4 Ways To Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills In The Workplace

Whether you’re a financial analyst or graphic designer, you need creative thinking skills at work. 

“I am considered a ‘creative’ by trade: My undergraduate degree is in design, and I worked as an art director for many years. Today I run my own company and I have never had my creativity put to the test more often than when I am wearing my CEO hat,” says Valerie Jimenez, the founder and CEO of full-service branding and digital marketing agency Bold Entity. “I wish more professionals – especially those in leadership roles – understood that being creative in the workplace doesn’t mean finding the most off-the-wall ideas.” 

What creative thinking skills are all about (and why they matter) 

So, if creativity is not about coming up with the next Netflix, what is it all about? Jimenez says that it starts with welcoming change and exploring things with curiosity, vulnerability, and empathy to find innovative solutions to your business’ most pressing problems. 

She shared an anecdote that perfectly illustrates the power of creative thinking skills in action. Her agency has a large number of clients in the construction/contractor sector. It doesn’t sound like the most creative field at first glance, right? But Jimenez and her team were tasked with a problem to solve: recruiting talent, a common pain point in the industry. 

“It took some doing, but I convinced them that they needed to think like a consumer company when it came to attracting talent,” she shares. “I found that most construction companies have amazing cultures: they know how to have fun, they solve difficult challenges, the workers enjoy a large degree of autonomy, no two days are ever alike, and most employees are rarely confined to a desk. The coworkers formed such a strong bond that they often socialized after work.” 

By creating employer brands and strong web presences that allowed construction companies to showcase their appealing cultures, Jimenez and her team helped their clients reach and attract young talent. Recruiting difficulties diminished. 

“The trick here wasn’t building a visually appealing, informative website – most good media companies can do that – it was finding a creative way to apply traditional marketing techniques to solve a problem in a non-traditional forum.” Now that’s creativity at its finest. 

How to improve your creative thinking skills at work 

In order to think outside the box and pull off that sort of impressive and innovative problem-solving, you need to actively work on improving your creative thinking skills. Here’s how. 

1. Create time and space for creativity 

First, you need to create the time and space for creativity. “In my case, at least, great ideas don’t just pop into my head. I make sure to give myself chunks of time to just … think,” says Jimenez. 

While scheduling creativity may sound counterintuitive, it’s a powerful practice. You send your brain the signal that now is the time to free-think. You remove distractions and set boundaries around your availability. And you allow your thoughts to roam, even if it means ruminating or not finding an immediate solution. It’s through that blocked-off time when you take a step back from daily deliverables that creative solutions start to emerge. 

2. Avoid idea overload 

Coming up with ideas is not always a problem. “Sometimes it’s having too many ideas that get us in trouble. Knowing which ones are feasible and which ones will make the most impact on the larger goals of the organization is key,” says Jimenez. “Bombarding your team with lots of great ideas can get everyone confused.” 

Keep a notebook or living document to store all your ideas. Let them simmer. Don’t act on them right away. Then, on a quarterly basis, review them and how they align with your larger goals, recommends Jimenez: “Are any of your ideas worthy of exploring? Would any of these ideas help solve the problems you are focusing on?” 

3. Go crazy with your team 

That being said, you don’t want to stop brainstorming. Crazy brainstorms are good. “Riffing, spitballing, ideating: whatever you want to call it, let your team (and yourself) go crazy!” says Jimenez. “There’s really no such thing as a bad idea because even the worst can lead to a good one. If you – the leader – really walk this walk, your team will feel safe saying what’s on their mind and they are sure to offer up some gems, either for the task at hand or for the future.” 

Take a page from her book by doing an exercise called the Worst Possible Idea, which involves coming up with the silliest, craziest ideas possible. “It is a lot of fun and very productive. I can assure you that most of the best commercials, advertising campaigns, and business ideas around the world have been created with this exercise,” adds Jimenez. 

4. Prioritize and foster curiosity 

Finally, always remember that curiosity precedes creativity. “Some of the most creative people I know would be hard-pressed to draw a stick figure. So what do they all have in common? They’re insatiably curious about the world around them,” she says. 

Observe the world around you. Ask questions. Soak up information from various sources. Connect dots that are seemingly unrelated. Make unexpected comparisons that help you see things from a unique perspective. From that place, formulate new ideas. That’s the true meaning of creativity, after all.