month. If you like irony, 71% of leaders believe meetings are unproductive and inefficient.

What to do? There are numerous strategies to improve our creative thinking—individually and organizationally—but in this column, I’ll focus on three in particular for individuals.

Block Time Off In Your Calendar

SAP CEO McDermott provided a simple suggestion to combat the busyness and lack of creative thinking that plagues too many of us. “My recommendation is, free up some time on your calendar.”

Every day, each of us is equipped with 1,440 minutes. We all possess 168 hours a week and 8,736 hours a year to use to our advantage. If we do not earmark a significant portion of time to be creative—by blocking time out in our calendars—we have little chance of inventing that next great idea. Setting aside time to be creative can potentially pay dividends in the long-term be it with your career, or life in general.

The most straightforward suggestion is to carve out one hour a day that is yours. Call it “me time” if you have to. It may have to move around based on your schedule and deliverables, but a little “dreaming” will go a long way to unleashing those pent-up ideas of yours.

Start Saying No To Meetings

Stop over-programming your every minute with meetings. Creative thinking requires space and time. When you accept every single request for a meeting, you are cutting into your creative thinking time. Help your mind to wander by just saying no to the incessant and obtrusive number of meetings that come your way. At a minimum, be more selective in saying yes.

Devise a system that sees you only attending “X” number of meetings a week. If you are responsible for setting and leading meetings, perhaps ask yourself if a 60-minute meeting might be accomplished in 45- or 30-minutes instead. Does the frequency have to be weekly (if it’s a review meeting), or could the cadence stretch to bi-weekly or even monthly?

Meetings are the enemy of your time, and a lack of time is the enemy of creative thinking.

Add A Little Purpose To Your Views

The leading individual on the Thinkers50 list is Roger L. Martin, noted author, academic, and strategist. On the subject of short-termism he wrote, “Outcomes produced by businesses will be a function of the decisions made by executives, and if those decisions are made with little regard for the long-term, it is fair to expect that long-term performance of business will suffer.”

If you were to inject a little purpose into your views, there is no question your creative thinking will also prosper. How does one insert purpose into their beliefs?

When the sole motive is to make money—operating for the short-term only—creative thinking is hampered. There is not much creativity when the single goal is to make money.

However, instead of focusing solely on profit, how about viewing the world as a series of stakeholders. When we aim to serve more than the need to make a profit and aim to help the customer, employee, community, and the environment—society in general one might suggest—then we view the world differently.

When we serve all stakeholders and indeed view the world differently, our creative thinking begins operating in far more imaginative and inspiring ways.

What More Can You Do?

I call it Open Thinking, the return to a balanced archetype of reflection and action; the poised intertwining of Creative, Critical and Applied Thinking.

Full details are found in my new book, OPEN TO THINK: Slow Down, Think Creatively, and Make Better Decisions, set to publish on September 11.

It is time to rethink our thinking.


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