How to make your business more creative

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Stylist Team
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Creativity is the cornerstone of many major global businesses, from Apple to Facebook. But learning how to become more creative in the workplace and inspire those around you is easier said than done.

Creative consultant Claire Bridges of Now Go Create recently joined Stylist for a live web chat, sharing a wealth of tips and tricks gleaned from her 18-year background working with some of the world's biggest brands.

Here's her advice on everything from how to make your working environment more creative to the financial benefits of thinking outside the box...

Building and maintaining creativity

What ideas do you have to get creativity flowing?

There are lots of things you can do to get more creative day to day. I think that creativity is like a muscle – you need to flex it a bit each day to make it stronger. A key factor in creativity is being open to ideas – being curious. Steve Jobs famously said that creativity is “just connecting things”.

So it’s about having a wide frame of reference on the world and lots of different dots to join. I do this by trying to absorb as much culture as I can, trying to be creative myself – like taking a creative writing class and getting out of your comfort zone and doing something new. Everything you see, hear, taste, smell, feel can be stimuli for ideas. A creative technique is to use random objects as prompts for ideas so if you go a gallery or museum you imagine that the answer to your creative problem WILL be solved by something you find there. Maybe the answer is written in hieroglyphics or in a painting. Might sound off the wall but it does work! Your brain will make connections and metaphors from what you see. At the very least you should come away inspired ;-)

In a work/group situation you can use random objects and visuals to inspire creativity in other people, asking them to make connections with the item they have ( a rubber duck, a key, whatever you have to hand) and the challenge.

What tips would you suggest in terms of developing professionally both in the long-term and the short-term?

I think both short and long term it’s about setting creative goals for yourself as your mail suggests. What can you do to be more creative day to day and what would a great creative work project look like for you over the next 6 months to a year? Can you get your teeth stuck into something and set creative goals as well as business goals. Research has shown that companies and individuals that set creative goals (just as in any other area) are far more likely to deliver a creative output.

If you don’t use any tools or techniques currently then I’d definitely recommend reading Dave Trott’s Creative Mischief and Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys – one’s a great spin around the ad industry from a brilliant creative, the other’s more a ‘how-to’ be creative.

There’s some great free resources and stimulus out there with things like, and which are great for inspiration. If you can I would find a buddy (in or out of work) who shares your passion for creativity and set challenge for yourselves and each other. A great way to learn something is to have to teach it to someone else so you could take a technique each month and have to share it with one other person.

What small - or immediate - changes could you make to your working environment to make it more likely to produce creative ideas in? Is there anything obvious most people are missing?

Environment is a really interesting one. Studies show that it only accounts for around 10% impact overall on creativity (you'd never know this looking at Google's offices) but I do think there are some easy wins.

Collaboration is key - so is there a way to share problems and ideas? Can you paint blackboards or whiteboards in the office. This way everyone knows what the challenge you're working on is, so everyone can contribute - maybe put it near the kitchen or tea machine and ask for ideas.

Get a change of scene if you can, this is the quickest way I know to get out of a creative rut.

Share ideas if you have a brainstorm - tell people what gets used, what clients love, what worked.

Make like a magpie. Share stimulus - cuttings, random objects, things from your weekend. Keep a box for people to dip into if they have to be creative.

How to inspire others and avoid getting stuck in a rut

How do you maintain creativity and inspire those who perhaps "just don't get it"?

Another very interesting challenge! I'd love to know a bit more about those who 'don't get it.' There are lots of barriers for people being creative, one of the biggest factors that influences whether someone has creative output or not is 'openness to ideas.' That is whether people are prepared to take on new and sometimes challenging ideas. I do some public sector work and there are often people who don't want to step out of their comfort zone. A lot of this is about people's attitude (and the organisation's) to risk.

So I often have a conversation about risk with people (in relation to creativity and ideas) and find out where they stand, that can be pretty illuminating. It's a good indicator of where you are in relation to them.

It can also be really hard work trying to continually inspire other people! Trying to work out what's holding them back might take a bit of time but is worth it - it could be fear of being judged (group brainstorms are not always the best forum). Could you do sessions in pairs or smaller groups so that they have to get involved but in a less threatening way?

