Dear Ditto,

How can I jumpstart creativity to inspire my team?

Advice from:
Ehmonie Hainey
Marketing & Communications Strategist

It's great to hear that you're looking for ways to jumpstart creativity within your organization. According to Paul Petrone at LinkedIn Learning, "creativity is the single-most important skill in the world for all business professionals today to master." In this current moment of crisis, organizations are in need of it now more than ever. The reality is that creativity and innovation thrive in crises and constraints, so you can — and should — tap into both right now.

What is creativity anyway?

At first glance, creativity appears to be an intangible concept, or a tool to tap into to brainstorm unique ideas. But creativity is actually quite tangible — it's the result of "turning imaginative ideas into reality."

Yale School of Management professor Richard Foster, an expert in the study of the history of creativity and the creative process, says that creativity "is about making something new, rather than merely applying or discovering something new." He continues: "Creative solutions are insightful, novel, simple, elegant, and generative. When you find one creative idea, more often than not, it triggers other ideas in the same fashion." It's about tapping into our imagination, ideas, insights, and inspiration, and creating something new as a result.

With many people now working from home, dealing with Zoom fatigue, and other challenges associated with the blurring of work and home life, now is the time to use creativity as a tool for inspiring and uplifting your team. By learning how better to apply creativity and imagination to problem solving, you can improve employee collaboration and engagement.

Creativity in a time of crisis

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way we all accomplish work, it doesn't mean that creative thinking has to come to a halt. In fact, according to Professor Jay Rao, of Babson College, "the current global health crisis is catalyzing innovation in organizations around the world." Over the past few months, numerous organizations and individuals have displayed immense amounts of creativity, and innovative solutions to maintain operations during these challenging times:

Without a doubt, tapping into and applying imagination effectively — the cornerstone of creativity — can be challenging during these stressful times. However, Harvard Business Review calls imagination ('the capacity to create, evolve, and exploit mental models of things or situations that don't yet exist') "the crucial factor in seizing and creating new opportunities, and finding new paths to growth." Knowing how to apply imagination to problem solving is the key to unlocking creativity in your organization.

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How to boost creativity

The most important thing to understand about creativity is that it is a continuous practice, not an inherent gift. Learning how to apply imagination to problem solving in useful ways requires strengthening your, and your team's, skills in listening, empathy, adaptability, curiosity, ideation, and courage. 

One of the best ways to develop these necessary creative skills is through improv. Improvisational comedy dates back to 16th Century "commedia dell'arte." It first gained mainstream popularity with the TV show "Whose Line is it Anyway?" and through popular schools and troupes like The Second City. Live improv performances often begin with a word suggestion from the audience, and performers adhere to the core principle of improv: "Yes, and" throughout the show. 

According to John Windmueller, director of WIT@Work, "Yes, and" is an opportunity to "engage fully with your collaborators" — in the workplace, your colleagues — "hear and explore their ideas, and build off and support those ideas with your own creativity and insight." In short, "Yes, and" is a rule of thumb that encourages support of ideas through agreement, rather than opposition to and judgement of those ideas. Implementing "Yes, and" principles helps eliminate fear and judgement, while ushering teams closer to a collective solution or end goal. 

Here are a few ways you're likely already applying "Yes, and" in your organization:

  • Listening to other members of your team, and crafting a response in support, rather than in disagreement.
  • Observing a member of your team pitching a new idea to a client, and another, or several other team members showing approval, and contributing complementary ideas to the discussion. 
  • Kicking off a staff retreat with a collaborative team-building exercise (keep reading for useful activity ideas).

When you train your team on being intentional about incorporating "Yes, and" into the work environment and their daily interactions, it encourages trust, empathy, camaraderie, and other positive internal team dynamics.

We use improv activities to warm up teams during our creative sessions, as well as to brush up our own skills. A few months ago, we kicked off our Winter retreat with a two-hour long WIT@Work workshop. The session introduced our team to a variety of engaging improv exercises focused on promoting communication, collaboration, and creativity. Initial nervous feelings quickly dissipated as everyone dissolved in laughter, playing together and being present in the moment, while learning entertaining and educational ways to remain connected, collaborative, and creative.

This inspired us to share lessons learned with the nonprofit community via a session at 20NTC this March, titled "Improv Saves the Nonprofit," along with an improv happy hour that same evening, with several partner organizations. The conference and party were cancelled due to COVID-19. However, you can listen to our CEO, Graziella Jackson, along with National Council of Negro Women Chief Administrative Officer Krystal Ramseur, chat with Tony Martignetti on a recent episode of Nonprofit Radio about how improvisation can make your team more creative, confident, supportive and successful. Click here to listen to the full "Improv For Culture And Creativity & Tech Policies" episode. We're also sharing (below) some improv games to spark imagination and inspire creativity among your team right now.

"Playing allows us to practice imagining, improvising, and being open to inspiration — all important skills when navigating the unknown." And in these unpredictable times, "improvisation is needed. The less we can rely on plans, the more we need the mindset and skill of improvisation, to respond rapidly to novel situations."

Improv games for your workplace

Below are six improv games that you can use right now, even in a virtual environment, to inspire and enhance creativity, empathy, collaboration, communication, connection, and compassion in your workplace.

Want to learn more ways to use improv-based principles and tips to improve your team's online communication, and foster greater collaboration and creative problem solving? Sign up for a WIT@Work session, or one of Washington Improv Theater's selection of virtual improv classes.

What are some ways you're inspiring or tapping into creativity at the moment? Share with us on Twitter.

Improv Game for Creativity: "Giving Gifts"

(1-2 minutes)

One person gives their partner an imaginary gift. The partner accepts it, thanks them, and for 30 seconds, excitedly and creatively describes everything that’s inside the imaginary box and what they can do with it. Then switch roles. 

This exercise strengthens creativity and ideation.

Improv Game for Collaboration: “Yes, and”

(3-5 minutes)

In groups of two or more, one team member starts a conversation with one another. Each following person should respond with "Yes, and" before continuing. This agreement adds to the discussion. 

This exercise helps strengthen collaboration.

Improv Game for Teamwork: "What Are You Doing?"

(Approx. 5 minutes)

One person in the group initiates by miming an action. Another person in the group curiously asks "Hey [NAME], what are you doing?" The first person states their activity and the second person joins by miming a supportive action. Repeat with others on the team.

This exercise encourages teamwork.

Improv Game for Communication: "Word at a Time"

(3-5 minutes) 

One person in the group starts a story with one word, and each person chimes in, adding one additional word. The game usually starts with 'Once upon a time'. Listen and be present in the moment to help keep your thoughts free from directing the story. 

This exercise helps support free-flowing communication.

Improv Game for Connection and Empathy: "Mirror Body"

(1 minute)

In an in-person group, this game begins with one person taking the lead in creating a unique body movement, typically coupled with sound. In a virtual setting, you can initiate the game with a unique facial expression and/or sound. The next person should mirror it, continuing for everyone in the group, for several rounds. 

Mirroring is a form of empathy. This exercise will help team members connect by paying attention to nonverbal cues.

Improv Game for Compassion: "Thank you"

(2-3 minutes)

Two people begin a conversation. One starts with a statement based on a given topic. The partner should reply with "Thank you," mention something specific from the statement, then add new information to the conversation. 

This exercise builds positivity and compassion.

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