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5 tasks to help you innovate

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The best ideas come out of thinking creatively. If you’re wondering how to generate ideas that keep you both surviving and thriving during these uncertain times, there are some activities that can help boost ideation.

Here are a few tried and tested activities for charging up your creativity:


Spend time with young children [if you can!]

The global pandemic led to parents becoming teachers as millions of children moved from the classroom to the home to learn. If you are a parent you will have no doubt spent a great deal of time with your little cherubs and the thought of spending even more time with the kids could be a push too far, but before you rush back to work for a break and to social distance from the children, spend a bit of time working with them on your business. Crazy? Well no, it isn’t. Some of the best ideas for businesses come from being a parent and spending time with young children.

How? At a certain age, children have an uncanny ability to produce new ideas. Whether scribbling with crayons, thinking up stories or playing games, it often seems like their imaginations are limitless. That is, until a certain age, when it all suddenly stops. Where before they were drawing dragons with spaceships for hands, they’re now asking you for ideas of what to sketch.

What happened? Self-consciousness happened, that’s what. When we become more socially aware, we begin to realise that the things we put into the world are meaningful to other people. We learn that everything we say, do and create affects the way people see us, as well as the way they treat us in return. And this realisation only gets stronger as we grow. In fact, as adults, we are so good at analysing our ideas for their practical and social value that the moment of creation and the moment of evaluation are almost simultaneous.

When we’re stuck for ideas, the problem isn’t that the ideas aren’t there. The problem is that we shut the ideas down so fast we don’t even notice. They never pass the mental ‘how will this idea make me look?’ test that we perform on almost everything we say and do.

Give a young child a problem and ask them to solve it. Their initial answers might seem far-fetched but this ‘everything is possible’ imagination can really help you to push the boundaries of what is possible. Ask them to review some marketing information and to tell you what it is about. It’s a really insightful task.


Create a thinking space

Big advertising agencies and technology firms are known for their bean bags, creative pods and bubble rooms and regardless of your feelings on these office additions they are there to create a dedicated space to think away from the desk.

The budget or space might not stretch right now to include these trendy additions, but it doesn’t mean you can’t create your own space to evolve ideas. Why not take yourself off to a green space for an hour or two with a notebook and jot down some thoughts? Dedicate one day a month to a clear diary – not to play golf or catch up on paperwork – but to occupy yourself with something else – this is not leave – it is space. It is still working time but at a distance away from the place you usually work, and it is dedicated to collecting your thoughts and developing ideas.

Giving yourself space away from the day to day place you usually work really helps to generate ideas and think creatively. But make sure you switch off any distractions like phones and social media notifications!


First principles design

First-principles thinking is one of the best ways to reverse-engineer complicated problems and unleash creative possibility. Sometimes called “reasoning from first principles,” the idea is to break down complicated problems into basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up. It’s one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself, unlock your creative potential, and move from linear to non-linear results.

This creative ideation technique was recently popularised by Elon Musk, but don’t let that put you off! It requires you to unpack and dismantle “popular assumptions” about your subject, to reach its core truths: the bare facts that you know to be unassailable.

When you strip your area of investigation back to its first principles, you can bypass traditional solutions in order to reach exciting new conclusions. It’s all about not simply doing things the same way because that’s how other people have been doing it.

Start by making a list of all the things you think you know about your subject. Then, for each entry, ask yourself how and why you know this piece of information. Were you told it? Did you experience it for yourself? What is the evidence that supports this idea?

Once you’ve established what is real, you’ll know what is possible, and you can work from there.

For more information on this technique:


Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a highly effective way of getting information in and out of your brain. Mind mapping is a creative and logical means of notetaking and note-making that literally "maps out" your ideas.

 All Mind Maps have some things in common. They have a natural organisational structure that radiates from the centre and use lines, symbols, words, colour and images according to simple, brain-friendly concepts. Mind mapping converts a long list of monotonous information into a colourful, memorable and highly organized diagram that works in line with your brain's natural way of doing things.

If you’re struggling to connect ideas – a mind map is the perfect tool.


Promote learning – and then learn from others

The opportunities for learning and growth online are immense. There are so many online classes, courses and webinars to choose from and the number of free sessions has quadrupled during the global pandemic. A dedicated few hours a week to online courses or webinars will pay back results in no time because ideas and better ways of doing things will stem from learning and hearing from others. But rather than just leave the learning and ideation to you, make sure that your team are also learning during this time and then ask them to train or feedback their learning to the wider team. This will help others to learn and grasp a broader understanding of a topic or subject.