Despite the allure of the Newton’s apple story (Apple falls, and presto, change-o: an idea is born), creativity doesn’t fall from trees. On the contrary, the kind of creative thinking that drives true innovation takes nurturing. And by nurturing, I mean an honest and consistent commitment to exploration and out-of-the-box thinking in the form of time, resources, and space.
Because, here’s the thing: as product-design company Zurb aptly puts it, “People struggle to be creative when it’s not part of the culture.” Companies may tout “Innovation!” as their driving goal, but that proclamation means nothing if there isn’t infrastructure to support true creative thinking day-to-day.
Which leads me back to Zurb and a simple little practice called Friday 15. On Fridays, their team dedicates, you guessed it, 15 minutes, to some kind of creative exercise. They do this for team-building, fun, and to inspire a creative culture. Here’s a taste of the brain-ticklers they’ve explored together:
Activity: Teams of 3 design and build a paper helicopter and then test them to see whose design descends the slowest.
Benefits: This is a product design challenge hidden in a fun activity. Teams work together to explore ideas, iterate on concepts, and ultimately build a final solution to the problem.
Telephone art direction
Activity: In pairs, one person finds something in another location for their partner to draw and describes it to them visually over the phone. The "artist" has to draw the thing without knowing what it is.
Benefits: This is an exercise in communication because people are restricted in what things they can say. It also helps teams describe things visually vs. literally, sharpening their design language skills. And, it can be a great team-building exercise for remote colleagues.
And there are lots more exercises where those came from.
Here’s what I love about the Friday 15 practice: it eliminates the excuse that you don’t have time for play or exploration. I know, I know…your deadlines are urgent. But, let’s get real: if your team can’t make 15 minutes a week to stretch your brains in new directions, something is seriously wrong with your culture. Even if you don’t “have time” to come up with creative exercises of your own, you can go directly to Zurb’s Friday 15 activities webpage and just pick one. They’ve done the prep-work for you!
All of this is to say, find a way, whether Friday 15 jams or lunchtime talks by speakers outside of your industry, to invest in the ongoing cultivation of creativity. Rituals like these matter. They help staff build critical thinking muscles, make unexpected connections with more frequency, and stretch their brains beyond the confines of their day-to-day work. More importantly, they prove to everyone involved that “Innovation!” is not just lip-service, but a way of working together.