Everyday thousands of meetings are held in hope of finding creative solutions to troubling problems. When successful, participants describe the meetings as fun, energizing, and productive. Unfortunately, success is not common, and most meetings result in frustration, boredom, and energy loss. The next time you’re asked to lead one of these sessions, use the following techniques and strategies to unleash the group’s creative spirit.
Prepare the Group
Begin with the assumption that people have other places they would rather be and other things they would rather be doing. Assume they are distracted. Knowing this, you need to prepare the group and help it focus. Here are several techniques.
- Engage them in an activity. The trick is to make it interesting enough that the participants can’t help but pay attention. You might ask them to solve a puzzle, listen to a song, or play a silly game. Laughing and smiling are two indicators of a group that is engaged.
- Set the stage. Adults typically aren’t willing to do anything without a good reason. Spend a few minutes explaining what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how they might benefit by participating.
- Create a safe environment. If you want participants to be creative, you are asking them to take a risk. It’s your job to minimize the risk. Start by identifying the specific concerns. Then agree on ground rules to protect participant safety. Examples might include:
- “The person who submitted an idea will never be tied to the idea.”
- “You do not have to believe in or even like the ideas you submit.”
- “Offering a suggestion doesn’t mean you will get stuck with all the work.”
Separate Generation from Evaluation
People are afraid to throw out ideas because they think someone will criticize them. This severely inhibits creativity. The way around this is to focus on generating new ideas without any evaluation. This is easier said than done. Here’s how to keep the criticism at bay.
- Speed. Don’t give people time to think. Idea generation is a spontaneous activity. Evaluation requires thinking. If you want to create a list of ideas, give yourselves a time limit and then use the limit to increase the sense of urgency. Setting the pace with music or with a timer can also keep the ideas popping without time for evaluation.
- Quantity. Give yourselves a goal for the number of ideas you want. Keep pushing the group toward the number, and they will quickly forget about the quality of the ideas.
- Build on ideas of others. Allow people to add their ideas only if they can build on the current idea with a statement that begins with “Yes, and…” This forces listening, and what they hear stimulates new ideas.
Create a Fun Setting
Business meetings need not be boring. If you can accomplish what you set out to do and have fun in the process, you have just created a magical experience. Here are some easy techniques for adding fun to the creativity session.
- Take advantage of all the creativity research. Although some people will see it as corny; incorporating toys, colors, music, and movement into your meetings can serve as wonderful creativity stimuli.
- Create drama. It doesn’t take much to “stage” the meeting so that it’s more interesting. A big, ticking timer does wonders in helping the team pay attention to time. Splitting into sub-groups for some friendly competition (e.g. seeing which group generates the most ideas) usually notches up the energy. And there’s nothing like role playing specific scenarios and acting out case studies to put people into a creative mindset.
- Get comfortable. Creativity is fun and free-flowing. It’s hard to achieve this in a formal environment. Find a comfortable setting, and encourage the participants to dress and act informally.
- Add fresh perspectives. Invite people to the session who have no formal “expertise” in the topic. Rules and assumptions do not limit these folks. Their questions, ideas, and challenges will help the group uncover dangerous assumptions and push the group to explore uncharted territory.
Successfully leading a creativity session doesn’t require bizarre and wacky behavior. You don’t need to be an artist, musician, or one of the other so called “creative” types of people. Ideas don’t need to be forced out of the group. They want to burst forth all on their own. You just need to make sure that nothing gets in their way.