How does the collaboration expand the creative process?

Co-creativity - 6 tips on how your team can be more creative

The time of loners has had its day - in order to create change, we have to take action together. We explain to you why creativity is so important and how it works better in a team.

Why creativity at all?

Nothing is more manageable. Although we have moved closer and closer to one another via social media, globalization has interlinked interdependencies and mechanisms of action so closely that everything we do can have countless effects - sometimes even unnoticed.

Acting in such a complex environment requires mindsets and work structures that fit together with these interdependencies. Anyone who wants to develop and promote innovations cannot think in one direction, but has to develop a systemic view that can grasp which end is moving when one pulls the thread. However, the wealth of information also offers the opportunity to link different aspects, even though they come from separate and seemingly unrelated areas. It is precisely at these interfaces that innovations often arise surprisingly.

The speed of our life has also increased. Never before have people been exposed to such rapidity - regardless of whether it is communication, information, mobility, exchange of goods or fashion cycles. Staying on the ball without losing your head is a big challenge.

People who want to change things are confronted with this pace and the complex interrelationships across continents: social entrepreneurs, volunteers or politically committed people, NGOs - in other words, everyone who makes it their business to make the world a better and more sustainable place . Because those who take on social challenges are confronted with a multitude of connections and different interest groups.

The ability to deal with complex problems with creative thinking and to find innovative solutions is becoming increasingly important. Even the rather conservative World Economic Forum in Davos identified creativity as one of the ten most relevant "meta-skills" of the next five years.

We give you an insight into what creativity actually is, why it can be used even better in a team than alone and how you can bring your environment to new, creative peak performances.

Everyone is creative!

To get straight to the point: everyone has creative potential within themselves. Sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller - but often stunted.

Creativity is mostly related to typical artistic activities such as painting, fine arts or music. Few adults who are not active in these areas still describe themselves as creative. Even everyday activities such as putting together a dinner from the leftovers in the refrigerator are a creative act. If, on the other hand, you observe children playing, be it alone or in a group, as an adult you are often surprised by the ingenuity and exuberant imagination that the little ones display. And you remember acting similarly as a child and building your own world of thought. Involuntarily the question arises: when and why did we lose this ability?

A large number of researchers and studies have dealt with this topic. The first question is what creativity is.

The researcher J.P. Guilford has identified the following characteristics that can, so to speak, be considered psychological characteristics of a creative person:

  1. Problem sensitivity: recognize that and where there is a problem
  2. liquid: generate many ideas in a short time
  3. flexibility: Leaving the usual ways of thinking, developing new perspectives
  4. Re-definition: reuse known objects, improvise
  5. Elaboration: Adapting ideas to reality, adding details
  6. originality: create unusual new ideas

In addition, there is the distinction between ways of thinking: convergent thinking is purely solution-oriented and is intended to produce a specific solution to a specific problem in a targeted manner. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, starts from a rather unclear problem and leads in many different directions.

Long-term studies of creativity measurement show that there are indeed major changes in creative thinking and acting on the path from childhood to adulthood. The fourth and fifth grade are considered to be the critical threshold - in Germany this means the transition to a secondary school.

The studies show the strongest drops in the sub-areas of fluidity, originality and elaboration - creativity declines in both quantity and quality. Only the ability to abstract is higher in adulthood than in childhood. The reasons for this decline in creative ability are, on the one hand, an increasing need for social recognition within the peer group, which becomes more and more important with the onset of puberty, while deviant behavior is quickly and severely sanctioned. On the other hand, school curricula play a very central role, as they restrict the range of “correct” answers with a great concentration on factual knowledge and restrict, rather than reward, creative solutions. Purely knowledge-based learning tends to promote convergent thinking, while divergent thinking, which is of crucial importance for creative output, is pushed further and further into the background and is “unlearned”.

Co-creativity in the team
An open attitude towards new impulses is more important than pure methodological dogmatics (e.g. the exclusive use of design thinking or the business model canvas). In addition, it takes the willingness of the individual to leave their own comfort zone in a group. This can only succeed if a fear-free work environment is created in which people meet each other in an appreciative manner and at eye level.

The result of this education-induced lack of creativity is that adults who do not work in an explicitly artistic branch rarely consider themselves creative. Writing and music may have been an opportunity for many people to express their inner self during puberty, but these activities are often not continued. With working life and increasing obligations, the calm and leisure from which one could still be creative often dry up.

But people also tend to be “lazy” and energy efficient. It saves energy and time to develop routines for certain, recurring tasks in order to save your own resources. The process in itself is smart, but carries the risk of restricted and one-sided perspectives - which in turn can reduce general creativity.

Co-creativity - why designing in a team is better

In my work at Cool Ideas Society, I have accompanied many people in idea workshops (and also experienced the processes myself). What always fascinated me was the question of why you're suddenly more creative in a team than when you're brooding on your own. Of course, it is first of all the different points of view and knowledge that are thrown around and form new starting points for the next loop of ideas. But I quickly had the feeling that there must be more to it. Above all, I was fascinated by how committed and passionately awake the participants were, even after a long day at work, as soon as they were allowed to “play around” in the group. The success of co-creativity does not only lie in the design process, but is deeply connected to the human being as a social being. Because one of the greatest motivational systems of people is the search for successful interpersonal contacts, for social recognition and to be seen. This is one of the reasons why people are fundamentally geared towards cooperation.

