What Creativity Training Looks Like

It’s hard to convince people that they need training. All trainers know this. Every training developer on the planet has a story, some variant on the same theme. “This training is vital for my employees; they must learn these skills! Oh, but not now, they are too busy at the moment.” Yep, because they’re too busy using an axe to pick up that chainsaw.

It’s understandable. Even when training is essential, it can be put off a little longer. Even if it can’t, it feels like you can. You have to meet that customer today. You must finish that report now. Learning how to do those things, well, it’s not as urgent.

In my experience, even when there is a willingness to take training, there isn’t always the availability. That’s life. Crises happen and there’s always something urgent. But it means that even with all the support and enthusiasm in the world, getting people to your course is hard.

When the course content is as fuzzy as ‘creative thinking’, it’s even harder.

Again, this is understandable. Creative thinking can wait a day or two… right? Besides, in the back of everyone’s mind is the Really Bad Soft Skills course. Maybe it was strategic thinking, negotiation skills or empathy building. The topic doesn’t matter because the content was irrelevant. The course was full of words and empty gestures and ‘how did that make you feel’s. Touchy-feely. Designed to elicit an emotional response but learning something, not so much.

It’s thanks to these bad examples that people have a poor view of this sort of training. (The great examples, of course, don’t get factored in). This is the perfectly reasonable objection you need to overcome, before you can overcome the other obstacles.

These obstacles are why, despite every major organisation claiming to foster innovation, creative thinking training is so rare. Even if people had the time, they’re thinking that this will be their new Really Bad course horror story. In their mind, deep down, they are anticipating a course where you fingerpaint and roleplay as astronauts and do other useless stuff they can’t apply in the real world.

It’s nothing personal. It’s just that they’ve been burned before.

But what if there you could get around these objections? What if you could teach your team to think creatively? What if there were a program that taught innovation and would go down as a Really Good course? What if you could generate repeatable improvements – even when people are too busy for training?

What would that be worth to you?

In this series I’ve talked about learning creativity for yourself and teaching it to a team. This post will describe what creativity training can look like. Given the subject matter, you’d expect it to be free of the usual constraints. No PowerPoint presentations with a barely-relevant quote on slide 2. No stuffy classrooms with faulty computers and faultier chairs. No content that sounds great but is just one more thing you don’t have time for.

Creativity isn’t daydreaming. It’s action. It comes from the root word ‘create’, which is not something you can do in a traditional classroom. You can’t learn algebra or driving by reading about it – you have to do it to learn, and creativity is the same.

Of course, the difference with creativity is that everyone can already do it. It’s a skill hardwired into the brain, like sensing hunger or detecting movement. In that case, the training has to be about bringing that skill to the surface. It has to encourage the learners to embrace and accept that style of thinking in themselves and others. It’s a skill, yes, but it’s also an attitude adjustment.

All adult learning has to be relevant to the learner. Our brains crave context – why we want to learn something is more important than what it is. Teaching innovation can’t be about learning to paint or express yourself through poetry. It has to be about creative thinking in the workplace, to achieve results.

And, of course, the training must be efficient. It must be short, sharp and to the point. It must immediately produce results to crush hesitation. People give you many reasons why they can’t complete your course. Don’t let them. The training must undercut every point of resistance.

All this is a tall order. Can any training live up to it all?

Creative Thinking for Teams delivers against all these points, and more. It exists outside the classroom. I designed it to be taught in the workplace, at the learners’ desks. It turns the classroom on its head by getting the learners to work individually, then come together to share and discuss.

The course covers some theory about creative thinking. Learners profile themselves and the team to access their styles and identify shortcomings. In other words, it’s all about them. From there, it is hands-on. The learners don’t hear about creativity; they create. The first creative task is to identify a problem facing the team. The second is to develop solutions to it. Again, it’s all about them. The course overflows with relevance and value.

As for efficiency, the pilot course I ran speaks for itself. The course took about five hours (two hours face-to-face, plus time spent outside these sessions) over about two weeks. The learners overwhelmingly agreed that they learned things they can apply in their jobs. And to sweeten the pot, the course produced a series of recommendations for improving the way the team operates.

This is how you teach creativity – by getting the learners to create. This is how you convey concepts – by making it about them. And this is how you sell the course – by producing immediate and unique value. Creative Thinking for Teams is powerful enough and flexible enough to help any organisation perform better. It is simple enough that anyone can run it. And it’s valuable enough to be repeated again, and again, and again.

Embrace creative thinking today. Change approaches at unfathomable speed. Those teams that can harness creativity will thrive, while all others will falter. The opportunities and threats are stronger than ever. Now, more than any other time, such a small investment in creativity can lead to incredible results. Your organisation deserves to unlock its creative potential, so be sure to do it right.

This post is part of Creativity Month over at Mindwalker Training.

 

Teaching teams to be creative

You can learn anything, given enough time and dedication. You can learn to be rich. You can learn to be smarter. You can learn to be an expert tennis player. You can learn to be kind, gentle and wise.

The old view of intelligence was that you were born with it, or not. All education and training could do is bring you to your natural limits. Success was a matter of learning your talents and developing them as best you could. The new view, backed by the latest psychology and neuroscience, blows this out of the water. The brain is flexible and plastic. At any age, any part of it can be rewritten and repurposed. If you feel as if you have peaked, it’s only because you’re not pushing yourself smart enough, or hard enough.

Creativity is a skill. It’s one that you can learn. It’s different from learning algebra, but only in the details. It’s about nurturing a particular way of thinking, practicing it and defending it. I spoke about how to do this in the last post. Then I raised the question: how do you do this for teams?

An individual can learn to think in new, exciting ways. Sometimes all it takes is a little motivation. For groups of people, it’s harder. Your own habits can be replaced. For groups of people, it requires rewriting the rules on how that group operates.

Fortunately, I have a lot of experience on that subject. I have been in the business of transforming organisations my entire career. I started as a data analyst, hunting for new connections and opportunities for people. It was satisfying to see colleagues change the way they worked and scoring huge wins.

My first encounter with training was developing a course around revolutionary tradecraft. This tradecraft – at the time, my greatest achievement – has transformed the way organisations around the world think about data. I fell in love with training, this mystical process where you directly altered the behaviours of people. It has been the focus of my career ever since.

The question of how organisations change – and how to control it – has been the common link across my working life. It’s a question I never intent to stray far from. The answers are powerful. Transforming a workplace’s culture can have an impact that’s impossible to foresee.

How does a team learn a new skill or way of thinking? If it’s a technical skill, that’s relatively easy. Good training will transfer knowledge. Applying it in the workplace will develop the skill. If you have the chance to both learn and do, technical skills are easy. This isn’t because they are simple to learn (I’d never say that!). It’s because they are easier to measure and often seen as more important than ‘soft’ skills.

Training isn’t always the best way to develop any skills, especially less technical ones. But it can be. It’s an uphill battle, certainly. People need to be convinced that they need these skills, that the training is the best way, that it’s worth the investment, and about a hundred other points along the way. It’s worth it, though.

If you are in a position of influence, you can apply the advice from my last post. You can nurture creativity by changing the environment and rewarding experimentation. You can practice it by shaping tasks to include space for innovation, reflection and failing. You can build energy by reminding your team of the impact their work has on the organisation, the community, maybe even the world. You can support focus by containing distractions and given them the space to think.

But maybe you can’t do any of that. That would be too easy. How do you encourage a culture change to embrace creative thinking?

Learn the organisation’s expressed values

Most organisations claim to support creativity. Few actually do, but don’t let that stop you from using their slogans against them. When the corporate strategy includes a throwaway line about “harnessing the innovative potential of employees”, leap on that. Reference it in your reports, meetings and emails. No one is going to deny that innovation is important and no one is going to admit the strategy is meaningless. It might not convince everyone, but it will open the door to your message.

Learn the organisation’s actual values

If you want to change the culture, you need to learn what the culture is. For a laugh, read Enron’s code of ethics. Then never again make the mistake that a mission statement has any link to a company’s culture.

Mission statements, strategies and the like are all just words. To understand a culture, you need to see what people do. When does the organisation celebrate and commiserate? Who do they hire, fire and promote? What gets the most attention? Which valuable projects wither and die?

That is the culture. Anything else is a paintjob.

Tap into these. If the mission statement goes on and on about providing quality products, make a note of that. If the sales team is rewarded for pushing known lemons, act on that. Link your training to boosting sales while paying lip service to improving quality. It allows people to buy into the lie to save face while giving them what they really want.

Produce value

And prove it. Measure everything before and after the training. Find a metric that improves and build a story around it. Your training genuinely added value, but softer skills are harder to measure. Find what data you can and make it work for you.

The best thing is to link your training to some major, visible project. Don’t take credit where none is due – people can smell the crap a mile away. Genuinely help a major project, then milk your contributions as much as you (honestly) can. If you can’t feed into a high-visibility project, create one.

Never stop pushing

One iteration of the training won’t change anything. Chances are, you’ll be lucky to get even that. Don’t let that stop you. Never stop striving for organisational change. Take feedback and act on it. If people say they’ll pick up the course when things are “less hectic” (ie, never), streamline it. Make it more accessible. When events shake things up, point out that your training is well-suited to take advantage of/deal with the opportunities/threats. Don’t allow people the luxury of pushing your training from their minds.

I like to attach an unusual word or phrase to my initiatives. When people repeat them back to you in other contexts, that’s how you know you’re in their head. While you’re there, take advantage of it. Keep the training alive. Only when creative thinking is a habit can you let your guard down.

Organisations rarely change willingly. Encouraging change is an enormous task. But by understanding how culture shapes thinking, you can bypass their objections and encourage a gentle transformation. It’s not easy. Culture has a way of resisting change. It’s worth it, though. Affecting change is proof that you are alive.

What does creativity training look like, though? And how do you convince people to embrace it? Stay tuned for my next blog post answering these questions and more.

This post is part of Creativity Month over at Mindwalker Training.

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How to learn to be creative

I used to struggle with creativity. I mean, really struggle with it. Which was devastating. It was a genuine blow to my self-image. Like a lot of you, I dream big. I’ve always wanted to achieve wild success, for the products of my mind to transform lives. But it was always a dream, a fantasy, as I had no real way of making that happen.

The truth was, I had plenty of ideas. Ideas come to me. I could stay busy for decades on the ideas I already have, let alone the new ones that fly into my mind. The part I struggled with was getting the ideas out there. I’d be so full of energy and enthusiasm while thinking of the idea. When it came to developing it, even writing down vague notes, that energy bled away. Getting the idea out of my head was a struggle.

Your struggle might be different from mine. Some people are more industrious… but can’t develop ideas to be industrious about. I know how it feels. I know the pain of unrequited creativity all too well.

I’ve come a long way since then. Maintaining a project, any project, would have been a tall order. Yet here I am, developing content at a rate I never dreamed of. Ideas flow from my mind to the screen unhindered. I’m scratching the creative itch like never in my life. I’m crackling with energy. I need to be to put in the hours every day after work. Never have I felt to satisfied.

How did I do it? It helps that, over the years, I’ve developed an obsession with creativity. I study it, research it and experiment with it. I tweak, test and poke it. I read about neuroscience, psychology, successful people, mindsets and philosophy. Over the years, I’ve developed a large body of knowledge on the subject.

Should you do the same? Absolutely. But supposing for a second that you are busy or have different interests, I can share with you the tips and tricks I’ve picked up.

