5 Ways to Inspire Creative Thinking

I remember how great ideas emerge during a spontaneous car ride with my daughter….

“What if we just hit the road today and see where we end up?”  That’s the question I asked Marcy, my 13-year-old daughter, while we shared a nice Italian-inspired omelet on a sunny Sunday morning. Her fun-loving, adventurous self quickly agreed so off we went on a drive with absolutely no agenda in mind.

We spent two and a half hours exploring the beautiful Finger Lakes region, listening to reggae music, and chatting about whatever popped into our heads.  No cell phones, just the beauty of our area and good conversation. There were moments we sat silent and enjoyed the view; other times we stopped for a quick photo or a taste of homemade ice cream with grape pie. Oh, that grape pie!

Even sweeter than the pie was the interaction between my daughter and myself. What I observed was the creative flow of ideas and conversations that came out of this experience.  We shared our dreams and goals, our insight, and our experiences.  If either of us had a planned and expertly executed agenda for the day, I’m certain we would not have had the same outcome.

The experience reminded me that I come up with my best, most creative, and successful ideas when I step away from business-as-usual and an agenda. Instead, when I focus on stillness, silence, and solitude, my best ideas gain the space to rise to the surface. I have observed that this is true for individuals and teams within a business when they allow for the freedom and flow of ideas.

Yes, planned strategic brainstorming sessions and events have their place and certainly drive innovation and successful projects, but we must not underestimate the value of what the present moment has to offer. Now I’m not suggesting that you and your team jump onto the company bus for a road trip.  That would be a hoot, but here are five more pragmatic ideas that may fit better with your daily work experience.

  1. Take a minute to drop into the moment when you first arrive at your desk. Just sit and feel your butt in the seat and feet on the ground.  Focus on three breaths in and out.  This allows you to connect to the here and now and be present for the work ahead of you.
  2. Schedule five minutes between appointments for setting the intention. What’s next on your agenda? What’s the goal of the appointment and the best outcome for all in attendance? Imagine how you want to show up in this appointment — calm, centered, and focused.
  3. Plan 10 minutes of “white space” in your day. White space is blocked time for stepping away from business-as-usual to give yourself the gift of no input.  Take a break from the doing. Walk-in nature, look out the window, listen to music, or just sit and rest.
  4. Schedule just-for-fun team brainstorming sessions. Ask open-ended questions and have lots of pen and paper on hand to record answers. “What is an idea you have had in the past few months that you haven’t brought to the table?”  “What is something you’ve seen, heard, or done lately that has sparked your interest?” “What’s an interesting or out of the box topic you’d like to discuss today?”
  5. Block out the conference room every day for 15 minutes of guided meditation. There are thousands of apps and YouTube clips.  Start and stop on time and keep it an open invitation to all who are interested.

Developing micro-habits like the ones I have suggested turn off the stress response in the brain. Scientifically, when we operate in stress mode, our body releases cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone.  We become unable to access the creative centers of the brain, just like a man being chased by a bear has no time to create or think. It’s just time to RUN!

Our equivalent of activating the stress response at work is moving through our day constantly busy, running from one meeting to the next, and packing our agendas tight until we hit the bed at night. We can, however, open our creative centers by adopting new habits.  We can all experience moving into a more creative, calm, open, and intentional mindset. We can all have a better human experience like the one I had with Marcy on the road to nowhere.