Overcoming Creative Obstacles #1: Start With Anything

By Govert van Sandwijk · June 24, 2019 · Posted in: Collaboration, Design Thinking, Group Facilitation

Some would say you can’t force ideas, and that may be right. But what if there really is no need to force anything in the first place?

Overcoming Creative Obstacles

Everybody is a potential entrepreneur, and innovation can take place at any point in time, at any level of your organization. The real challenge, I would love to argue, is to unlock–rather than force–the kind of visionary thinking that leads to innovation.

Whether you are a growth-focused leader, a problem-solving manager, or simply have a keen eye for inefficiencies, you can challenge yourself to take your creative thinking a step further and then some. In this series, I’ll share a few creative obstacles that teams and individuals often come across and the ways you can solve them.

#1: Defining the Problem Too Clearly

One of the fastest ways to kill creativity is to define a problem too clearly. Let’s take an imaginary team and think of it this way:

“We are here to optimize our customer sourcing process.”

The Creative Obstacle

Before this team has even started brainstorming, they already have mental hurdles and strict confines. The black box is defined before anyone has had a chance to get creative. Can you spot the subconscious obstacles that limit their thinking space?

Strictly defining a problem can encourage teams to adopt what I call a “From Here to Here 2.0” mindset. One in which everything outside the ‘box’, or the clearly defined problem, is already ruled out from the very start.

“It” – the solution – apparently must be better than what this team currently has. Instantly, without realizing it, everyone will subconsciously hone in on what already exists:

“We have got X, Y, Z digital channels. We need to build on these.”

The result is “Here 2.0”, potentially an upgraded version of this team’s current customer sourcing process, but nowhere near what they could have created with more autonomy.

How You Can Break Free: Start With Anything

To open up your own thinking and encourage the same within your team, try viewing your perceived problem a different way. Rather than taking your defined ‘problem’ as given, see it as an assumption to be challenged.

This team, for instance, might agree that their goal is actually to increase their customer base.

They are then free to explore other potential options, such as:

– Brand new face-to-face customer sourcing (exhibitions, meetups, or events);
– Existing customer conversion (upselling, cross-selling, product or service integration, promotional bundles); or
– Strategic collaboration.

Their current customer sourcing process would then be one asset, one strength to leverage or learn from in pursuit of their larger goal. They could acknowledge its existence and what works, then “challenge the challenge” itself.

Why it Works

Simon Sinek, a leadership specialist, is well-known for his Golden Circle model. This framework proposes that inspirational business ideas are born from a compelling purpose. To identify that purpose, the most important question to pose is not “How” (e.g. “How can we optimize…”), or “What” (such as “What can we do to…”), but “Why?”.

When you and your team begin this question, you will find yourselves with a lot more freedom when ideating.

In other words, keep your desired outcome – your Why – in mind, then reassess the strictness of your criteria. Rather than starting out with “Optimize”, “Improve” or “Enhance”, I would leave the goal-setting language for later on. True vision starts with anything.

We use creativity approaches such as these in our Time To Grow Global workshop facilitation programs. This technique is particularly useful for inclusive strategizing, business model innovation, and sustaining innovation. If you love to talk creativity, let’s chat at our Time to Grow Global LinkedIn!

Govert van Sandwijk

Govert is Time To Grow Global’s Managing Partner, specializing in Strategy Facilitation, Leadership development and Organisational performance. Reach him on our Time To Grow Global LinkedIn.

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