Get Creativity Flowing in Your Organization

By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

Companies such as Apple, Google, and Leo Burnett have a well-deserved reputation for creativity and innovation. From the outside looking in, it may seem like these institutions are creative because they hire creative people. That may be true to some extent, but they’ve also built it into their culture and processes.

Real estate associations — not to mention companies — of all kinds are just as capable of being creative, said Allison Linney, president of organizational development consultancy Allison Partners, who spoke yesterday morning at the Association Executives Institute event in Louisville, Ky.

Many organizations dismiss the notion of increasing creativity because they believe it’s limited mostly to young people and a select few talented, older professionals. Not so, Linney said. To be sure, young people do have a “beginner’s mind” that makes them more open to new experiences and ideas, and much less afraid to fall on their faces, figuratively and literally. But most people have some level of innate creativity — it’s just a matter of finding ways to tap that. A big part of bringing that out of your employees is making it clear that it’s OK to make mistakes and fail along the way.

Some other companies might be hesitant to devote significant amounts time and energy to ideation because it seems impractical when there are so many more immediate tasks to take on. Linney had two arguments to counter this. The first is that time spent in creative reflection will produce better, more innovative solutions for problems and processes, and ultimately save time and effort in the future. The second is that involving employees in creative exercises will increase their engagement and motivation.

Linney identified the following four steps for creative problem-solving:

1. Clarify the problem

2. Come up with new ideas

3. Refine various plausible solutions

4. Put a plan into action

Certain people tend to be better at one or two of these steps. For example, imaginative, flexible, and adventurous people are good ideators, whereas implementers are decisive people of action. Making sure employees are working in areas they naturally gravitate toward is critical for getting the most out of this, Linney said. “All four of these things are happening as we’re going through the creative process,” she said. “Even if I’m not good at one of them, can I make sure someone else is doing it?”

Linney also offered a couple of quick, easy methods for generating ideas. The first is to intentionally generate bad ideas to solve a problem, ones that could be too extreme and fanciful to work, or could even create the opposite of the intended outcome. Then, “flip” those ideas to come up with good solutions. Additionally, you might find the bad ideas can be tweaked somehow in order to be made effective.

Another technique is “brain writing,” a sort of brainstorming exercise. This simply involves identifying a single, narrow problem, then writing down a few potential solutions on a piece of paper. Once you’ve done that, pass it to another team member, and have them pass it along when they’ve written down a few of their own ideas. After it’s gone through a handful of colleagues, get the document back and review what they’ve come up. Changes are you’ll have at least a couple of proposals worth further consideration.

Brian Summerfield

Brian Summerfield is Manager of Business Development and Outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services. He can be reached at

More Posts

  1. Wow! Thanks for this great summary of my presentation. You have a real gift for listening and then summarizing to support learning. People can learn more about the four steps you outlined above at I look forward to staying connected with you and others from the conference,