How can companies develop a new way of thinking that inspires creativity?

Roz: A new way of thinking can only occur in what we call an environment of possibility. It's essential to develop a cooperative, all-inclusive connection between employees and the company so that everyone is moving in the same direction — so that there is an overall “we.” In a competitive environment of “us” and “them,” people are too busy focusing on power struggles and politics. You might get spurts of creativity from some employees, but not from everyone.

It takes constant practice to keep everyone in the company on track with possibility thinking. This doesn't mean bringing people together for endless discussions. It's very practical. When I work with organizations, I begin by explaining that my game is to move the corporate culture from competition to possibility. I set immediate goals and deadlines, such as coming up with a new product idea by the end of the day. We achieve very practical goals by staying focused and keeping every conversation in the domain of possibility.

Another key is recognizing that you are creating something new every day. When we talk about creativity, we mean the creativity of re-casting, re-framing, and re-thinking each decision from every moment forward.

Ben: Possibility thinking gets everyone enrolled in the company vision. This is not a competitive mission statement. Our vision for the Boston Philharmonic is “passionate music-making without boundaries.” No one is left out, and everyone is inspired. But we often get off track with discussions that are not vision-driven. People have to be reminded of it all the time. In an environment of possibility, we don't have arguments or power struggles, we have clarity sessions.

Another goal of possibility thinking is to get everyone working together so that every voice is heard. As a conductor, I'm always striving to reach the score, and to help my players see their unique place on the long line. We become one entity without borders.

It comes down to replacing the old style of hierarchical leadership with a different kind of creative leadership that allows every player to be fully visible and fully engaged. Everyone has power, and the results are electrifying.
Regina Baraban

Rosamund Stone Zander is a therapist and executive coach who develops creative models for leadership, relationship, and effective action. She can be reached at Benjamin Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, is also a popular speaker on leadership and creativity. They are the authors of The Art of Possibility (Harvard Business School Press, 2000).

What is it about the casual, nonhierarchical workplace that makes it conducive to innovation and creative thinking?

Tom Kelley: I believe that if you put restrictions on the physical environment, you also restrict the flow of ideas, and put up a barrier to creativity. It's quite common in corporate America to have rules that prohibit employees from putting up artwork with thumbtacks, or to have stuff that extends more than 4 inches from the edge of their cubicle. Instead, we say, “This is your space, so for goodness sake, make it your own!” One of our designers at IDEO didn't like the HVAC system, so he installed an old-fashioned wooden ceiling fan over his desk and now works with his own little windstorm over his head. In an extreme example, two of our people brought a sledgehammer into the office over the weekend, and knocked down the 5-foot-high drywall that separated their workstations because they felt it was interfering with their work habits. The point is that people do their best work when they feel comfortable in their space. And if individuals can completely alter their space any way they want, they will feel empowered to come up with new ideas as well.

Innovation comes from thinking like a 5-year-old. We do show-and-tell at office meetings. People bring props to illustrate the projects they're working on or the ideas they're floating, and have a lot of fun. They also get a chance to see what other people in the company are doing. Creative opportunities abound when disciplines cross over. There are many ways to promote this. A Danish company called Oticon built extra-wide stairways in their offices to encourage more interaction and unscheduled meetings between employees.

Hierarchy can be a big barrier to creativity. When the boss is always right and ideas flow from the top down, you don't get innovation. One way to kill a brainstorming session is to let the boss speak first, because then people will pre-judge all their ideas. Fear causes people to bite their tongues. But in the very best organizations it is OK to make fun of the boss, because it allows people to speak freely and feel comfortable bringing up the truly wild idea.
Regina Baraban

Tom Kelley is the general manager of IDEO, a renowned product design firm headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., and the author of The Art of Innovation (Doubleday/Currency Books, 2001). He can be reached at

How does having fun — playing — promote creativity? What are the most important things companies can do to make play a regular part of the workplace?

Andy Stefanovich: Think back to where your first great ideas came from: creativity fueled by play. This was a child-like, fanciful kind of play. What we bring to companies is the notion of strategic play, with the goal of allowing creativity to permeate all aspects of the workplace.

Play is a process and a mindset. It is about looking for ideas rather than solutions, and focusing on possibilities versus realities. It is about unlearning what you've learned in the business world. Our definition of creativity is to look at more stuff and think about it harder.

When we start to work with a company on reaching distinct goals, the first thing we do is change the perspective. We ask: What business are you truly in? Every company needs to reinvent itself over and over in order to keep coming up with new ideas.

The process of creativity should always be fun. It's not like filing! Fun in the workplace allows people to lift themselves above everyday business concerns. You can't have fun without passion. If you're passionate and restless about meeting an objective, you're going to enjoy the process. And don't take yourself or life too seriously, or you'll be stuck inside the confines of traditional business.

While we use various tools to sustain play in the workplace, there isn't a set of standard techniques to think differently. Instead, creativity comes from a belief and a philosophy. The idea is to articulate a company's value system, symbols, and artifacts. For example, our artifact is a red rubber ball. It exemplifies the core values of our company — collaboration, open-mindedness, trust, respect, passion, and fun — and reminds us of those things every day. It speaks to us all: Play with me, collaborate with me.
Regina Baraban

Andy Stefanovich is co-founder and in charge of what's next at Play (, a creative agency in Richmond, Va. He can be reached at

Which of the early principles involving creativity and innovation are still applicable to corporations?

