6 Ways to Bring out the Natural Creativity in Others

Rochael Adranly, IDEO partner and general counsel, has spent her career finding the balance between the rules-based world of law and the ambiguous, non-rules-based world of design. In this Creative Confidence Podcast episode, she shares how to bring out the natural creativity in others and encourage colleagues to be your partners in innovation—instead of your roadblocks.

As a lawyer, Rochael Adranly is used to people thinking she must not be very creative. But she’s the perfect reminder that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Rochael is an IDEO partner and general counsel, and also a DJ, photographer, and restaurant owner.

She’s spent many years at IDEO infusing design thinking and creativity into areas like law that aren’t traditionally thought of as the most creative industries. Over the years, she’s refined her approach to getting others to open up their minds and think differently.

Her first piece of advice? “Don’t make an assumption that because somebody is in a role that's not traditionally creative, they're not a creative person.” Good ideas can come from anywhere, and at IDEO, we believe everyone is capable of creativity.

If you are working on a creative project and ready to gather input from your legal team or ask for help from operations, here are Rochael’s six best tips for how to approach them in the right way and inspire them to generate bold new ideas alongside you.

Find the right person

Just like casting a movie or building a baseball team, you need the right players in the room to make progress on a creative idea. It depends on your organization and if people are set up to have more autonomy or less. But generally, Rochael suggests finding someone who is newer to your organization (and less entrenched in the usual way of doing things), more junior with the freedom to try new things, or more senior if they have the authority and influence to champion creative ideas.

Provide context

“Often when you come to somebody with no context, the safest thing for them to do is say no,” Rochael says. Instead of just asking for approval or a favor, give them a bit of background on why you’re asking and what you hope to accomplish. But keep it brief—people are busy and it goes a long way to show you respect their time. State your case and let them know you’re happy to provide more context if they like. Your job is to make it easy for them to say yes and work with you.

See if they’re willing to think differently

Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to ask. Rochael likes to test the waters by asking “Would you be willing to hear something that may challenge some of the assumptions we have?” Look for someone who can empathize with others, and set the conditions for them to test out a new idea in a safe space. Limit your chat to 10 minutes and make it known you won’t hold them to any wild ideas they throw out.

Respect their expertise

Everyone likes to be recognized. And absolutely no one enjoys it when someone else thinks they can do their job better. If you’re asking another team or colleague for input, approach them with humility and acknowledge they likely have a broader, more knowledgeable view than you in that particular area. Try saying, “This is what I think could help, but I don't know if I have all the answers. I'd like to get your input.”

Invite them in as a creative problem solver

The best ideas come when you gather a group of diverse perspectives, so take the opportunity to ask them to join you in finding a creative solution instead of just asking for a yes or no. Rochael remembers a time when an IDEO client’s design team was struggling to work with their legal team. They decided to hold a design session and specifically invite the legal folks who were giving the most pushback. Turns out, the lawyers brought brilliant new ideas to the table. They had just never been asked to contribute in that way before.

Show appreciation

There’s nothing quite like the simple act of saying thank you to make someone feel appreciated—and more inclined to work with you again. Saying thanks or, even better, publicly acknowledging the time and effort they spent to help you often takes only a few minutes but can do wonders to build a positive relationship.

At the end of the day, if you’ve done all you can to get someone to tap into their creativity and they refuse to budge, have some empathy toward their situation. Maybe it’s not that they wouldn’t love to brainstorm with you or they don’t like your idea. It could be that they’re too strapped for time or are forced to make tough tradeoffs between other business priorities.

The best thing you can do is ask for context in return. If you know why someone is saying no or turning down a creative idea, you can avoid those roadblocks in the future—and have a better shot at getting them to be more open to new ideas next time.


Learn exercises to help you and your team overcome the common barriers to creativity in our online course Unlocking Creativity, taught by IDEO U Founder and Dean and IDEO Partner Suzanne Gibbs Howard.

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