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Building the Creative Habit

Building the Creative Habit

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Chris Grivas on proven practices you can use to generate more innovation and creativity with your teams.   

Chris is the co-author of THE INNOVATIVE TEAM:  Unleashing Creative Potential For Breakthrough Results, a business fable that explores how teams can produce breakthrough results despite members’ varied creative styles.

Chris is an organizational development professional and executive coach specializing in building high performance teams and creating organizational cultures that produce outstanding results. 

Chris is also a published researcher in the field of innovation, and he holds a Master’s degree in Creativity and Innovation.

Chris applies his research for real-world results and has worked with a variety of clients including Ernst & Young, New York University Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, MDS/Nordion, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and CARES of Washington.

Without further ado, here’s Chris on how to build the creative habit with your team, improve your innovation, and produce breakthrough results …

Remember how hard it was to learn to whistle or blow a bubble with gum? At some point, though it “clicked,” and you’ve never needed a refresher course. Whether you are learning to paddleboard, speak Japanese, or make ice sculptures, repetition is the key.  With each repeated step you are plotting the brain’s neural pathways  – express lanes, if you will – to allow you to perform these acts without reminders, as naturally as, driving a car.

You can do the same building your creative skills.

The behaviors needed to increase your creative capacity and bring out the best of your team are no different – they simply take practice. It takes commitment to do the work of “thinking about your thinking,” but with practice, a world of creative outcomes and possibilities can grow around you.
As a leader committed to building a creative environment, to consistently utilize the creativity of your team members to their fullest extent, it helps to first have a “Big Picture” of the kind of environment you are trying to create and some specific “to-do’s” that will help you create the leadership habits necessary for making that environment a reality.

Warning: this may require an attitude adjustment, and not just everyone else’s.

Key Elements of Innovative Environments

Innovative environments are vastly different than traditional work environments. As you’ll see, they are curious, question-filled, quirky, unpredictable, and risk-friendly. The research tells us that teams who produce innovative results share some key elements :

  • Idea time: Leadership is committed to supporting and developing new ideas and enabling positive change. That means devoting time for teams to reflect on their work and how they work together and time designated for playing with new possibilities.
  • Debate: Thorough exploration and discussion of ideas should be encouraged while addressing interpersonal conflict in a timely manner.
  • Freedom and play: People must be allowed the freedom and independence to pursue their interests and seek out innovation. They should be give time and space to experiment, test assumptions, and fail as part of the innovation process.
  • Acceptance of risk: There needs to be a clear level of acceptance by everyone on the team of the risk taking needed for chasing that novel idea.
  • Trust: An environment in which it is understood that everyone is expected to pursue innovation and that no idea will be perfect. Trust each other’s skills and avoid quick judgments.
  • Idea support: Team members and leaders are aware of how they react to novel ideas and consciously practice methods (such as those mentioned next) to encourage and play with novelty as it comes up.

3 Habits of Innovative Teams

There are a few habits the leader in our book, “The Innovative Team: Unleashing Creative Potential for Breakthrough Results” uses to great effect.  Here are some that you can begin practicing right away – every day, till they become a part of who you are – your creative habit.  It’s the consistency in applying these skills that will make the biggest difference in creating the conditions needed for innovation – to build environments where conditions such as idea support, freedom, play, and trust are strong and vibrant.

1. “Here’s what I like about that…”

Often when we are presented with new ideas, our first inclination is either to run from them, attack them, or ignore them and hope they go away.  Recognize and bypass this impulse, waving if you like.  Try using the phrase, “Here’s what I like about that…” Lead with one or two positive aspects of the idea, no matter how crazy it is. This simple act is validating to the idea’s creator, who will feel comfortable bringing you future ideas.

2. Phrase problems as questions

Since no idea is perfect and we instinctively find flaws in others ideas, try to stop yourself before doing damage.  Instead of saying a creativity-killing phrased like, “That will never work, it’s too much change” or “That will cost way too much.” Try phrasing that negative remark in the form of a question.  For instance, “How might we get others to buy into that idea?” or “How might we keep the costs down?”  These questions give the idea’s creator something to work on without killing the idea completely.

3. Catch your assumptions and seek to understand

What often hampers our success communicating with others, whether they are teammates, staff, or members of our families, is that, thinking we know what they are going to say or why they are saying it,  and we leap to conclusions.  The result is often disastrous.  We can steamroll through their perspectives without understanding them, failing to appreciate the novelty they are bringing to the table and limiting hope of future growth.

When you find yourself leaping to conclusions and itching to finish their sentences, pause.  Those are clear warning signs you are replacing their perspective with you own. Instead, try asking some clarifying questions or summarized what you think you’ve heard.  Whenever possible try using phrases like “Are you saying…?” or simply “Tell me more,” as a means of increasing your depth of understanding about what is being communicated and limiting the negative effects your assumptions may have.

If you start practicing these “simple” behaviors – appreciating ideas, converting problems into puzzles, and recognizing your assumptions, you will notice two things:  One – doing these things is not as easy as it sounds.  It’s no “soft skill.”  It’s hard work.  And Two –give people some time to adjust to your new approach and you’ll see more ideas, more playfulness, and more problem-solving sprouting up all around you.  The difference can be profound.


Chris Grivas is the co-author of THE INNOVATIVE TEAM:  Unleashing Creative Potential For Breakthrough Results (Jossey-Bass, 2011) with Dr. Gerard J. Puccio.  For more information, please visit www.chrisgrivas.com.

2 Comments on "Building the Creative Habit"

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  1. Vidya Sury says:

    I absolutely love the “Here’s what I like about that…” – it is like hearing my Mom’s voice telling me to always look for the “good” first. People are usually quick to criticize and slow to praise. The reverse is equally easy, and I practice it. Wonderful post, Chris.

    Thank you, J.D. What a great start to my day!

  2. Hiten says:

    Hi Chris,

    This was one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time, with real practical application in the workplace.

    Thanks J.D. for having Chris guest post on your blog.

    The questioning and attitudes included in this post are phenomenal, and really support and encourage people to be open and creative without fear of being judged.

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