Last week, I took our product development team on a field trip. On a regular basis (quarterly, if possible), we try to take time together to work on some projects in person as a way to make progress on our work, bond as a team, and be creative. I am by far the least creative of our small team of 3. When you work with a graphic designer and a documentary filmmaker, you easily slide to the back of the scale for creativity.
We were challenged by our broader team to push our creative outputs and really try new innovative things in our product space. No doubt others of you face the same request—be more innovative. Come up with new ideas. But how do you do that if you’re not naturally creative? How do you ask a creative team to be more creative?
We did three things during our field trip that has set us on track to do that.
1. Exposure to new environments
We didn’t have this creativity meeting in our usual format, typically in our office or over a video call. I took the team to a different location for our field trip and rented a house in Venice, California. Since only one of us lives in LA area, it took some coordinating and a supportive team to allow us the time to get away. Working in a fresh environment gave us a chance to feel like we had the “space” to discuss big topics. The 3-story house had a rooftop deck, overlooking the city with vistas to both the mountain and ocean—perfect for brainstorming new ideas.
Going to an environment drastically different than our office prompted new ideas and influences to our creative thinking. It reduced our distractions, allowed us to focus, and provided much needed time together to tackle some of our most important questions.
2. Set creativity expectations
Often, we get in a rut with our development. We know some tried-and-tested formulas for our products or marketing materials. They work well. If we were going to push our creative outputs, we had to have a discussion about our creative parameters. What do we do that’s currently creative? What is more “standard” in our product line? What does “revolutionary” look like?
Having the conversation and agreeing to a common understanding of the “creative ceiling” was very helpful to set up guides for what we produced. We determined 3 buckets were right for us:
Conservative: Standard issue products that are designed for our most conservative of audiences. These set a foundation for our products, and are the smallest component of our product suite.
Core: These are our products that we are currently developing, that still are interesting, appealing to the majority of our clients, and represent our brand well.
Revolutionary: This is where we had an interesting discussion. We don’t often take risks creatively, and decided we wanted to push the boundaries in our product lines. We discussed that the tone for these products is fun, contemporary, risky, weird, aligns with media more than development, and we recognized not everyone would love what they saw (and that is ok!). We decided about a third of our product line needed to be in this space if we were going to push our creative bounds.
Having this conversation with your team—particularly a creative team—and providing visual or video samples helps you get on the same page with your end products.
3. Get inspiration regularly, from outside your usual spots
During our field trip, we also went to a museum, The Broad, which is a contemporary collection in a beautiful building in downtown LA. The line was long for a Wednesday morning. Once inside, we set out to not only experience the art, but to also observe how others responded to the works.
I challenged the team with a question to consider as we meandered: “How can we inform our products with our own experience with art?”
We bounced from work to work, until we stopped in front of a giant mural by Lari Pittman called “Like You.” It’s not an easy piece to describe, but the shared experience of looking at the mural made us nod our heads in agreement around the potential look and feel of a product we currently are working on together.
“That’s it,” I said. “That’s got the feel for one of our current projects.” Immediately, the team understood the visual. They were somewhat surprised at my choice for our creative tone for one of our video projects. Visualizing a look and feel allowed us to quickly get on the same page on creative expectations.
We continued to walk the museum, snapping pictures and taking notes, thinking about what creative angles we wanted to take. We also considered how people responded to the art—what kind of emotions did we want to evoke?
Exposure to new subject matter completely contrasting to your everyday environment can be one of the ways you can prompt more innovative solutions. The three of us agreed we needed to do an exercise like this at least monthly, if not more frequently, to continue to spark creative thoughts. Whether that’s at a museum, in a park, reading a different kind of book, or meeting someone completely outside of your field for a conversation.
Where could you go to take a field trip? Even for an hour or two to get some creative inspiration?