Peter Gilheany: Top five tips to improve creativity in your organisation

Creativity is a romantic notion for many people but it is actually a discipline, says the director of social change PR agency Forster

Peter Gilheany
Peter Gilheany

Money's tight and charities are competing for attention, so you need to make people sit up and take notice. This is when creativity is at a premium.

For many people, creativity is a romantic notion associated with consultants flouncing around having 'thought showers' and charging the earth for the results. Actually, creativity is a discipline, a thought process that really is within us all - so here are my five tips for effective creativity.

1. Purpose before ideas Creativity is often associated with an 'anything goes' approach, but effective creativity requires careful consideration of the framework in which it should sit. You need to consider the why, who, what and how - the whole purpose of your communication - before you even think about getting the frilly blouses out.

2. Creativity comes in many forms Good creativity might be visual or verbal; it might be solving problems, being able to think strategically, standing away from an issue and looking at it dispassionately, or the ability to get into the shoes of the audience you are trying to reach - you need to encourage all these forms.

3. Give everyone permission We constantly edit our thoughts for public consumption, which is probably extremely wise. However, good ideas often form when we disconnect our internal parental controls and actually say what we think. Challenging sacred cows, saying what might be unthinkable in other contexts, being politically incorrect - these approaches are often very useful in helping to increase the flow of ideas.

4. Use structures Sitting in a room on your own and engaging in rigorous thinking is likely to lead to nothing more than an increased risk of stroke. It's much better to have people with whom to bounce ideas around, and to use techniques to get yourself out of your normal pattern of thinking, such as found objects (using items from around the office and beyond to trigger thoughts), creating stories and, perhaps most useful of all, Six Thinking Hats, a tool and a book for group and individual discussion by the creator of lateral thinking, Edward de Bono. All of these will cause acute embarrassment to any British person - see the start of this point for the reasons why you need to overcome this.

5. Challenge, edit and refine Once you have some ideas that you like, interrogate and question them, relate them back to your overall aim and objectives, get other people to critique them, refine and refine until they really are fit for purpose, and discard them if they do not stand up to scrutiny. This is hugely important, because what can seem inspired in a brainstorm can look dunderheaded in the harsh light of the real world. The thought you don't want to provoke with your communication is "what on earth were they thinking of?"

By this stage, you will, I hope, have your nice, shiny pebble of an idea and be ready to cast it into the sea, in the hope of watching it bounce along the surf rather than sink straight beneath the cold waves. If it's the latter, don't be put off - have another go. If you've done the due diligence, you'll get it right in the end.

Peter Gilheany is director of the social change PR agency Forster

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