Author. Inspired by Creativity, Imagination and Design.


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Leadership Hack: A 3-Minute Exercise to Draw Innovative Thinking From Your Team

During the Dotcom craze, I worked for an Internet email company. Great place. Great people. Smart people. 

Our sales team found a potentially huge deal — one that could change the course of the company. 

But this client had a special request that stumped our entire team. We didn’t think we could fill their request with our technology.

A huge meeting was called to solve the problem — 30 people from all parts of the company. 

I was fairly new to the organization and was not a technology whiz. I was glad to be invited, but didn’t know what I could contribute. 

Going into the meeting, I had a seed of an idea of how we could solve the problem. 

But I discounted it. 

It was so obvious — surely the team had already considered my simple solution.

Our developers explained the situation and all the solutions they had thought of — and then explained why they wouldn’t work.

They turned the problem to us. What could be done?

I sat silently. 

Others asked questions. Posed alternative solutions.

The technology team proved one-by-one how those ideas wouldn’t work.

Finally, I mustered the nerve to speak. I said, “We have this little feature on our product that’s not used much by our customers. Can you please help me understand why that wouldn’t work as a solution?”

Everyone went silent. 

I held my breath.

I was certain I looked the fool.

Then the CIO looked me in the eye and answered, “There’s no reason that wouldn’t work. In fact, that is the answer. And it won’t cost us a penny.”

After lots of slaps on the back, the meeting ended.

What if I had not spoken?

A 3-Minute Exercise to Draw Innovative Thinking From Your Team

Your team has ideas. You need to draw the creativity out of them.

Which means they need “permission” to think innovatively and vet their ideas — even if they aren’t fully baked. 

In fact, seeds of ideas help the rest of the team to think creatively. 

Use this exercise to help your team feel that “permission”.


The Activity is Called: “Follow the Instructions” 

NOTE: This activity makes a powerful point. Don’t worry that it may feel awkward at first. You’re trying to loosen up their thinking anyway.

  1. Give each person a blank sheet of paper. Have them stand and close their eyes. (Closing their eyes is critical in order to make the point.)
  2. Tell them to follow your instructions.
  3. Fold the paper in half.
  4. Tear off the upper righthand corner of the paper.
  5. Fold in the bottom edge.
  6. Tear off a section along the bottom edge.
  7. Fold the paper into a triangle.
  8. Tear off one point of the triangle.
  9. Turn the paper over and tear off a portion along top edge.
  10. Open the papers and open your eyes.
  11. Look around and see how different each person’s paper looks. That’s the beauty of this exercise!


Point out: 

  • Even though everyone followed the same instructions, each person’s design is different.
  • There are multiple solutions to solving a problem or developing something new. 
  • The team needs varying points of view in order to innovate and collaborate. 
  • Reiterate that each individual was invited to the team to bring their unique point of view. 
  • Remind them that you don’t need fully baked ideas. You’re open to “idea seeds” as well.
  • Unless each person speaks up, the team may be missing a powerful opportunity.

Together you can attack the new opportunity or problem your organization is facing. 

You can lead your team to innovate.


Sometimes You Need a Little Creativity Boost

My free eBook might just help:

5 Exercises that Will Make You 10 Times More Creative

I use these exercises to keep the juices flowing — in myself and in my clients. (I am a marketing consultant, after all.)

Bryan Searing