This search or even the prospect of social resonance activates the release of dopamine, a kind of “reward drug” in our brain. Dopamine provides focus and the mental energy we need to act.

This concentration sets us in the mood for cooperation within a group. An essential stimulator for the release of dopamine is laughing together. So it is no coincidence that at the beginning of a meeting, jokes or funny sayings are used to ease the mood.

Once you have this first icebreaker behind you, you are fundamentally prepared for cooperation and collaboration. However, the stimulator alone is not enough to stabilize the bond within a group - this is where oxytocin comes into play. It is known as the breastfeeding hormone, but it is also essential for any interpersonal bond because it creates and strengthens mutual trust. Since dopamine and oxytocin have a certain addictive factor due to their feel-good factor, we design our behavior in such a way that these messenger substances are released. In creative processes we experience social resonance through the mutual recognition and reception of impulses from the other group members. We get small, doping-like kicks from the rewarding feeling of being part of the group and gradually feel more and more connected to one another.

Oxytocin has the wonderful side effect of reducing anxiety and stress. And those who work without fear and stress are also more creative because they have to spend less energy on coping with negative emotions. This is also the reason why a single creative meeting will not produce particularly effective results in an otherwise competitive and pressure work environment. Because if you want to motivate people sustainably and bring them to creative performance, you should continuously give them the opportunity to cooperate with others and not only shape ideas, but also relationships. In the long term, this even ensures the health of the employees, because the messenger substances released by the motivation system reward us not only with subjective well-being, but also with physical and mental health. And this in turn increases the general creativity in the team.

In this way you increase the creativity in the team

I am not presenting individual methods here that are intended as selective stimulation - what is more important is the overall context in which the co-creative processes are to be embedded.

1) The room: In the "Art of Hosting" the room is a very central point for group work. This does not (only) mean physical space, but also mental space. Cuffing someone to their desk and getting them to be creative on command works in the rarest of cases. If you want to develop specific ideas, you create a temporal, mental and physical space away from everyday routine and hectic, in which other rules also apply. Breaking up daily, frozen patterns is just as important as freedom from time pressure.

It is important to set a framework right from the start: What is our scope: do we develop completely new ideas or do we focus on a certain question?

Create an agenda as a red thread so that the participants know in which time window which work phases take place.

The physical space should differ from the normal work environment. It can help to sit on the floor instead of chairs, to hang up extraordinary pictures or stimulating flipcharts. If possible, move some of the work to the open air. If you are planning a real creative camp, you can also rent two days in a youth hostel.

The main thing is a change of scenery!

2) Shutdown: It doesn't matter if the day-to-day business is stuck. It doesn't matter that your team doesn't answer calls for a few hours. The focus is in the space, in the idea, in development, in the team and in the co-creative process. Those who consistently isolate themselves from the routine and from external disruptive factors are better able to let go. Because if you have your thoughts on the concept for the next deadline, it will be difficult to clear your head for new ideas.

3) appreciation: Every idea is welcome and important. Of course, not all of them become realizable projects. But even a mundane idea can lead another person on the team to an association, which in turn leads to the next step. Co-creativity is an iterative process. You are really in the flow when at the end of a project you can no longer unravel who has discovered what exactly.

Appreciation also includes first of all the absence of evaluation. Whether an idea is actually worth something or not will be decided at a later point in time. Much more important is the courage and openness to give space to all ideas and thoughts.

And of course: no hierarchy!

4) Use the body: It is especially important for pure desk criminals to get moving. Different regions of the brain are activated by physical activity. Physical exercises to warm up or after the breaks as an Energyzer have a stimulating effect. Different senses should also be used. It helps to implement an idea in handicrafts - with simple clay or building blocks.

5) Mark the scope - divergent vs. convergent thinking: As described above, it depends on which goal is to be achieved in the creative group: Is it about developing as many new ideas as possible or finding a focused solution to a specific problem? Both ways are justified depending on the context. With divergent thinking, freedom sometimes tempts you to let creativity become an end in itself. In fact, too much creativity not only goes beyond the categories, but also distracts from the questions and core problems. When looking for an effective solution, creativity should not be pushed to the limit.

6) Open your horizon: an umbrella term for all the processes that go beyond routine thinking and finding solutions. The point here is to expand, expand, transcend categories. Methodologically, one can distinguish between association and dissociation. Association is about connecting things, concepts, terms that actually do not belong together and putting them in new relationships with one another. A new whole is created from individual parts.

Dissociation, on the other hand, goes in the opposite direction and breaks a whole into its individual parts. Looking at the “microscopic” components of a problem can be very helpful in sharpening awareness and awareness of aspects that are otherwise overlooked. By perceiving details, one expands the range of possible adjusting screws that can be used as a solution.

In fact, it has been shown that association exercises are suitable for opening up thinking (i.e. for divergence), in order to think across borders and to develop new raw ideas. If you go back to the more specific solution finding, dissociation exercises with their more functional perspective are better suited. The combination of both approaches is very well suited if you want to move from problem-solving back to the narrower category of challenge.


An open attitude towards new impulses is more important than pure methodological dogmatics (e.g. the exclusive use of design thinking or the business model canvas). In addition, it takes the willingness of the individual to leave their own comfort zone in a group. This can only succeed if a fear-free work environment is created in which people meet each other in an appreciative manner and at eye level. Because the big problems of our time can only be solved together!

Birgit Heilig works at Cool Ideas Society e.V., which regularly offers hosting trainings where you can learn co-creative processes. If you are interested, click here: