Get Creative! Take a SIP Before You Storm

Posted on February 26, 2020


Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash


We need to SIP before we start ‘storming. By that I mean more Structured Individual Play (SIP) before brainstorming. In professional environments, we are entirely comfortable with brainstorming, which is a version of structured group play, but if I said “Take 30 minutes and have an experience for yourself. Take a walk, have a dance party, listen to music, make the best paper airplane you can, build a coffee cup tower…” before you brainstorm, you’d probably look at me like I was drunk from the night before!

But you’d (most likely) be wrong. Because the right kind of play is an important part of a more creative work environment.

A NASA study on creativity found that of 1,600 4- and 5-year-olds, 98 percent scored at “creative genius” level. When the same test was administered to these kids at 15 years old, only 12 percent of them scored that way. By adulthood, that number is less than 2 percent. The creativity is literally trained out of us as we learn more convergent thinking (which is also incredibly useful in its own way) during our formal education process.

In short, it’s unlikely that you’re creative any more—sorry to break the news to you. But we might be able to fix that. So, let’s learn from this national tragedy of unintentional creativity stifling.

One of our goals should be helping our employees and coworkers learn how to engage in more Structured Individual Play (SIPing) before we brainstorm together. More specifically, set aside time to focus on activities that help our brainstorming team members “experience” the world in their own way, engaging their individual sense of childlike wonder. Yes, I’m saying a little bit of structured play during our day helps us work way more effectively.

We need to do this SIP process before we engage with our team, so groupthink, convergent thinking or existing paradigms don’t dominate the brainstorming process—before we even begin. As we get better at this SIP, the quality of our ideas will improve, meaning we need less time as a team to “ideate” and can focus more time on implementing.

But why not just do this in the group environment? Why not just brainstorm and have activities for the group, you know, like normal people do? I’m glad you asked. First, because we’re not creative. What we typically do often doesn’t work and based on the NASA study, less than 2% of us are even capable of making this judgment.

Also, we can’t engage in this way in a group environment because each of us rides our own creativity waves. We all feel creative at different times and have many different triggers that inspire us and allow us to be our most engaged self. Music, activity, silence, drawing, dance, sports, quilting, photography, etc. This means that our inspiration and our sense of wonder is incredibly individual, and therefore our experience needs to be as well. And this inspiration leads our creative mind where it needs to go.

To begin, set the stage for the brainstorming session by letting the team know what the topic will be, what the goal is, and be sure to send any relevant information at least a day in advance to inform the discussion. Ask the team to consider what they are doing when they are feeling their most creative and ask them to take time to do 20-30 minutes of SIP right before you get together. Each person’s job is to engage in something that allows them to have an experience—not “work”. The goal is to have individual experiences that allow our creative selves to come forward and take the lead as our background program processes the opportunity or problem at hand.

There are countless examples and studies that demonstrate disruptive creativity comes through tangible experience, and this is our opportunity to do the same. Leonardo Da Vinci was not considered an intellectual genius, but he was a creative genius, and part of his genius relied on his intense observational skills during his experiences. He was fully present and engaged in his experiences, and he vacillated between periods of intense creativity and intense execution, punctuated by periods of thoughtful reflection. This is the same intent we should have for our teams. Have an experience and be present with that moment. Then connect the dots. Where does it lead you? How can that experience inform our brainstorming discussion?

After this SIP time, bring the team together and share thoughts and ideas surrounding how their experiences relate to the brainstorming topic. Use these divergent and creative thoughts as a starting point for the conversation—and see how these wild ideas can morph into a stronger solution. The point is that by pushing the boundaries of our brainstorm starting points on a given topic, we can stretch the realm of possible solutions before we exclude them. We can engage our creative selves again, and explore the possible, before we decide as a group what isn’t possible; what won’t work. Our group tendency towards convergent thinking will pull these divergent thoughts back to the realm of reality in the end but take a SIP before you (brain)storm, and you’ll find the next level of your organization’s creative game.

headshot Nick KittleNick is the author of the best-selling local government book “Sustainovation: Building Sustainable Innovation in Government, One Wildly Creative Idea at a Time,” and spent the last 15 years in government, most recently as a Chief Innovation Officer. During his time in local government, his teams won three national awards for innovation and he founded one of the first five innovation offices in the country. Nick now helps other communities create their own innovation offices and unlock their employees’ potential. Nick trains, keynotes and consults about building Sustainovation and High-Performance Government across the country—and in his main time, he is a father, husband, artist, photographer, adventurer, BBQ champ and avid disc golfer. Connect with Nick at [email protected] or visit to learn more.

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