There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of tough issues facing associations and nonprofits. Negative trends such as those affecting the recruitment and retention of members, donors, and volunteers are the cause of much concern. The generational shift now underway demands new approaches to longtime activities and services. Leaders of nonprofits are looking for new ideas and solutions to these and other difficult challenges. However, identifying innovative answers can be challenging. Just telling an organization to solve its problems by thinking outside the box isn’t especially helpful. What does that really mean?

When we are asking non-profits what they expect from a training on creativity, we get answers like: “I would love to learn something new that would help us. But don’t tell me to think outside the box”, same says. “Everyone talks about thinking outside the box as if it were the simplest thing in the world, when in fact it is quite a challenge. Especially when the lid is shut!”

Let me tell you that this may be right. We all hear that “think outside the box” phrase as the solution for problem solving. The trouble is that advice doesn’t come with instructions, so just how are we supposed to get those creative ideas? Maybe there’s no magic dust that creates all of the Magic Kingdom’s wonderful creations. We would say actually that hard work, time, and money are the essential ingredients that produce the results that continue to amaze us all. What if you don’t have the professional imagineers and resources of a Disney at your disposal to help with your creative needs?

The answer can be simple and yet complex: by developing a culture of creativity in your organization you can benefit from your own sources of innovation.

Alina Dumitru, Youth Worker – Monomyths Association

We are here to help:  Step one in developing a culture of creativity is to focus on your individual approach to imaginative thinking. Consider what you want an out-of-the-box idea to produce. Goals can be general or specific. To trigger different ideas from your thought process, prepare yourself to think and act differently. Decide you will not only be receptive to new ideas, but you will also actively seek them out. For example, have your antenna up with the awareness of being ready to recognize new ideas as you go about your daily routine.

An important behavior change for facilitating creativity is to realize working harder to solve a problem can have the opposite effect. This may be counter intuitive to some but working too hard can actually hinder finding the solutions you are looking for. On the other hand, being “present” within a culture of creativity helps you to work smarter and with much more productive results.

When arranging your schedule, designating your most productive time of the day to do creative thinking is a proven strategy for achieving maximum productivity. Spending time in your idea garden or the places and activities that seem to be where your best ideas pop up is always beneficial. For example, go for a run, walk on the beach, work in the yard, meditate, bounce ideas off a creative friend, or simply spend time at the coffee shop; all of these are proven ways individuals find helpful for finding clarity and inspiration. Sometimes your thoughts may appear to be random with no immediate application but I have found that once positioned for creative thinking, the subconscious is working to identify ideas for both present and future use.

Here are ten questions that can assist your thinking process and with structuring a creative discussion.

  •     What are desired outcomes?
  •     What organizational models should be studied?
  •     What educational conferences/workshops should be attended?
  •     What other events should be visited?
  •     What are activities that need benefit of creative thinking?
  •     What can be done to stimulate and encourage creative thinking?
  •     What behavior changes needed?
  •     What get-out-the-rut activity can our team do?
  •     What outside resource should be utilized to help facilitate creativity?
  •     What creative thinking obstacles need to be removed?

Step two in developing a culture of creativity is to involve other people. Your staff represents a pool of resourcefulness. An environment that encourages and recognizes innovative ideas can produce an unlimited amount of creativity. Often imagination is stifled with less than positive reaction to new or different thoughts. Is questioning of the status quo accepted? Give encouragement to the newer people who offer up solutions that have already been tried so that they’ll continue to share their thoughts. If they get the “we’ve already tried that” response, their willingness to think out loud can be quickly shut down. It is quite possible more experienced employees may have never been asked for suggestions or felt their ideas would be welcomed. With encouragement, a whole new source of originality may be ready to be uncorked.

Being creative doesn’t have to be difficult. Positioning yourself in an environment built around a culture of creativity will build a platform for creative success. Employing these strategies will help you pop the lid of that closed idea box!

Article written during the project “Navigators on creative seas”, co-funded through Erasmus+ Programme.