Exercises for Fostering Innovation in the Workplace

Posted on October 21, 2021

The world is constantly changing, which means businesses should change too. Innovation is the means by which companies can improve services, increase efficiency, push boundaries, and bring new products to market. However, innovation cannot be achieved by sitting idly by and hoping a new idea will magically appear. Creativity must be cultivated through intentional strategies. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, once said, “mindless habitual behavior is the enemy of innovation.” Thus, it is important for businesses to break up the monotony of the work week with purposeful activities designed to get employees thinking creatively. Here are some exercises for fostering innovation in the workplace. 

Paper Cup Exercise

The paper cup exercise is an activity employed by professionals like Jean Marie DiGiovanna, who focuses on leadership development and the birth of new ideas. It is an effective and easy way to get employees thinking outside of the box.

How to do it:

You can make this activity an independent exercise or a collaborative exercise depending on the size of your company. Simply give each person or team a paper cup and instruct them to write down as many uses for the cup (apart from holding liquid) as possible. You want to give people a limited amount of time to complete the activity so that people are motivated to run with their initial ideas rather than overthink them. 


Paper cups are typically viewed as having only one purpose, so challenging employees to think beyond everyday conventions primes them to think more creatively. Innovation is not just about creating new ideas, it is also about rethinking old ones. Therefore, the paper cup exercise is a great solution to stagnant business practices. 

Silver Lining Stories 

The activity referred to as silver lining stories is an exercise designed to help individuals understand that every scenario can be viewed through multiple perspectives. Additionally, it is a great way to boost positivity in the office and encourage optimistic thinking. 

How to do it:

Partner up participants and designate one person as the storyteller and one person as the silver lining person. Give the storyteller a prompt (i.e. describe a time when you failed to do your job to the best of your ability) and give them a couple minutes to elaborate on the topic. When the time is up, have the silver lining person retell the story their partner just shared through a more positive lens, pointing out the silver linings in the story.


Whether you are analyzing a product or interacting with a coworker, things are very rarely one faceted. Getting employees in the habit of considering multiple perspectives and disrupting their typical thought patterns makes them more innovative. 

Draw it Again

Draw it again helps individuals hone their attention to detail and discover nuances in ordinary objects. 

How to do it:

Ask employees to choose one object on their desk (e.g. a mug) and draw that object every day over the course of a week. Employees can choose whether they want to draw realistically, whimsically, or a combination of both. Then, have employees recognize how their drawings changed over time and what qualities they noticed about the object that they didn't notice at first. 


The benefits of this exercise are twofold. Firstly, analyzing the object helps employees become more attuned to details. Secondly, analyzing how the employee’s drawings changed throughout the week and why encourages critical thinking and self reflection. Perceiving details and thinking critically about them is a key step towards innovation, which makes “draw it again” a great asset to any corporate meeting. 

As with any exercise, it is always helpful to have a team discussion afterwards to discuss how people felt, share takeaways, identify commonalities across experiences, acknowledge unique experiences, etc. This will ensure that your employees understand the “why” behind each exercise and its relevance to a more productive workplace.

Also read: Strategies for Improving Communication in the Workplace

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