16 Techniques for Creativity

Updated March 10, 2023

Creativity is an important skill both in the workplace and outside of it. Creative thinking can help you develop innovative solutions to problems and take on new perspectives when working on tasks. You can improve this trait by learning about and applying creativity techniques and exercises. In this article, we define creativity techniques and discuss 16 creativity techniques you can try on your own or in your workplace.

Related: 5 Steps for Increasing Creativity in the Workplace

What are creativity techniques?

Creativity techniques represent methods that promote creative thinking and its associated skills, such as idea generation, open-mindedness and problem-solving. In the workplace, you may use these techniques for both collaborative and independent activities. For example, a team developing a new product, service or initiative may use creativity techniques to generate innovative ideas to pursue. Or an individual who encounters a workplace challenge may use these techniques to reframe the issue and devise creative solutions to resolve it.

Related: Creativity Skills: Definition, Tips and Examples

16 techniques for creative thinking

You can use various methods to improve your creative thinking. Here are some techniques that may help you generate more creative ideas and solve complex problems:

1. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a common technique for generating ideas, and you can find various exercises and approaches for implementing this method. With this technique, the goal is to produce as many ideas as possible within a particular time frame. For example, a group may set a 5-minute timer and allow participants to share every idea they think of, no matter how unusual they may seem. After sharing, the group can discuss these ideas aloud to determine which ones best suit the project's needs.

When using this technique, it is essential to stay open-minded and non-judgmental about the ideas produced to ensure all participants feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Groups typically assign someone a facilitator role to oversee the brainstorming session and maintain a respectful and organized process. They should consider all the options and their viability before determining which ideas to pursue.

Read more: 15 Brainstorming Exercises To Generate Ideas

2. Negative brainstorming

In negative brainstorming, participants generate a list of "bad" solutions to the problem they want to solve. This technique can lead to creative solutions by having groups identify obstacles and work toward reversing them. For example, a team may have a goal to improve sales. Participants can offer "bad" ideas that make the product more expensive or less functional. Like brainstorming, the group can set a timer and write as many ideas as possible. They can then discuss the ideas as a group and determine how to turn these negative ideas into positive ones.

3. Brainwriting

Brainwriting works similarly to brainstorming and promotes idea generation within a group setting. In a brainwriting session, the group identifies a problem statement or central idea related to their project. Each participant then writes a list of ideas or potential solutions independently. This technique can help encourage participation from individuals who feel less comfortable sharing their thoughts aloud.

Once participants finish writing their ideas, the facilitator can gather and distribute the lists across the group. The receiving participants look at the list and generate additional ideas, either developing the initial ideas or writing unrelated ideas. Some variations may establish a time limit or a set number of ideas that participants must write during each round. Eventually, the group can discuss these ideas together to identify the most viable solutions.

4. Five W's and one H

With this method, participants identify a problem statement or task and then create a checklist comprising the question words often used in journalism: who, why, what, when, where and how. Answering these questions can help the participants focus their thinking and produce relevant solutions. For example, a team selling a new kitchen tool can ask this series of questions to develop its marketing strategy and messaging. They can use the following questions and their responses to develop marketing messages that address their target customers' needs:

  • Who are our target customers?

  • Why do those customers need this tool?

  • What would customers use this tool to do?

  • How can customers use this tool?

5. Random words

The random words technique asks participants to identify a word or phrase related to the problem they wish to solve. For example, a group hoping to improve teamwork within its department could write the word "teamwork" in the center of a whiteboard. Either individually or as a group, participants develop a list of words or phrases associated with that concept. Some relevant words might include communication, listening, support, positivity and collaboration. This technique helps participants identify ideas related to the problem they want to solve, which can help them divide abstract problems into actionable tasks.

6. Gallery method

In the gallery method, a group leader prepares stations with either personal whiteboards or flip chart paper. Each participant has an assigned station where they write all of their ideas related to the problem statement or central concept. After several minutes, the participants walk around the room to view and make notes on the other participants' stations. Then they return to their original station and continue developing their initial ideas, using the ideas of the other group members for inspiration. This technique can help stimulate alternative ways of looking at a problem or solution and strengthen individuals' ideas.

7. Storyboarding

Teams often use storyboarding to plan advertising campaigns, video content, business proposals or presentations. With this technique, participants create an outline for the project they are developing. This outline can contain both written and visual elements and does not need to be complete at this stage. This creativity technique helps participants organize their ideas before they go into production. The outline format makes it easy to rearrange the structure of stories, allowing teams to make additions or remove segments as their ideas develop.

