When we think of originality, we usually associate it with creative people – the artists, filmmakers, the entrepreneurs with radical ideas, or world leaders who make the headlines. Yet, we also want our employees to keep thinking out of the box, but are probably not seeing the results we want in this direction. Why? Organizational development specialist Adam Grant says, “Most people are in fact quite capable of novel thinking and problem solving, if only organizations would stop pounding them into conformity.”

What can we then do to foster originality of thought? Get people to ideate more and more. Here’s how:

Quantity over quality. Brainstorming is common at workplaces. But how many ideas do we come up with in a session? 10, 12, maybe 20. Research shows that even at the number 20, we generate conventional ideas. To get unique, we need to amp that number 10 times, and generate 200 ideas. Says Grant, “Sheer volume improves your chances of finding novel solutions.” Moreover, it is only after 200-250 ideas that their quality may decrease. There’s evidence for that. Remember the movie Cars, by Pixar? The idea for that was selected after 500 pitches were made.

Bring out the suggestion box. This has been an age-old process for asking employees for feedback anonymously – to write it on a piece of paper and drop it in a box. But imagine using it for people to submit their ideas. It’ll create space for everyone, the extroverts and introverts, to share their thoughts. The anonymity removes the risk of people feeling that their ideas are foolish. Moreover, it is a process you can run over and over. Just state the problem you need ideas for and welcome it all within a fixed time frame. A note of caution – someone needs to sift through all the ideas and harvest the good ones.

Put your team on the offense. Usually during ideation sessions, teams look at strategies to maintain market share, promote products, or ensure customer loyalty. It is akin to asserting territory. But what do teams need to do to conquer new territory? Go on the offense. Merck did it well. The CEO of Merck, Ken Fraizer, divided their executives into groups and asked them to think of ways in which the company could go out of business. The executives started considering bold new directions that competitors could take. They could imagine market threats that didn’t yet exist. The result was a fresh set of opportunities for innovation.

Creativity is a muscle we all have but need to exercise. How can you create the right environment for your team to do so?

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