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How to Inspire Creativity in Business with Lee Kitchen

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Stephanie Davis

Lee Kitchen is an innovation catalyst and consultant who helps small business owners across the country flesh out their creative ideas.


In short, Lee is a creative guru who helps businesses solve challenges like creating and naming a new product, coming up with the perfect promotion or marketing campaign, and just overall fostering out-of-the-box thinking. In the first episode of Back of the Napkin, Lee talked about his over a 30-year career with The Walt Disney Company, what his small business journey has been like, and how he inspires creativity in business.  

What Is an Innovation Catalyst?  

While working for The Walt Disney Company, Lee worked a variety of roles in many different areas of the company. For part of that time, he was an innovation catalyst where he helped teams all over the organization with creative brainstorms. His job was to help teams think outside the box and lead them through a series of exercises to get them to think more creatively and solve the problem at hand. Lee excels at getting people “unstuck” and encourages everyone in his sessions to speak up with any ideas. There is no such thing as a bad idea in Lee’s sessions, and it’s important to “share the air” and let everyone speak, and also continue to build on ideas by continuing to say “yes, and!” to new ideas.  

Turning a Passion into a Small Business  

As mentioned, during his time with The Walt Disney Company, Lee helped many teams across the organization. He did sessions for Disney Parks, Consumer Products, ABC Television, and other divisions of the companyplus collaborations with external partners like Kimberly Clark, Coca-Cola, and more. After leaving the company, he recognized that there were many businesses, small and large, across the country that could benefit from some help with creativity. In the first few years of running his business, he didn’t even need to spend time or energy on marketing efforts because he had developed such a strong network during his time with The Walt Disney Company. He began traveling all over to conduct various workshops with companies and helped them name products, launch a new marketing campaign, and other creative goals. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, like many other small business owners, Lee had to pivot. Prior to COVID-19, all his sessions were in person and those sessions are very interactive filled with dance breaks, group breakouts, and sticky notes galore on the walls. With fatigue setting in quickly with video calls, Lee had to find a way to transform his entire experience to still make sessions engaging and productive. He found a way and still incorporated everything from his sessions in a successful virtual format. He even joined the SurePayroll marketing team for a brainstorming session around naming the podcast.  

How to Inspire Creativity in Business 

It sometimes seems that there are two types of people in the world: creatives and non-creatives. People go to Lee because they don’t feel they are creative. In a corporate setting, there are usually creative teams and people can feel that if they aren’t on that team then they aren’t responsible for ideas and can’t be creative. Lee has a different way of thinking and shared this during the interview; “I make the joke about when you go into kindergarten, you get a big box of 68 crayons or 128 crayons, and then when you graduate high school, you get one pen. Right? So, the creativity is just kind of beat out of us for a while and it's a skill.” To inspire creativity in business, Lee suggests setting aside time in your calendar for some brainstorming and creative thinking. To be more creative, it’s necessary to practice that skill and turn to new places for inspiration. Whether that time is spent listening to a podcast, going for a walk while thinking about a business problem, or just going through your own “yes, and!” session with an idea you have, setting that time aside repeatedly can help lead to some great business breakthroughs.  

For inspiring creativity in business, Lee has three things that small business owners should keep in mind:  

1. Collaborate as often as possible. Even if a small business owner is running things solo, Lee said it’s important to have a few other people to lean on and when you’re stuck you can think through the problems together. If you do have a team, set aside the time to collaborate often and find new ways to think differently.  

2. Create a volume of ideas. During sessions, Lee tells people “don’t marry your ideas.” You may have an awesome idea come up the first time you sit down, but don’t let that be your only choice. Having a lot of ideas is super important, and you don’t want to walk down the aisle with the first idea you have.  

3. Focus on diversity. For successful brainstorms, Lee encourages everyone to attend; it shouldn’t just be the subject matter experts. When working at The Walt Disney Company, he would invite people from a variety of teams, and a variety of positions ranging from interns to executives. When you have that mix of people, it can contribute to ideas that one group alone wouldn’t have come up with.  

Bottom Line 

Creativity is a skill that needs to be practiced. No matter how small a business is, it’s possible to inspire creativity and come up with great ideas. To learn more about Lee’s journey in small business, his stories about working for The Walt Disney Company, and more, listen to his full podcast episode here.

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