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monday morning manager

When Bernhard Schroeder was asked to teach creativity to entrepreneurs at San Diego State University – after advising top firms on marketing followed by time as a turnaround consultant – he wondered how it was taught around the world. After researching, he came up with a formula he calls the creativity framework.

But before you can apply it, you have to push beyond some myths that hamper us, notably that only some people are born creative. In fact, we all can be creative. And it doesn't matter what our job is. Creativity is not confined to artists, poets and designers. Creativity starts with you. Open your eyes to the world around you. Make new connections. Talk to your customers and learn from them. Ask "why?" more.

The four elements of his creativity framework are: Mindset, environment, habitat and brainstorming tools. "There is research to show that each of these elements are important," he says in an interview.

Mindset, the most critical element in the process and leadership, starts with a growth outlook, a belief the mind can be expanded and grow. People with a growth mindset believe anything is possible and learn what they need to meet the challenges before them.

To transition from a more closed outlook – known as a fixed mindset – to a growth mindset, he says you need to acknowledge and embrace your imperfections. Hiding from your weaknesses means you'll never overcome them. Instead, start fixing them, one at a time. Being true to yourself also means you'll stop trying to please others, which can ignite your originality.

Also, replace the word "failing" with "learning." When you make a mistake or fall short of a goal, you haven't failed. You have learned. "We need to reach out to do things that may appear not possible. Most people won't take risks as they are afraid of failing," he says.

Environment matters. You need to create a creative corporate culture. Usually that means leaving hiring to managers, not human resources, since the managers are immersed in the actual work and more accountable. "If you don't hire the right people you won't have the right culture. Hiring is mission critical. Even hiring an intern is critical," he says.

Build a diverse team, rather than looking for a replica of yourself. Reward risk-taking. "Think of the companies that inspire you: How many of them achieve success by following tradition and sticking to the rules?" he writes in his book, Simply Brilliant. Ensure accountability. If people make a mistake, they should own it. That allows them to learn from it.

His third element, habitat, refers to the physical surroundings in which people work. It starts with the ceiling (open it up and go as high as you can, avoiding ceiling tiles); the floor (use wood or polished cement, not regular carpet); and the walls (put a splash of colour and a mosaic or large clock). In short, the space should be creative.

And it should encourage collisions. You want people to bump into others unlike themselves, so a product designer, marketer, techie and salesperson can bump into each other routinely rather than being isolated on different floors, as is common. Mix departments together. Locate the washrooms in central hubs. "People need to blend through random meetings," he says. "Companies need to spark creative collisions." Pick your projects teams with the same intention – sprinkling diverse talent together.

Finally, you need to learn how to brainstorm effectively. That involves defining the problem clearly; following best practices such as encouraging wild ideas, and drawing and sketching so people can engage the right side of the brain; and using brainstorming tools, such as the six he outlines in his book.

SCAMPER is one you may not have tried. If you are trying to improve a product or service, for example, you following the SCAMPER acronym to ask these questions:

  • Substitute: What elements of the product or service can we find a substitute for?
  • Combine: How can we combine it with other products or services?
  • Adapt: What idea from elsewhere can we alter or adapt to our needs?
  • Maximize or minimize: How can we greatly enlarge or reduce any component?
  • Put to other uses: What completely different use can we have for our product?
  • Eliminate: What elements of the product or service can be eliminated?
  • Rearrange or reverse: How can we rearrange the product or reverse the process?

"Everything creative is a new iteration of something already there that you do better," he says. SCAMPER can help you innovate. More generally, his creativity framework illuminates ideas you may want to consider for your own workplace.