David Tanner: When we founded the DuPont Center for Creativity & Innovation in 1990, there were three guiding principles. The first is that creative thinking is a teachable/learnable skill. Many powerful creativity tools, beyond brainstorming, help us think outside normal patterns of thought: lateral thinking, metaphoric thinking, whole brain thinking. I describe these tools in my book, Total Creativity in Business & Industry — Roadmap to Building a More Innovative Organization.

Second, for a creativity and innovation program to succeed, it's essential to engage the organization in a way that people are motivated to learn and apply the creative thinking tools in their work. You need a supportive environment, with management support, and certain routines such as regularly scheduled creativity workshops. You need to reward successful applications on the job and avoid certain taboos, such as punishing for mistakes rather than learning from mistakes. This approach enables people to ‘dance with their ideas’ in tackling difficult problems.

Finally, systems and structures need to be in place to maintain program momentum. The basic concept of the corporate center was to have in place a small core group that could reach out across business units, inspiring local champions to become actively involved in learning and applying creative thinking tools to achieve successful innovations. A resource center was established as a focal point for e-mail communication about internal and external workshops and seminars. A vital function of the center was to organize a network of people to facilitate problem-solving workshops. The center also administered a creativity network that met regularly to exchange learning and participate in seminars with invited speakers.
Bob Andelman

David Tanner founded the DuPont Center for Creativity and Innovation in 1990 and was the first recipient of the Champion of Creativity Award. He is a past president of the American Creativity Association ( He can be reached at

Is it possible to teach creativity in a classroom? If so, how?

Peter de Jager: The very fact that you ask if you can teach creativity is a symptom of a misunderstanding of what creativity is all about. I don't think creativity is something we need to go out and acquire. I firmly believe that creativity is there already, that we are already incredibly creative. Our problem is that we don't express it; we ignore it. A simple bit of proof? All day long we strive to be creative. We strive to think up new things, and we find it very difficult.

We push and we pull and we do everything we know how to do to be creative. Yet the moment we shut our eyes and go to sleep, we dream the most fantastic things. It just bubbles up; we can't stop it from happening once we stop pushing so hard.

I do one workshop exercise in which I ask people to play a number game. They must divine a strategy for a game that will let them win more often than they lose. It takes a lot of analytical thinking. I walk around the room and I hear this phrase time and time again, “This is just like tic-tac-toe.” And everybody in the room nods their head and says, “Yes it is!” Then they continue muddling along. Their brains are screaming at them, “Please pay attention to me! I've seen a pattern!” — but they pay absolutely no attention to the pattern.

At the end of the exercise, they come up with strategies, some complex, none clean or elegant. I point out how many of them said this was just like tic-tac-toe. I say, “What would happen if you put the nine numbers we're playing with into a square format like tic-tac-toe?” Bang! There's an isomorphism, a one-to-one relationship between the game I've given them and tic-tac-toe. If they book numbers into the grid, they can play it just like tic-tac-toe. Yet no one ever does it before I tell them. The moment they do, the problem becomes not a problem. In other words, the creativity is there — they're just not listening.

That's the barrier we have to break through.

The real hurdle is not a lack of knowledge about fancy tools and creative consultants. The real problem is that we don't listen to ourselves. We ignore the hunches — we don't act upon them. If there is one obstacle to creativity, it's this reluctance to pay attention to ourselves.
Bob Andelman

Peter de Jager is a Brampton, Ontario, consultant and speaker on change and creativity. He can be reached through his Web site: or send him an e-mail at

What is the role of imagination in inspiring creativity? What if people are not imaginative? How can you do creative collective imagination to foster brainstorming?

Leilani Rashida Henry: The role of imagination is really to be the source of creativity. It is a place of no blame, no judgment — a place of unlimited possibilities, a place of pure thought and energy. I think the goal of creativity is to tap into that place. It is something we know innately, but are not always conscious of. By tapping into the imagination, we can call up and remember things or create new things, think of things we never thought of before.

I start with the premise that everyone is imaginative, that imagination is everyone's right, and it is just there, waiting for us to tap into it. But people either don't believe it, are afraid of it, it is too unfamiliar, or it gets tied up into power.

Collective imagination is a term that comes from my work with large groups and using open-space technology and dialogue. Building collective imagination in a group means tolerance for others, a sense of equality, that all ideas are equal, and that everyone has unique contributions to make. You never know which impulse will feed the creative process for your organization. Each person has something unique to offer.

With groups, I apply a concept I call “Feeding your senses.” We are sensory beings, but in corporate environments we sit down around a table and wait for someone to be creative. There is no sensory stimulation. I use music, pictures, and textures such as fabric. I also use movement, smell, and toys such as juggling balls. Some people say all that is distracting, but it feeds the imagination and the creative process by involving our senses. To build collective imagination, we must feed our senses.

When people don't think they are imaginative, one thing they can do every day is follow an impulse to its end without knowing where it might lead. Some people don't think they are imaginative because they aren't willing to cross the line to “I don't know,” or “I look a little silly,” or “This seems like a ridiculous impulse, but I will do it anyway.” Follow your impulses — because you never know where they will lead.
Bob Andelman

Leilani Rashida Henry is the founder of Being and Living Enterprises. Based in Bailey, Colo., she can be reached via her Web site ( or by e-mail at