In the British town where I grew up, there’s a well-known story about how a young boy helped to get a double-decker bus unstuck from under a railway bridge. The driver didn’t realize the bus was too tall to pass under the bridge, and so he got the vehicle really lodged in there.
Engineers were summoned to determine how to get the bus out. A number of ideas were considered, each more complex than the other, including dismantling the bus and lifting the bridge.
As the engineers conferred, a boy who had been watching the scene approached and suggested they just let the air out of the bus’s tires. The solution was brilliant and simple. The air was released, and the bus easily extracted.
This is a classic example of bringing a fresh perspective and creative thinking to a problem.
When most of us think of “creative types,” we envision a painter, photographer, or the like. But creativity is just as important in business as in the arts. The World Economic Forum, in fact, named creativity as one of the top three skills required to run a business, along with complex problem solving and critical thinking. LinkedIn Learning identified creativity as the most important skill.
Creativity is critical in business since it enables you to “think outside of the box” for new solutions, or to address existing problems in an entirely different way. It’s also a component of the agility companies need when facing market disruptions such as is the case with our current pandemic. Companies that have done well have transformed creatively in regard to how they sell or even what they sell to conform to our current times, such as whiskey distilleries producing hand sanitizer and local restaurants becoming community pantries.
As businesspeople, how can we be more creative? Here are four things you can do to tap into your more innovative self:
Let Yourself “Be Free.” It can be difficult, especially for those who lean toward perfectionism, to simply put ourselves “out there.” We worry the boss won’t like our idea, or that we’ll be criticized—or worse—ridiculed. The best brainstorm sessions begin with a reminder that no thoughts or ideas are bad ones. Once that level of self-consciousness is stripped away, good ideas can begin to emerge more freely.
There’s a saying about “throwing it on the wall to see what sticks,” and that’s the way any good creative session should be. No ideas are off limits or too “out there.”
Seek Out Others—Especially Those Who Think Differently From You. Such as in the case of the boy and the double-decker bus, sometimes all it takes is to see things from a different perspective. While the engineers were busy with their complex plans, the boy saw something obvious they didn’t. Similarly, when you’re seeking a new solution to a business problem, try to talk it out with someone who has an entirely different outlook from you. What a room full of marketers fail to recognize may be obvious to that guy in accounting.
Shift Your Surroundings. There’s a reason business retreats occur outside the office. Moving away from the mundane—office cubicles and conference rooms—can be freeing and provide the stimulus for fresh thinking.
On a similar note, if you’ve been grappling with an issue but your mind is stuck, try spending some time simply not thinking about your problem. Go for a run, watch a movie, or take a nap. You’ll be surprised what ideas will surface when you free your mind to go elsewhere.
Utilize Tools That Spark Creativity. Rubik’s Cubes, brightly colored markers to doodle with, and even bean bags to toss around can stimulate the playful, creative centers of our brains. Keep some of these items on or nearby your desk to let your mind “play” while you puzzle over the latest business challenge or problem.
Despite the consensus that creative thinkers are needed in business, a Gallup American Workplace Study revealed that 35 percent of workers are only given the opportunity to be creative a few times a year. That’s a shame and a waste of potential.
The good news is that creativity isn’t just for artists; we just need to learn to use it more as an approach to resolving business problems. So, go ahead: Seek out new, creative ways to get your double-decker bus unstuck from that bridge.
This article was originally published on the author’s blog and reprinted with permission.