Why You Need to ‘Warm Up’ Before Starting a Creative Task at Work

Warm up before creative work brainstorm

A new study has found that one way to significantly boost employees’ creativity in teams is to do a warm-up exercise. The research, conducted by Cornell University and published in Science Daily this month, has found conducting a “warm up” ahead of creative tasks like brainstorms works to correct power imbalances.

“Power often boosts an employee’s creativity because being powerful liberates the individual from constraints, such as worrying that their ideas will be rejected,” reads the research’s summary.

“However, new research shows that employees who are not in positions of power can become more creative when given time to ‘warm up’ to a task by engaging in the creative task more than once.”

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When people with more power are able to express their creative ideas more than those with less power, it leads to a rich-get-richer dynamic that reinforces or exacerbates power differentials, explains Brian Lucas, assistant professor in the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and once of the study’s co-authors.

“Understanding ways to boost the creativity of lower-power workers can help them navigate this low-power disadvantage, generate more creative ideas and promote a more equitable workplace,” Lucas says in the study.

Lucas also notes that the experience of being creative can, in and of itself, have positive psychological consequences, and so understanding how to cultivate strategies that empower all employees to tap their creative potential is essential.

“The low power warm-up effect suggests a simple intervention that does just this and overcomes power differentials in the workplace: when pursuing creative work, let employees warm up first.”

Some warm-up ideas, according to virtual whiteboard platform G, include “alternate uses”, an ideation exercise that boosts divergent, out-of-the-boxing thinking. The way it works is that you set a timer for three minutes, pick an ordinary object, like a toothbrush, and have each team member jot down, and then share, as many ideas as you can of alternate ways you could use that object.

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“For example, a toothbrush could be used to clean things, brush your eyebrows or create a fun paint splatter effect for an art project,” the publication writes.

Another warm-up idea they name is “bad ideas”, which sees team members sharing their unpolished thoughts, thereby helping them approach ideas with an open mind. The publication suggests people get into groups of two or three, and work on assigned, objectively bad ideas, like “sandpaper socks” or “tomato sauce-flavoured popsiclse”

They’ll have five minutes to discuss their potential benefits, uses and selling points for the product before pitching their bad idea.

Finally, another warm-up idea you could try is the “run-on story”, which sees a group creating a story one sentence at a time. Pick a moderator, have them share a simple prompt, like “Harry’s beach holiday”, and then, go around the room with each person sharing one sentence that continues the story.

“Keep going until the story finds a natural conclusion or after you’ve gone around the group a few times,” writes Lucidspark.

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