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INTRODUCTION > The Team Creative Process

The Team Creative Process

Creative collaboration—generating ideas in teams—involves much more than just getting a group together and brainstorming. As this book’s subtitle indicates, the objective is inspired teamwork. And that is where the team creative process comes into the picture. As you can see from the following diagram, this process typically involves four basic steps: Focus, Ideate, Decide, and Act. This section introduces you to each step, but the focus of the book is the ideate stage.

The Team Creative Process


Before generating ideas, it is important to determine what ideas you are looking for and create a challenge question. This is what happens in the focus step. A challenge question is one that defines the challenge, problem, or project in a clear, specific, and accurate way. For the sake of innovation, the challenge question should invite more than one answer. It should start with one of the following:

“How can we...”

“What are ways to...”

“How might we...”

...and end with a goal. This question will be used to focus the ideate step.

Teams often bypass focus, but it is the most critical step. It determines what ideas to generate.

For example, suppose a team tries to solve the following challenge:

A mother loves to celebrate the holidays in unique and memorable ways. But she is getting on in age. She is trying to get her decorations down from a high shelf in the garage, but because of her bad back, she can’t reach up to lower them.

A typical first response from a team might be “use a stepladder.” Although it’s true that a stepladder is a possible solution to her reaching the decorations, it is important to look at this challenge in more depth to get at the “real” problem. Ask, “What is the mother’s real need?” Is it to reach the decorations? Sure. But isn’t it also to celebrate the holidays in unique and memorable ways? Yes. This “higher level” need of creating a unique and memorable holiday is what is prompting the mother to decorate the house in the first place.

The team could brainstorm solutions all day to help the mother reach her ornaments. But what if the team refocused the problem to “How could the mother and her family make the holidays unique and memorable?” Then a different level of ideas and solutions could be generated. One such idea would be to go to a special Broadway show with the whole family. This new idea speaks to a higher level of need, which may be most appropriate. If you generate ideas to a challenge at a need too low, you might be missing the opportunity to generate many “great” ideas.

Conclusion: Focus is critical to generating valuable ideas that solve the right problems.

Good challenge questions Bad challenge questions
How might we improve our customer service system? Determine if our customer service system is adequate.
How can we make the BBQ experience easier to clean up afterward? Develop a new BBQ product.
What are ways to increase enthusiasm among our customers? Come up with a way to make my customers more enthusiastic.
How might we find more customers? Let’s develop a marketing plan.

Bad challenge statements lack specificity, are not open-ended, and do not ask for lots of ideas.


The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”

—Linus Pauling

The ideate step—idea generation—is the focus of this book. Your team is finished with this stage when it has generated enough ideas from which to find a few “jewels.” Unfortunately, there is no science to determining when your team has generated enough ideas. The only guide you have is to examine the ideas and ask, “Do we have enough potentially great ideas to work with?”

Note that the other steps of the team creative process also can involve idea generation. For example, one way to come up with a good focus statement is to generate lots of challenge questions, or ideas for the focus.


The purpose of this step is to organize ideas, reduce the number of ideas, and come up with the best idea. This involves taking lots of ideas and then:

Discussing them

Sorting them

Adding more

Merging them

Refining them

Finding the best ones

Keep it simple: Whichever process you use with the group to make the decision, keep the process simple and easy to understand to avoid confusion.

Be clear on the criteria for selection: Before your group starts to “merge” and “vote” on the ideas, make sure that everyone is in agreement about the criteria for selecting the best idea. Be specific.

Equal votes: Everyone must have a “say” in the decision. This way you will achieve greater buy-in for whatever the decision is. You will also get different perspectives, which typically results in superior decision-making.

Allow for intuition: Allow people to express what their “inner voices” are saying about the ideas. Create a means to do this without judgment. Make use of all concerns. When this happens, better ideas rise to the top.


Once it has been decided which idea, or ideas, will be pursued, the team must create an action plan. The plan is a map of how to implement the idea. The result of act is a clear picture of who will do what by when, the first step toward successfully implementing your idea.

Do not leave it up to chance: Do not assume that the “great” ideas your team selected will automatically be implemented. Spend time determining what tasks need to be done and who will do them.

Assign someone: You may decide some tasks need to be done by two or more people. But only one person should be made responsible for making sure the task gets done.

Determine success: As a group, decide on what would determine a successful implementation of the idea.

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