Nurture

If you want to live a creative life, you have to nurture creativity. This is about open your mind up to creative experience and letting the thoughts flow. Creative thinking can’t be willed or forced any more than your height or eye colour. Realising that you have to work with your mind opens up entire mental realms.

  • Fill your workspace with inspiration. Hang beautiful pictures on the walls or tape motivational quotes to your computer. (Why do you think my Twitter account has so many quotes about learning?)
  • Learn how your creativity flows. If you get fired up by conflict, court it – but be smart about it. If not, avoid it during your creating time.
  • Take a moment to appreciate something beautiful each day. Be grateful for what you have. Remember that the world is abundant, teeming with opportunities made especially for you. It will put you in the right frame of mind for creating masterpieces.

Practice

Like all things, creativity is a skill. If you take the time to develop it, you’ll notice the change.

  • Carry a notebook and pen everywhere you go. Phones aren’t fast enough for scribbling random thoughts. Keep paper and pens at key locations – your bedside table, your workspace, your desk at work. If you get an idea, write it down then move on. Revisit your notes when you are free from distractions.
  • I can recommend Choose Yourself by James Altucher for so many reasons. One is his strategy of writing ten ideas a day. Treat your brain like a muscle by stretching beyond its comfort zone. Because, like a muscle, it will grow.
  • Speaking of book recommendations, read Your Creative Brain by Dr Shelley Carson. Practice the exercises for brainsets you are weak in. Practice switching between brainsets. Practice everything.

Energy

The biggest boost to my energy triggered my biggest increase in creativity. Suddenly I was able to work for hours, not minutes. I was producing quality material, not garbage. I was thinking all the time, not feeling frazzled. All because I had the energy to sit there and work, work, work.

  • Fuel well. Your diet determines most of your energy. If you often experience food comas or sugar crashes, you are crippling your creativity. Unique insights are one of the highest quality processes your body can do. It needs fuel it can burn cleanly to reach these peaks.
  • Exercise a little each day. It doesn’t need to be much to give amazing results. Light cardio and weights for half an hour can prime your brain to function superbly. You probably won’t start craving exercise every day until you stop doing it.
  • Look after your mind. Your brain desires rest, sleep, stimulation and a sense of purpose. Among other things. If these fall out of balance, you can endure for a while. If the balance persists, it can send your brainpower crashing.
  • Develop a mantra. Make it action-based and aspirational. Figure out what you want to do, what your ultimate success looks like, and write “I will achieve ”. Hang it in your workspace. Keep it in your wallet. Think of it often. It will give you a sense of purpose and that will drive you. Good TV and a case of the blahs are no match for a sense of purpose.

Focus

Energy without focus is hyperactivity. Focus without energy is passivity. Together, you stride powerfully towards your objectives. Nothing can distract you. Nothing can stop you.

  • Buy decent headphones and listen to binaural beats. Binaural beats send different frequencies to each ear. They throw around claims about elevating your consciousness and giving you incredible focus. Unlike most such claims, these are true. YouTube has many great channels – one I like is Audio Entrainment HQ.
  • If you are struggling, use the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer for, say, 20 minutes. Promise to focus on your task until the timer goes off. No matter how flat you feel, you have 20 minutes of effort in you. When the timer goes off, reward yourself.
  • Make your workspace as distraction-free as possible. Binaural beats help by drowning out sound. You’ll want to be disciplined with your phone, social media and chores that can wait.

Creativity is a skill and a state of mind. You can’t achieve it by forcing it, but you can reach it by following your brain’s rules. You are in control, which gives you the power to cultivate creative thinking.

These techniques work brilliantly, no matter who you are. But have you ever been motivated to innovate, gotten to work and been sucked in by the soul-crushing culture? Most organisations say they like creativity while actively suppressing it. How do you express creativity in a team that kills it?

It takes more than learning creativity. You must also teach it. How to do that is the topic of the next blog post.

This post is part of Creativity Month over at Mindwalker Training.

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