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Three ways to generate more creative thinking ideas

Creative thinking - operational efficiency

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Why read this? : You need creativity to grow your business, but it isn’t always easy to do. We share three ways you can generate more creative thinking ideas. Learn the importance of allocating roles in the creative thinking process. Learn the differences between creative and operational modes. And learn how the right environment and culture support creativity. Read this to help you generate more creative thinking ideas. 

Our creative thinking guide shares the 3 benefits of creativity for your business.

First, creativity helps you differentiate your brand identity. Then, it helps you improve the customer experience. And lastly, you use it to build the brand assets you use in brand activation.

With such clear benefits, you’d think creativity would be a high priority for most business, right? They’d spend a lot of time on it. 

But, no. In reality most business spend very little time on creative thinking.

Creative thinking - operational efficiency

They get stuck in day to day tasks. They look for certainty, predictability and routine. These are the opposites of what being creative means. It means there can be many barriers to creative thinking

So, to help you get into a more creative way of thinking, this week we share 3 easy ways to generate more creative thinking ideas. 

Creative thinking #1 - Define key roles

The idea generation stage is the first of 3 stages in the creative thinking process. It’s followed by idea screening and idea refinement. (see the full process in our creative thinking guide). 

 It can often be hard to know how and where to start. You know you need to come up with ideas, but who’s going to run it. It can help to allocate specific roles to different people. Each role has different responsibilities and tasks. 

This gives the process some structure and makes it clear who’s doing what. The 3 key roles are :-

As summary of the three key roles in idea generation - Opportunity owner, facilitator and contributor
  • opportunity owner.
  • facilitator.
  • contributor. 

The opportunity owner

The opportunity owner starts the process. They identify the need for creative thinking ideas. It’s usually someone senior in the business or someone in marketing. 

The opportunity might be something brand new the business hasn’t done before. Or it could be fixing a problem to improve the way the business works. Either way, the owner’s responsible for finding the answer.

You normally find the opportunity in one of the 3 benefit areas we mentioned earlier. They’re in brand differentiation, customer experience or brand activation. The creative thinking process helps you work out how to go after the opportunity. 

Idea generation session

Once the need’s identified, the owner initiates the next step in the process by pulling together a team of relevant people.

This team get together in what’s called an idea generation (or sometimes ideation) session. 

This stage is all about generating a large number of ideas. Whether those ideas are good or bad doesn’t matter too much. They can be screened and refined later. Quantity, not quality of ideas matters. 

Importantly, the opportunity owner does not run this session. They appoint a facilitator (more of which in a second), so they can take part in the session without worrying about the process. 

That means they can freely throw in their own creative thinking ideas. They hold off on making any judgements on other ideas.

Workshop post its generic contents

Remember, it’s about getting as many ideas as you can. Judgement comes later in the process.

The session and process is run by a facilitator. It’s there job to make sure the right things happen, not to come up with the ideas. That means they need to know how to pull ideas from the team. 


The facilitator owns the process to find the idea that’ll meet the idea opportunity. That process includes the set-up and running of the idea generation session. They first need to understand the need the opportunity owner identified. This helps define the goal for the process. 

Giving out stimulus material, for example. Running creative thinking exercises. Sourcing inputs and ideas from outside the business. (See our creative thinking guide, and our article on creative problem solving for more on this).

The facilitator runs the session. They take notes and make sure the group keeps to time. Their objective is to help the group generate and organise ideas. They also manage difficult people and plan for group dynamics. (see our easy creative ideas article for more on this). 

But importantly, they don’t contribute ideas in this session. That’s not their role. In fact, it’s important they avoid judging or filtering ideas. That’s the opportunity owner’s job at the next stage. 

It can often help to have an external facilitator, say from a marketing agency or a specialist facilitator. If the facilitator is an expert in the process, but not the topic, it can help a lot. They’re more likely to remain impartial on the ideas from the group. 

The facilitator is also responsible for co-ordinating the outputs of the meeting. They should send these to the opportunity owner. At that point, responsibility for the ideas passes back to the opportunity owner. 


Contributors are anyone in the business, or from outside like your marketing agencies who bring ideas, knowledge or expertise to the opportunity. 

You want people who are naturally good at coming up with innovative ideas. Or, people with specific skills or understanding who can add new thinking to the opportunity. 

Contributors are full participants in the ideation session. But, as ideas get screened and tested, they take on a more advisory role, called on as needed. 

The benefit of having these three different roles is it leads to a wider and better range of ideas. But for that to happen, you need to make clear the “creative” session is a different way of working to th more usual “operations” led way of working.

Creative thinking #2 - Creative and operations modes

Getting the ideas team into a frame of mind where they can be creative is an important part of the facilitator’s role.

In most businesses, most people spend their time on operations activities, not creative ones. Doing creative things isn’t the day to day. 

Operations activities include writing reports, reviewing budgets and plans, and going to status meetings to check on progress and discuss approvals. All important, but rarely creative.

