I’ve always noticed that my creativity level drops when my routine becomes predictable. Suddenly my mind moves into cruise control. I find it difficult to come up with creative ideas and innovative approaches. I write fewer blog postings, my software solutions are more brute force, and I’m less likely to come up with fun new games to entertain my kids.

There is some science behind this as discussed in the Fast Company article, 7 Ways to Stimulate Your Capacity for Creativity. Essentially the article discusses how context violations spur creativity.

The idea is that our minds need exposure to a variety of contexts to keep us innovative:

Your most creative insights are almost always the result of taking an idea that works in one domain and applying it to another. Every “new” idea you have, personally, is based on some combination of previous concepts in your own mind, even if you combined these concepts subconsciously.

Studies in neurology have also shown that forcing our mind to think through new scenarios and differing contexts creates new neural pathways.

While the article focuses on stimulating creativity for an individual, a similar list of ideas can be applied to Agile teams. Try these ideas to boost creativity within your team:

  • Change the team environment. Have meetings in unusual locations and try switching seating arrangements regularly. How’s the weather? Have a meeting outside if the corporate campus is suitable.
  • Brainstorm different ways to use a common tool (grep, ls, ftp, whatever your team uses regularly). This may not only stimulate creativity, but can lead to new useful ways that the team uses tools you’re already familiar with.
  • Spend 30 minutes a day for two or three weeks learning a new programming language. Make it a story to be addressed during a sprint and set aside time. You may even decide the language is useful for product development.
  • Have the team talk with one new product user every week. This forces developers to socialize and it has the advantage of creating opportunities for learning. Each product user likely has a different take on the system and what they find useful.
  • Play Agile games. Ever been to TastyCupcakes.org? Other than the creepy clown picture on the front page (think It, Stephen King), this is a great site for finding games that allow a team to learn more about Agile while spurring innovation.
  • Take on a story for innovation time. It works for Google, could it work for your team? Try bringing in a story during your next sprint focusing time on innovation (this should be only a few story points). Make sure you set acceptance criteria so the team can demonstrate their effort.
  • Try a daily 10 minute break for exercise. One of my clients is a wellness company and they take 10 minutes a day to leave the cubicle farm to get some brief exercise. Walk the stairs, jog in place, do some situps, change it up daily. Not only will it change the daily routine, it promotes good health!

Do you have ideas of your own? Leave them in the comments.