Creativity Slump? What to Do When Your Team Gets Stuck
Dmitry Davydov 27 August 2014
Your team works well together, solves problems, and comes up with innovative, unique ideas. Except when they don't. If your team is in a creative slump, here are five ways you can end it.
1. Identify the Blocks
Denial is your enemy. Awareness is your friend. If everybody is sitting around, pretending like everything is going just fine, you need to step in. Open the discussion so that they can be open about their difficulties. Ask questions and listen to their answers. Chances are, they already know a few issues - or, perhaps, many - that are causing blocks. Set up a team meeting and talk about what is blocking the normal creative flow you have come to expect from them. The goal of the meeting should not be to destroy all creative blocks, but to figure out what they are. Sometimes, talking through the issue will prove to the solution. If communication problems, personality conflicts, or internal stress is the source of reduced creativity, an open and supportive discussion can do a lot to resolve it. If, however, the issues are different, you will know how to start addressing them once you know what they are.
Most likely, neither of those things is happening when your team is actively working on a creative project. If the pressure is on and the deadline is looming, your team members are focused and stressed. And that stance is kind of the opposite of what creativity needs. Enforce a break, of a few hours, a half day, or more if you can afford it. Require no work during the break: team members should take personal time, take a walk, take a nap. After the break, your team will be able to get back to work with refreshed minds and new creative energy.
3. Work on a Different Project
The magic of creativity is in the diverse connections made. Inventiveness doesn't usually happen from stumbling across brand-new knowledge, but in combining well-known facts in new ways. In order to do that, though, the brain needs input from a variety of sources. Stimulation is important. If your team has been hunkered down, working on a single task or on very similar projects, their brains are starved for new input, different input, a variety of sources. Move the team to something completely different for a while, then come back later with fodder for fresh connections.
4. Take the Pressure Off
There's another thing creativity doesn't like very much: pressure. People might feel like they are being creative when they come up with solutions under stress, but research shows that both the quality and creativity of work plummets when stress is high. Remove or extend deadlines. Give your team some breathing space. Bring in more team members so that tasks and responsibilities can be spread out. Add more resources. Creativity is a function of growth, not survival. If the brain interprets the environment as a threatening one, it will not be searching for new and novel ways to respond. It will be coming up with quick, defensive measure to end the threat (or stress) as quickly as possible.
5. Impose Limits
Generality does not heighten creativity. There's a reason that Hallmark cards don't go down in the annals of great poetry: generalities do not make powerful images. Generalities do not produce powerful creativity, either. Creativity responds to challenges (not pressure) when there is a particular need to be met. If you've asked your team to "be creative" about a broad area or request, try tightening the scope. Define the lines. Set boundaries. Name the problem, as specifically as possible, and then work on a single, focused solution.