When you’re stuck coming up with a costume, or writing a birthday card, or generating new ideas for a project, it feels obvious to say that most people aren’t born with instant creative skills.

The good news is creativity can be learned. Focusing on these skills is definitely worthwhile: companies value creativity because it spurs growth and competitiveness. You can stand out from the crowd by coming up with great ideas no matter what position you start in.

Here Drew Boyd, executive director of the Master of Science in Marketing Program and assistant professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati, gives us five tips in mind on how you can solve problems and be creative in any job, at any level!

1. Identify the constraints around the problem

What are constraints in the workplace? Job constraints could be limitations on budget, impending deadlines, or other limiting factors that you face during day to day tasks. Think of constraints as the mandatory requirements to doing your job. These things don’t hinder your ability to think creatively – they help it! Constraints keep you “inside the box” and force your brain to work harder and smarter. When approaching a professional problem, try looking for a solution by first identifying constraints to solving the problem (deadlines, budgets and other factors). By imposing these limitations up front, you’re doing yourself a big favour. You filter out the bad ideas from the start, before they take shape. After all, why come with an idea that’s unworkable? It’s better to limit yourself right from the start within a space where the viable ideas exist. This tactic will be sure to impress your boss and co-workers. 

2. Imagine you are solving someone else’s problem

Tricking your mind into solving the problem for someone else can improve creative output. Start a meeting by explaining the task or the problem to be solved. Then, tell the group to solve the same problem, but imagine doing it in a different industry or for a different product. This activates the group and expands their thinking before they start working on their actual problem. Just getting people to step away from their daily routine will boost their creative output. Think of it like doing word problems in math class. There could be a common underlying formula to coming up with a solution.

3. Got a large problem to solve? Break it up into smaller parts.

A simple way to change perspective is by breaking problems into simple components. How does this boost your creativity? Many times, just seeing the separate components of an issue will trigger new inventive solutions.  It activates your mind to go in new directions. Think of it as unpacking a full suitcase and laying out all your clothes on the floor, then repacking in a new and better way. To do this with a problem at work, write down a list of each component, whether it’s a product, process, service, or a smaller and more specific problem that you want to tackle.

4. Need a brainstorming session? Work in pairs, not large groups.

Group brainstorming sessions can sometimes be frustrating and unproductive. A simple way to overcome this is to break a large group into smaller teams of two or three people. Working in pairs makes people more focused. You feel accountable to the other person to do your fair share of the thinking. You bounce ideas of each other and you offer suggestions on how to improve the idea. Working in pairs is also more efficient. Five groups of two can generate far more ideas in the same amount of time than one group of ten. Plus, it could be a great way to get to know people in your office.

5. Practice the Golden Rule of Creativity

Creativity is a team sport, and you’ll generate better ideas if you harness the brainpower of others! Colleagues will help you if you help them first. Imagine you find an article online that a colleague of yours would find interesting. Make this small favour even more appreciated by printing the article and highlighting the most relevant parts. Write a small note on the article pointing out how your colleague might use the information. And finally, hand deliver it to your colleague. If more appropriate, try this same method of personalized sharing digitally by highlighting and making an email note, or social media post.

I call this the golden rule of creativity. Practice it and others will do whatever they can to help with your creativity projects.