There's also what I call radio WIFM - everyone's favourite station - What's in it for me? Is creativity tied into their appraisals, is it just extra work? If you find out what ticks their boxes that might make life easier. Hope that helps, good luck!

How do you get creative about a client's brand when you feel stuck in a rut or that big ideas won't take off?

It's so easy to get stuck in a rut particularly if you work on the same client or challenge over and over. I've been there! Trying to fresh perspective is what you need. Maybe that's about taking time out to try and get away from what's been called 'the curse of knowledge.'

Could you take a field trip and try to get into the shoes of the target audience whoever that may be? In the world of design the 'user' is everything and things like observing the user/problem, getting into their world, going back to basics can help. Can you recruit some help from someone in the office who doesn't work on your client and get their perspective? Sometimes owning the problem and solving the problem is really tough. There's a technique called naive expert where you invite someone to talk to you about what they do without them knowing the problem you're trying to solve to give you a fresh perspective. So if your brand objective is a to be braver then you invite in people who are brave e.g. firefighter, lion tamer! Then you take their experience and apply it back to your challenge.

There is no magic bullet but a change of scene and different stimuli often do the trick.

I've recently launched my own fashion accessories brand. I love designing the products and their packaging, but I find it hard to capture the same creativity when it comes to the PR side of the business. Do you have any tips?

You obviously have a creative outlet in your fashion accessories - I would take a step back and reflect on your own creative process. Where do your ideas come from, what's your inspiration and where do you look for it? Can you apply this thinking to other parts of your business e.g. PR? This is called modelling and it's used in sport's psychology and lots of other fields for people to find their creative 'sweet spot.'

Another exercise to try is my alternative 3 peaks challenge. Think about 3 different times when you were creatively brilliant, you rocked! Write these down and try to pinpoint what was going on. Were you alone? Where were you? What made it great? Do this for each of the peaks. You're then looking for themes and commonalities that are you when you're creatively on fire! Next time you need to be creative for PR then refer to your list and try and apply the same measures.

Creativity and qualifications

I'm currently working as an art director for a marketing agency and really think your MA (in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership at City University London) sounds very interesting would you recommend it?

The MA at City is great, a really varied and inspiring course covering leadership, creative writing – with published authors and screenwriters, technology and innovation, law, psychology and more. It’s really added a new dimension to my day to day consultancy training work as I can bring in academic references and the most up to date thinking on creativity, I definitely recommend it!

I graduated with a Language and Communications degree, however I am very interested in the creative sector. What would your advice be for anyone who is a recent graduate wanting to enter the creative industry- without a creative specific degree. I am currently gaining journalism and PR experience but unfortunately I feel I lack a uniqueness in comparison to other graduates.

The good news is that creativity has been identified as the most essential skills for navigating an increasingly complex business world according a recent global study of CEOs. So if it's an area you're interested in you're developing skills that will be relevant to all sectors. The creative industries are also vast covering everything from the obvious like advertising to film, architecture and design.

It sounds like you are doing lots of the right things - getting experience in relevant fields. Could you find someone you creatively admire that you meet along the way and ask them to mentor you? I'd definitely keep a portfolio of your creative work whatever that looks like - perhaps your writing and maybe use collaborative social networks to have fun and share ideas. I'd also try and get an idea to fruition - even if it's a blog or project as the implementation is as important as anything else. Seeing people's work is the proof of the pudding!

Financial benefits of creativity

What is the most effective way you've found to demonstrate the ROI or tangible financial benefit of creativity?

Ah the million dollar question! Working in PR for many years this has been an often and hotly debated subject. Depending on where you work I think there are some key benchmarks - if it's a campaign or programme external or internal - does it change behaviour? Does it make sales? Does it change perceptions? Creativity for its own sake is often just showing off!

Depending on the field you work in there's also the impact on productivity - does having ways to be more creative day to day get things done faster? I can't give you a definitive answer (may be a good subject for my MA dissertation!) But I hope that helps a bit.

Picture credit: Rex Features