Last week, Josh Linkner, founder and chairman of ePrize and author of  The New York Times Best Seller Disciplined Dreaming, A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, visited the Airfoil offices to break open our creative thinking.

(Disclosure: ePrize is an Airfoil client and Linkner is a longtime friend of the agency.)

Drafting off of Linkner’s talk to hear from a diverse group when brainstorming to harness creative energy, we asked people from around the agency to contribute (yes, even our accountant!) 

Hear from five ’Foilers and how creativity can spark new thinking:

Creativity means coloring outside the lines and disrupting the status quo. As an intern at Airfoil, I put pressure on myself to be perfect in everything I do. My need for perfection cultivates fear, fear I won’t get it right the first time, fear that someone will disapprove of my work. But creativity isn’t perfection, it’s imperfection. For example, the artist Henri Matisse went blind towards the end of his life, and during that time he created some of the most beautiful pieces of art known today.

The most notable piece of advice I gained from the discussion with Josh Linkner is this: creativity is challenging conventional wisdom and when you’re called to be creative, be it 100 percent and don’t hold back.

— Tiara Jason is an intern at Airfoil. 

Being creative is looking at a problem or situation and finding a better way to accomplish your task. It doesn’t need to be used only when having a problem, but it can also be used in tasks that are already working well. It may also involve going outside your comfort zone with your thoughts to come up with different ideas. I am a very logical person so it’s hard for me to bounce ideas off a wall without turning on the logical part of my brain. Josh made me realize I need to just let those ideas bounce around a little bit before shooting them down. Creativity takes a little bit of time to come about. The creative process is a two-step process and I need to remember not to smash those two steps into one. 

— James Korona is an accountant at Airfoil.

After hearing Josh Linkner’s take on the role creativity can and should play in making businesses successful, I was struck by his thoughts about asking, “Why, what if and why not?” more often in corporate conversations.  As public relations professionals, we often struggle collectively to fully engage on the creative aspects of what we do, instead falling into the to-do list trap that stifles creativity.  In fact, it’s creativity that makes us and our clients successful – and makes those to-do lists easier to tackle each day.

In my work with a number of enterprise-level technology clients, it’s sometimes difficult to apply the right focus on creativity across the enterprise technology spectrum.  But considering the pace at which enterprise-technology conversations are occurring and impacting business – everything from cloud computing to the iPad and other mobile technology – it’s crucial to enter those conversations creatively to make sure my clients’ voices are heard and understood in a very crowded space. 

Taking small steps to inject creativity into the to-do list – or to let creativity drive the list – is more critical than ever to ensuring our success as professionals and counselors to our clients.

— Brian Barthlemes is an account supervisor at Airfoil.

Josh told an interesting story about students’ perception of their personal creativity from the kindergarten level to seniors in high school. In kindergarten, 98 percent reported themselves creative whereas only 2 percent of high school seniors said the same. The concept really made me think about the way I thought about myself as a child. I was confident, self-assured and knew I was going to be the best at everything. As I got older, while I succeeded at many of the activities and endeavors I tried, I also failed at several along the way. Those failed experiences, along with teenage self-consciousness, made it easy to begin classifying myself as either good at something or awful. With that mindset, I only pursued activities at which I knew I would excel instead of taking risks in areas of my life I wasn’t as confident about. By the time I was a senior in high school, if someone had asked me if I considered myself creative, I probably would have said no.

Now, my mind has been changed again. Josh mentioned a study that found 85 percent of creativity is learned, a skill that can constantly be improved upon and refined. In the words of Stephen McGee, I have “reset my zero” for my personal creativity and I’m now inspired to put in the time and effort to think about my work in different and better ways and extend new thinking to both colleagues and clients. I don’t have to be afraid of sharing my ideas or trying new things because “if I don’t succeed, I can try, try again.”

— Katie Trautmann is an account executive at Airfoil. 

As I listened to Josh Linkner, founder of ePrize, extrapolate the themes of his recent book Disciplined Dreaming, I thought about the thoughts that keep me from being more creative. I realized that permission, specifically being given permission to try and fail, is the primary hindrance holding back my creative potential. Whether it originates with my superiors or me, the fear of failure and its consequences are the cement that holds together the pillars of prevention that dam my creative torrent. Linkner spoke on three concepts that instruct us how to prevent this fear. He shared a “Get out of jail free” card, the Pike Effect and dividing the two phases of brainstorming. All provide ways to keep the mental gates open by removing the fear that stifles creative efforts.

In one of his examples, Josh told of a business that allowed each employee two “get out of jail free” cards. These cards would be used to release the employee from the negative consequences of a failed project or plan. By giving employees permission to fail, they are free to take a few risks outside of their comfort zone. Not only were they provided with the cards, but they were expected to use them.  In the same way that the best basketball players use most of their five fouls each game, those who fail occasionally show how hard they are struggling to succeed. Employees who go beyond the light of everyday work and venture into unknown darkness of creative problem solving must be allowed to trip without fear of criticism.

As an avid fisherman, my interest peaked when Josh mentioned the Pike Effect. Named after the pike, a large predatory freshwater fish, the Pike Effect shows the detrimental effect of stifling unsuccessful endeavors. The pike is places in a large tank with a number of tasty snack-size minnows but is kept from them by a glass partition. After repeated and likely painful unsuccessful attempts at securing said tasty fish, the pike sinks to the bottom of the tank, defeated. After the partition is removed and even when the fish bravely encroach on the Pike, he fails to act and eventually starves to death. Like the discouraged pike, when we are repeatedly punished for trying unsuccessfully, many can and do stop trying. This opposition can be the death of innovative thinking and motivational creativity.

Lastly, Josh advised that we separate the two key parts of a brainstorm. When asking for new ideas, we must resist the desire to vet them as they come along. Doing so detracts from the mission of the brainstorm and can deter others from sharing. Inst

ead of focusing on the storm portion and being creative, our brains are consumed by second guessing every thought. When this happens, the storm subsides and the activity is defeated. In order to keep the sensitive web of creativity intact, we need to be sure to allow all ideas time to breathe and grow. By giving all those present permission to share whatever idea forms in their minds, we provide a growing set of stimuli that multiplies the results and success of the session.

Through these examples and others, Linkner shared with us some of the founding principles that have led to his success. By providing concrete examples of behavioral effects of deterring creative action, he provided inspiration for change. It will be incumbent on the leadership to take notice of policies and behaviors in our workplace that hinder creativity and change them.  If creativity is to continue be a prized quality, Airfoil must embrace both sides of the coin. We must take the failure with the success, the rejection with the acceptance. Recognizing that both are fruits of creative effort is paramount to continuing the migration to a culture that rises above the average to be something more.

— Tony Onofrio is an IT specialist at Airfoil.