Read more: What Is Storyboarding? (Plus Related Careers)

8. Roleplaying

In the roleplaying technique, participants adopt character personas and imagine problems and solutions from their perspectives. For example, a product development team may adopt the persona of a potential customer. Thinking about the product from the customer's perspective can enable the deal to develop ideas and solutions that meet their wants and needs. Depending on the situation, participants can roleplay using multiple personas to look at the problem from several viewpoints, such as a first-time user versus an experienced user.

9. "Yes and ..."

The "yes, and ..." technique comes from the world of improvisational theatre. Teams can borrow this method to promote the spontaneous development of ideas. Starting with a single word, phrase or concept, the participants expand on the original statement by responding with "yes, and ..." This exercise promotes open-mindedness because it avoids "yes, but..." phrases that can introduce limitations. Participants may feel more comfortable sharing ideas when they realize they will not receive judgments or dismissals.

For example, the first participant may begin with the statement, "Our goal is to improve our final management system." A second participant can add to the idea by saying, "Yes, and we can improve our file management system by developing a spreadsheet to track patient records." Participants add to these statements until they feel satisfied with the ideas or solutions generated.

10. Mind mapping

With mind mapping, participants write a problem statement in the center of a whiteboard or piece of paper. Next, they add related concepts or solutions in the area surrounding the problem statement, drawing lines between them to note connections. Participants can add another group of phrases that describe how they plan to achieve those proposed concepts or solutions, again linking this layer with the previous one. This ideation tool represents a network of ideas and how they connect, enabling participants to visualize the relationships between their ideas.

Related: 10 Ideation Techniques for Problem-Solving

11. Reversals

With the reversals technique, participants take the problem question and reverse it. For example, a team might want to reduce employee turnover. In this exercise, participants would ask, "How can we increase employee turnover?" By answering this question, the team identifies factors that contribute to this challenge, such as implementing a negative culture or overworking employees. These responses demonstrate what not to do, enabling participants to develop solutions that reduce these contributing factors and lower turnover rates. In this scenario, they can think of strategies for assigning manageable workloads and creating a more positive work environment.

12. Mood boards

A mood board is a collage that can contain images, text and material samples, often used by artists and designers. However, mood boards can serve as a source of inspiration for other work projects. Organizations can use this tool to display abstract concepts in a more tangible format. For example, a team may create a mood board when developing marketing strategies for a new product. They can incorporate branding colors and relevant phrases they want their campaign to express to consumers. They may also use images that represent how they want the audience to feel, such as smiling people.

13. Picture prompts

Picture prompts use pre-selected images to promote free associations amongst a group. With this technique, the group begins with a central topic or problem statement. A facilitator can provide each participant a folder with up to 10 prepared pictures or present each image one at a time to the group. Using the pictures, the group generates ideas related to the central topic or problem statement. This technique can help manage the brainstorming process by introducing outside elements to prompt new and unexpected associations.

14. Metaphorical thinking

Metaphors compare two or more things and can be literal or conceptual. For example, a map may serve as a metaphor for a place because it represents that place. Individuals can use metaphors to draw connections between concepts and generate ideas based on them. They can also use metaphors to make abstract concepts more tangible. For example, a team may use metaphorical thinking to compare its business to a flower. The business acts as a plant because it needs time, attention and careful maintenance to grow. By making these comparisons, the team can think of activities they can perform to help the business thrive.

15. Similarities and differences

This technique asks participants to choose two objects. The first object represents the problem they want to solve, and the second object is a related item. For example, if an individual wants to improve their time management, they may choose a clock to represent the problem while a calendar represents a related object.

The individual creates a list of similarities between the two objects, followed by a list of their differences. Both objects track time, but a clock focuses on seconds, minutes and hours while a calendar focuses on dates. The individual can use these similarities or differences to spark ideas to help manage their time more effectively, such as scheduling their tasks hourly or planning their week in advance.

16. Ideal final result

The ideal final result method works in both individual and group settings. With this problem-solving technique, participants identify a problem statement then describe its ideal solution. When discussing the ideal final result, participants should not consider restraints such as deadlines or budgets. This technique enables them to envision the best possible way to solve the problem without letting limitations interfere. Once they establish potential ideas, they can begin focusing on viable options.

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