A “Basic” Trick to Boost Your Team’s Creativity

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Imagine this: There’s a crisis looming in your business.

[You: “Why do you have to be so negative, Bill?”]

 [Me: “Fair point. Let’s reset.”]

Imagine this: There’s an opportunity looming in your business. [You: “Thank you.”] And now you need your team to come up with creative ideas to best take advantage of this great opportunity. You want them to “think outside of the box.” You want them to “go wild!” You tell them, “Let your imaginations flow!” You expect magic.

And instead, you get the same old same old.

What went wrong?

It could be in the way you defined the task.


If creativity is your goal, then when you’re defining the task think “basic” rather than “specific.” In other words, broaden your description to the most basic level possible.

Let me give you an example. [You: “Thank you.”]

Let’s say that you manage a retail shoe store—which we’ll call Foot Patrol—in a mall, and that you want to attract more potential customers to your store. You decide to ask your team for ideas. Here’s one way you could pose the question to your team:

  • “How can we make our storefront more attractive to mall shoppers?”

What you’ll get will be ideas like:

  • “Paint it a really pretty blue.”
  • “Put a poster of Kendall Jenner in the window.”
  • “Get fresh flowers each morning and put them at the entrance.”

And sure, some of these might be good ideas that might work. But these ideas are limited. Why? Because your question was too specific. You asked specifically about how to make the storefront more attractive. And so that’s the question your team answered. But it’s not the most basic question at the heart of the issue.

What if, instead, you asked this question:

  • “How can we get more potential customers into the store?”

You may get ideas like:

  • “Hire people to walk around the mall talking loudly about the great deal they got on these great shoes at Foot Patrol.”
  • “Offer free ice cream sundaes on Sundays.”
  • “Create a giant vacuum inside the store that literally sucks passersby in.”
  • “Send Facebook ads to targeted potential customers who live in our zip code.”
  • “Have a daily, in-store contest of some sort with the prize being a free pair of shoes.”

Can you see the difference? You asked a much more basic question, which took the limitations off the ideas. It’s true that some of these ideas may not be practical (or even physically possible), but remember—you were going for creativity.

If #creativity is your goal, move your questions from specific to basic. Click To Tweet

Now, what if you got even more basic with your question:

  • “How can we sell more shoes?”

Or even:

  • “How can we become more profitable?”

Sometimes you need a specific answer to a specific question. But if you want to elicit more creative ideas from your team, try getting back to “basics.”

If you want more creative ideas from your team, try getting back to “basics.” #creativity Click To Tweet

About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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