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Thinking Outside the Box with 3 Innovation Activities for Teams

Innovation is often thought of as the result of rare genius. To create a new solution to an old problem that is both more efficient and practical than older methods seems like the kind of thing only the truly gifted can accomplish.
Here’s a little secret: anyone can innovate. While there are those select textbook geniuses who work hard every single day to create industry-shaking innovations, many of the best ideas come from “regular” people who just thought: What can I do to make this process or idea better/easier/faster?
However, the bigger challenge is making sure these great ideas don’t go unnoticed in the organizations that these everyday innovators work for.
The real question is, “how can you get the teams in your organization to not only be more innovative, but to also feel more comfortable sharing their innovations for the benefit of the organization as a whole?”
One solution is to use some special innovation activities to help your teams “think outside the box” and be more creative. Here are a few activities that can help teams be more innovative:

Get Out of the Office

A core part of creating an innovative new solution to a challenge is to look at it from a different perspective.
In a Big Think post titled Why Traveling Abroad Makes Us More Creative Part II, it was noted that, “Through a series of five studies Maddux and Galinsky found that students who traveled abroad scored higher on tests of creativity.” These studies highlighted how students who traveled were able to look at problems from a wider number of perspectives—boosting their ability to innovate solutions to challenges.
Bring this study into your own organization— by taking a trip outside the office. Whether it’s a quick jaunt down the road or a major group vacation, a team trip can help employees expand their horizons so they’ll be more creative when it comes to their work.
Besides, it’s a great chance to just get out of the humdrum of the workplace and revitalize the team for a bit. As a side note, think about encouraging individual employees to take extended vacations abroad whenever the opportunity arises.

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The “Kill a Stupid Rule” Game

Here’s an activity suggestion used by Lisa Bodell, the founder/CEO of Futurethink and author of the book Kill the Company, which was highlighted in an article.
The game works by assembling employees from different business functions and breaking them up into groups of two or three people each. Then, you give each group 10 minutes to answer the question “If you could kill or change all the stupid rules that get in the way of better serving our customers or just doing your job, what would they be and how would you do it?” and watch the sparks fly.
Once the teams are done coming up with solutions to “stupid rules,” have each team pick out a single favorite to write down on a sticky note. Then, have each team put that sticky note on a graph that uses two axes:

  1. Ease of implementation
  2. Expected degree of impact

After the post-it notes are all up, discuss the results with employees. And, be prepared to kill some rules on the spot. As the article states, “Prove you’re willing to change. Prove employee engagement is a verb, not a noun.” This is crucial for demonstrating that employee input about activities they see as counterproductive are being taken seriously. It also helps to promote buy-in and make employees feel more comfortable bringing ideas to your attention.
While this might mean extra work on redesigning workflows for the team or altering processes, it can also mean getting innovative solutions to challenges right away.

Completing “Brain Teasers” and Puzzles

The completion of 3D puzzles, brain teasers, and other cognitive flexibility tests is recommended as part of a Stanford University publication that showcases different activities to “enhance innovative and inventive thinking abilities.” While the target of the publication was undergrad students, many of the exercises highlighted within can also be used to increase the mental flexibility of employees in an organization.
For example, 3D mechanical puzzles challenge the problem-solving skills of employees, helping stimulate their minds. Conversely, having a task to create 4 equilateral triangles out of 6 popsicle sticks can help encourage three-dimensional thinking by having workers create a pyramid out of the sticks.
Another brain teaser to consider is the “stuck” mind exercise. This exercise introduces workers to several different 2D geometric shapes—a triangle, an L-shape, a symmetrical trapezoid, a hexagon, and a rectangle. The workers are then asked to break each shape into smaller identical pieces. The triangle is broken into four separate pieces (which can be done by drawing an inverted triangle inside of it), as are the L-shape and the trapezoid. The hexagon is then broken into eight pieces and, finally, workers are asked to break the square into seven pieces.
As the Stanford publication states, “despite the fact that the last question is the easiest one, most students can’t solve it. Their minds simply ‘get stuck’ due to their expectation for [a] difficult question.” The activity helps demonstrate the need to look at problems with fresh eyes and avoiding unnecessary assumptions.
Each of these exercises helps to promote more flexible thinking, making them great activities for improving the innovation of your work teams.

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