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Three ways to generate more creative thinking ideas

Creative thinking - operational efficiency

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Why read this? : We explore different ways to come up with more creative thinking ideas. Learn how to use roles, modes and culture to boost creativity. Read this to learn how to generate more creative thinking ideas.

Creative thinking plays 3 key roles in marketing. It helps you :- 

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

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

Creative thinking slide showing three benefits - differentiate from competitors, drive customer experience, develop brand assets

They get stuck on day-to-day tasks, which are driven by certainty, predictability and routine. These are the opposite of being creative and often create barriers to creative thinking. To get past that, this week we look at different ways to encourage more creative thinking ideas. 

Creative thinking #1 - Roles

Idea generation is the first stage in the creative thinking process. (See the full process in our creative thinking guide).

But it’s not always clear who should be involved. And what you them to do.

This process becomes clearer if you define and allocate specific roles :-

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

The opportunity owner

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

The opportunity’s often something the business hasn’t done before. Or doing something to improve the way the business works. Either way, the owner is responsible for finding the answer. The opportunity is normally in the areas mentioned earlier. In brand differentiation, customer experience or brand activation. The creative thinking process helps you work out how to find and go after the opportunity. 

Idea generation session

Once the need is identified, the owner starts the process by gathering a team of relevant people for an idea generation (ideation) session. 

This stage is about coming up with lots of ideas. How good or bad they are doesn’t matter at this point. They’ll be screened and refined later. Quantity, not quality of ideas matters early on. 

The opportunity owner shouldn’t run this session. Instead, they should appoint a facilitator, so they can take part in the session themselves and let someone else handle the process. 

That frees them up to throw in their own creative thinking ideas. But they should also hold off making judgements on the other ideas just yet.

Workshop post its generic contents

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


The session is run by the facilitator. It’s their job to manage the process to find the idea that’ll meet the opportunity. That process includes the set-up and running of the idea generation session. They listen to the opportunity owner’s needs and use that to define the session’s goal. 

From this, they set the agenda and plan how the session will work. Giving out stimulus material, for example. Scoping creative thinking exercises. Sourcing inputs and ideas from outside the business. (See our creative thinking guide, and our creative problem-solving article for more on this).

The facilitator then 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 overall group dynamics. (See our easy creative ideas article for more on this). 

But importantly, they don’t contribute their own ideas in this session. That’s not their role. In fact, they must avoid judging or filtering ideas. That all happens later. 

It often helps to have an external facilitator, say from one of your agencies, or a specialist facilitator. The facilitator should be an expert in the process, not the topic. If they’re not topic experts, they can stay impartial about the team’s ideas. 

The facilitator is also responsible for collating the outputs. These go to the opportunity owner. At that point, responsibility for the ideas and process passes back to them.


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

You want people who are naturally good at ideas. Or, those with specific skills or understanding who can bring different perspectives. 

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 different roles is it leads to a wider and better range of ideas. But for that to happen, you have to make clear the “creative” session is a different way of working to people’s normal day-to-day work.

Creative thinking #2 - Modes

Getting the team into a creative frame of mind is a key part of the facilitator’s role.

In many businesses, people spend most of their time on operations activities, not creative ones. Doing creative thinking isn’t the norm. 

Operations activities include writing reports, reviewing budgets and plans, and going to status meetings for progress checks and 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 set the business up for the future. You need both. Just doing the day-to-day can leave you stagnating. 

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

Your “creative” time and “operations” time should work in harmony. 

Creative outputs make your operations activities more effective.

And, operations outputs are how you bring your creative outputs to life. 

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

Operations mode

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

It’s what happens in the factory, restaurant, bar, or office to deliver products and services. Plus, the activities which track and monitor how well you produce those products and services. 

Creative mode

But go into creative mode to generate creative thinking ideas, and it’s different

You ask people to review and reflect on different inputs. For example, what’s going on with customers and competitors? Are there new ideas in customer search trends?  What new technical advances are coming to market? And, what competitive strategy does your business need to succeed in the future?

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

Your man looking up towards the ceiling

You’re asking people to think, rather than do their everyday tasks. You’re trying to make your business more effective. This often means you need different stimulus materials. More sensory inputs like video, photography, music and stories.

The creative way of working is more speculative. More experimental. The outputs are less tangible. You often have to generate many ideas before you find a good one. That means many ideas get thrown away, never to be used. It can take time for people to get their heads around this. 

People are usually more comfortable with operations 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. It can make people uncomfortable. 

Fun and chaos add value

To make 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. Better ideas.  

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

Show how creative improvements in these areas grow your business. More customers. More sales. Better profitability

Young child holding a blue paint tube and squeezing it out

Creative thinking #3 - Culture

The most successful creative companies like Pixar, Apple and Google create a culture which encourages creativity. If you want creativity in your business, it has to become part of how you do things. 

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

Generate ideas from extroverts AND introverts

This is mainly down to group dynamics. Especially when there are extroverts in the group. They often dominate conversations and drown out ideas. 

Group sessions can be useful for generating creative thinking ideas. But 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 often feel pushed out of group discussions.

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

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

There’s a good example in The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun, which covers his experiences working at WordPress. WordPress workers mostly work remotely from all around the world. So, group brainstorming doesn’t 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 focused, 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 to exploit opportunities and fix problems. 

Conclusion - Creative thinking ideas

When your business focuses only on operations, it’s easy to forget the value creativity brings. Creativity has to get its fair share of your time. 

With that in mind, we’ll finish by sharing 2 of our New Year resolutions.

The first is we’ve set ourselves a target to run more regular creative thinking sessions. Both internally and with customers.

We’ll share the most relevant ideas from these when we can. 

Light switch on a wall, labelled Creativity on and off

Which leads us to our second resolution. Which is to be more active on our social channels. Like many businesses, we got sucked into the day-to-day grind this year. We want to make next year different.

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

Check out our creative thinking and marketing innovation guides for more on this. Or get in touch 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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