If you want your team to think more creatively, research indicates, there are key things you can do to increase the likelihood of creative outcomes.
Consider research published in 1995 by Robert J. Sternberg, who conceptualized a theory around creativity dubbed the Investment Theory. I originally discovered and wrote about this theory in 2015, because it's a surprisingly insightful look at what types of environments and individuals lead to creative output despite a lack of universal applicable research. In his report, Sternberg approaches creativity as a process of discovering new ideas only to "sell" them later, to an audience of peers for example.
In other words, every time you have an idea, Sternberg points out, you mentally weigh whether it has the potential to evolve and, if so, what its value might be as a result. Ideas that are likely to be more sellable in the future are more valuable and therefore more likely to capture your attention and energy. What attributes allow us to evaluate whether an idea is a worthwhile investment?
Sternberg gives six resources that enable us to determine whether our idea is worth investing in:
"Creativity requires a confluence of six distinct but interrelated resources:
1. Intellectual abilities
3. Styles of thinking
Although levels of these resources are sources of individual differences, often the decision to use a resource is a more important source of individual differences."
That's to say: If you want to think more creatively, or encourage your team to, each of these resources must be deliberately engaged.
The good news is that each of the mental resources Sternberg lists are meant to be balanced. So if you're lacking in one area--say intellectual abilities--but more equipped in another--such as having a creative environment--you're much more likely to successfully generate and evaluate creative ideas.
You can see this occur in the real world often: Creative environments that nurture novel ideas, like art universities or households parented by artists and inventors, tend to produce more creative individuals. People who may not have a lot of knowledge about a specific area, but who have a style of thinking that leans toward novelty and who are highly motivated, are more inclined to land on a creative idea than those who merely have a lot of knowledge but no inclination on how to evaluate it.
To start exploring your creative capacity, you should map out each of the six resources Sternberg identified and determine where you're lacking and where you are excelling.
If you're in an environment that isn't creatively stimulating, how can you adjust your styles of thinking to be more divergent?
If you don't have a lot of knowledge around the work you want to be doing, how can you rely on your motivation to get over that gap?
Or if your team consists of personalities that tend to shy away from new experiences, how might you build an environment where novelty is de facto?
While any definitive science is still out on how creativity works in the brain, there's still a lot you can do to influence your ability to generate and evaluate creative ideas. Mixing and matching the resources Sternberg has outlined in his research is an effective place to start.