Every brainstorming session begins with good intentions, like a whiteboard and sticky notes around the table. After a few shout-outs, the room gives way to crickets and momentum is lost.

If this sounds familiar, it's time to approach brainstorming another way. Looking for ideas to help spark ideas in others, I spoke with Shane Breault of Ultra Creative, a creative branding and packaging agency in Minneapolis, who shared his top 7 strategies for unleashing the power of play in the workplace.

Innovation starts with play.

As you review Shane's list of play strategies below, it may feel childlike for the workplace, but it's exactly what your team needs to unlock innovative ideas. Participants will realize it's all too familiar, hearkening back to when they were imaginative, open-minded and willing to play along to see where their creativity took them. So how do we do this, and how do we get back to play?

Shane explained the secret to turning your boardroom into a playground lies in the prep work. Too often we feel if we bring a stated objective, positive energy, and giant sheets of paper, it'll all magically come together. You must give your creativity a place to play before it can be unleashed.

"It's less about being prescriptive, and more about offering up inspiring prompts," said Shane. "It's already built into the thought process: 'Let me play around with it a bit.' Or, 'I was toying with the idea of...' Or even, 'Play along with me here for a minute.'"

Seven ways to play at work.

Here are various forms of play Shane and his team at Ultra Creative use that you can adapt to create and implement bigger ideas. This is improvisational play at work. It's not about seeing it for what it is, but what it could be. When the team's mindset flips to this, ideas begin to flow.

1. Imaginary play.

Allow everyone to dream big thoughts. Let them imagine what's possible without worrying about what's actionable. Start with "What if..." or "I wish...". Open-ended thinking may turn into directional goals or useful thought-starters throughout your session.

2. Role play.

According to Shane, if you want to understand your target consumer, walk in their shoes. Act out a day in their life, from waking up until bed. Play back your journey to the greater group and look for ways your brand could improve their day.

3. Cooperative play.

Collaboration leads to new creations. To form new ideas, write down open-ended prompts on index cards. For example, if you're supporting a cracker brand looking to create new offerings, ask "What if we made them smaller?" When in doubt, go back to your wishful thinking statements from the Imaginary Play exercise to keep the conversation moving.

4. Outside play.

Shane says "get out and play" from your cube more often, and get a breath of fresh air for the creative process. If you're working on a granola snack, take your team out on a trail and think about the end-user experience. Look for ways to improve portability or sustainability to immerse yourself in what consumers value most.

5. Tell the story of the day.

Assign a scribe to every activity you do as a team and ask them to capture what is said. Share the notes in aggregate as part of the final results document. The collective output will be impressive, and the notes may be filled with hidden treasures ready for further development to start an innovation pipeline.

6. Musical chairs.

Create multiple ideation stations throughout your room, says Shane. Divide your team into groups and allow each team to work through four or five stations, keeping each station 10 to 15 minutes long. The quick tempo will keep up the creative energy and output.

7. Play outside of your circle.

Invite a bigger cross-functional team to your session. Varied perspectives will help you see new solutions to the creative challenge. Leverage expertise beyond your walls, too. Consider outside sources including co-creation with core consumers to ignite new possibilities. When everyone feels they're a part of those bigger ideas, it helps move ideas through the organization more quickly, because there's collective buy-in from day one.

A playful imagination is a wonderful thing. Give your participants the freedom to think like a kid and inspiring places to play, and you'll unlock unlimited possibilities. That's the true power of play at work.

Published on: Sep 26, 2019
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