Graffiti artist, entrepreneur and motivational speaker Erik Wahl teaches some of the world's largest companies how to goof off in the office. Wahl believes that many workplaces are too rigid and don't allow employees time for creative thought or idle time that leads to innovative ideas.
In his new book, Unthink: Rediscover Your Creative Genius (Crown Business, 2013), Wahl describes a number of ways to break those unproductive patterns and create environments that not only nourish but accelerate creativity. Here are three nontraditional methods he recommends.
1. Play with clay.
Before your next big meeting, bring along some Play-Doh. Yes, really. Give everyone a can or two and tell them to spend a few minutes modeling something that reminds them of childhood. There may be some uncomfortable giggling at first, but Wahl says he's never seen anyone refuse.
The tactile nature of clay and the exercise's connection to childhood help people break down the stuffy pretense that exists in so many meetings and helps open their minds, he says. Spend five or 10 minutes playing and then discuss what each person has made. Then, move on to the meeting topic.
"You've broken the ice, made people smile and laugh, and relaxed them. You're going to get better answers and ideas," he says.
2. Plan for idle time.
Schedule some time in your week that's completely free. Go for a walk. Sit and think. Enjoy some quiet time. By giving your brain a rest from the workday onslaught and, engaging in an activity that's calming and inspiring, you will return to your desk with new thoughts and ideas, Wahl says.
Resist the urge to fill that time with work-related tasks or meetings. It's going to feel strange, he says, but it opens up mind space to innovate.
"At the point where we're critically thinking and focusing, we have a limited amount of space to come up with an idea. The point where we 'unthink,' [is] where we come up with new and different ideas," he says.
Making art is an effective way to open up creative channels. During one of his talks to a creative team at Honda, Wahl started out having the team doodle. They listened to him speak and they just drew whatever interested them at the moment. Wahl says that he later received a note from one of the team members. The doodle he had drawn ended up being a new product for which the company obtained a patent and ended up being a multimillion-dollar revenue stream. Of course, few doodles are so lucrative, but the process of creating art can lead to some interesting discoveries and insights, he says.
Related: How to Motivate Creative Employees