In an office of smart people, the idea of setting aside time to practice creativity may seem strange. However, the brain is just like any other muscle and needs a little exercise every now and again. The question is, how do you exercise the mind and get the most out of your creativity? Isn’t creativity something you do or don’t have? Nope.

Over the past few months Airfoil has implemented a program we call Friday Labs. This is an hour every other Friday to step away from our desks and be creative. No lab has been the same but the goal remains the same – practice creative thinking. In reminding creative people how to be creative, I have learned a few tips on how to best approach a dedicated creative time.  

Keep it focused

When we set out to develop Friday Labs, the idea stemmed from a practice Quicken Loans does to encourage its employees to learn. Airfoil wanted to bring a similar practice to the business and encourage creative learning that maps back to the business. Each activity is designed with a learning in mind, but participants decide what that means to them. For example, each group was give 50 toothpicks, some clay and a goal- have the longest cantilever. Most teams jumped right in with no discussion and no planning. After some time, they would realize they had no plan and would scramble to pull the pieces together in the time limit. In our discussion, teams explained how communication and leadership would have been more effective. The idea of slowing down to think for a minute or two would have helped their overall goal. Often in work, we can dive into things head first and forget to look where we are going. These focused activities encourage learnings without the threat of ‘real world’ failure.

Keep it fun

All of our creative practice is done in the form of a game. This could be a direct result of our competitive nature, but I find it to be a simple way to encourage participation. I don’t tell the teams what they are expected to learn or do. They are encouraged to ask smart questions and look for loop holes. One activity involved an imaginary lava river and monsters. In the workplace? Yes, it took a little convincing, but with only a few paper plates that acted as “rocks” the group worked together to get everyone across the lava river. Later in the debrief, we discussed teamwork, communication, frustrations and that there can be many ways to approach one problem. While a river of lava might seem a little light hearted at first, the learnings were related back to daily problems in a very real way.

Keep it short

Keeping activities short and deliberate can sometimes be the most effective way to encourage creative thinking. Not every creative activity has to be a long, drawn out brainstorm or elaborate team trip. Creative opportunities can be incorporated into daily meetings to get the infamous “juices flowing.” I’ve come across a range of activities that need anywhere from 1-10 minutes to complete, a minimal amount of time for practicing creativity.

For example, we started one meeting with this piece – how many squares do you see?

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After some discussion and a variety of answers the group was surprised to hear the answer is 40. Do you see it?

A slightly longer verbal problem that elicited an interesting array of responses was called “Many Ways to Crack an Egg.” Similar examples can be found here. The team had 5 minutes in two groups to come up with different and creative ways to crack an egg, no repeats. There were nunchucks, stilettos, elaborate plans with skyscrapers and your basic bowl crack, throw it, stomp on it responses. While the act of cracking an egg may seem simple, there are many out-of-the-box ideas that can help spark creative thinking.

At its core, these Friday Labs are a fun, challenging and collaborative experience that not only encourage creativity but also team work, communication, leadership and a variety of skills important to any business.

We end every lab with a quote, so I will leave you with this:

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