Yellow post it with illustration of a lightbulb pinned to a wooden pin board

Operations tasks run the business now, but creative tasks help set the business up for the future. You need both. If you just keep busy with the day to day, you can end up heading in the wrong direction. 

If you compare running your business to running a race, the operations side of the business is putting one foot in front of the other to move forward. It’s your momentum.

But if you never check where you’re heading, you can run in the wrong direction. 

Creative thinking helps you set and check the direction of the business. It helps you plan the best route. This means you “run” in the right direction when you go back into operations mode. 

Your “creative” time and “operations” time need to work together in in harmony. 

Creative outputs make your operational activities more effective. And, operations outputs inform and direct your creative efforts. 

Creative and operations - diagram showing differences between two different ways of working

Operations mode

Operations really covers all the routines, procedures, rules and known solutions you use to run your day to day business. The things that make make your business efficient. 

For anyone who’s worked in a factory, in a restaurant or bar, in an office, you’ll recognise these as the activities which deliver products and services. And they’re the activities which track and monitor how well you produce those products and services. 

Creative mode

But in creative sessions to generate creative thinking ideas, you perform a different set of tasks. 

You ask people to review and reflect on a number of inputs. What’s going on with customers and competitors, for example? Can you find new ideas in customer search trends?  What new technical advances are coming to market? And, what competititve strategy does your business need to succeed in the future?

Creative session are typically less formal and structured than operational meetings.

Your man looking up towards the ceiling

You’re asking people to think rather than carry out the tasks they normally do. You’re tying to make your business more effective. 

It’s common to use different stimulus. You might use sensory inputs like video, images and music for example. Often, you’ll have storytelling inputs like case studies.

The creative way of working is much more speculative and experimental. The outputs are less tangible. You often need to generate many ideas before you find the best one. That means many ideas get thrown away, never to be used. This takes some getting used to. 

People are usually more comfortable with “operational” mode. It’s what they’re used to. It can be hard to adjust to this more fun and chaotic approach. Having fun, or letting things go wild doesn’t “feel” like work, and that makes me people uncomfortable. 

Fun and chaos add value

To make these people more comfortable, you need to show that fun and chaos in creativity add value. That fun and chaos have a serious impact in terms of better creativity and better ideas.  

Highlight the business benefits we mentioned earlier – brand differentiation, customer experience and brand activation.

Show how creative improvements in these areas ultimately lead to more customers, more sales and better profitability

Young child holding a blue paint tube and squeezing it out

Creative thinking #3 - Environment and culture

The most successful creative companies like Pixar, Apple and Google create an environment that supports creativity and build it into their culture. If you want creativity in your business, it has to become part of your culture. How you do things. 

For example, don’t limit creative idea generation to just brainstorming. There’s many more ways to come up with new ideas. In fact, many studies show brainstorming often doesn’t work all that well. 

Generate ideas from extroverts AND introverts

This is mainly down to group dynamics. Especially when there’s extroverts in the group, who often dominate the conversations. 

So, while group sessions are still important to generate creative thinking ideas, don’t let them be the only way you do it. 

Think about how else you can generate ideas. How do you bring in ideas from introverts in your team, for example? They can feel pushed out of group discussions.

Person holding light bulb with blurred out light effect in the background

They’ll often take longer to come up with ideas. But often that extra time leads to them coming up with better ideas than a brainstorming group will. 

This makes us think of the book, The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun, about his experiences working at WordPress. At WordPress, workers mostly work remotely from all around the world. So, group brainstormings don’t really happen. 

And yet, WordPress regularly come up with huge numbers of new ideas. They do this by creative use of technology, particularly internal blog posting, message boards and live chats. These are great idea forums for more introverted thinkers. 

They also have limited but very focussed in-person get-togethers. This means they don’t lose ideas from their extrovert thinkers. At these, teams are charged with coming up with specific creative thinking ideas together to exploit opportunities and fix problems. 

Conclusion - Creative thinking ideas

When your business focusses only on the operational side, it’s easy to forget the value that creativity brings. You need to make sure creativity gets its fair share of your time. 

With that in mind, we’ll finish off by sharing two of our 2021 New Year resolutions.

The first is that we’ve set ourselves a target to run more regular creative thinking sessions. Both internally and with customers. We’ll post ideas from these that all our readers can use. 

Light switch on a wall, labelled Creativity on and off

Which also conveniently covers off our second resolution. Which is to be more active on our social media channels. Like many businesses, we got sucked into the day to day grind at the end of last year. We want to make this year different.

That includes better connection and sharing on challenges like Twitter and LinkedIn.

Check out both our creative thinking and marketing innovation guides for more on this topic. Or contact us, if you need help with creative thinking ideas. 

Photo credit 

Bulb on Post it : Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Man looking at ceiling : Photo by Anton Danilov on Unsplash

Kid squeezing paint tube : Photo by Dragos Gontariu on Unsplash

Person holding light bulb : Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash

Creativity Switch (Adapted) : Photo by Isabella and Zsa Fischer on Unsplash

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