5 Shifts to Recharge Creative Conversations

The past two weeks have found me held hostage in more poorly organized, under-managed, and enthusiasm-draining meetings than any human being should have to endure. In this day and age it is simply unacceptable to ask volunteers and our staff colleagues to share their valuable time and to then misuse it in such a manner.

If your meetings are plagued by underwhelming results and lack the spirit needed to promote creativity and innovation, the following five practical pointers might help.

Change the players.
Creativity is often enhanced by involving a pool of individuals other than the usual suspects in your meetings. Bring in “wild cards,” individuals not tied to your department or organization, but who are known to be good thinkers. During the meeting use social media and other online channels to cast a wider net for input and feedback. Involve people who will bring different perspectives without any of the preconceived assumptions that the regular attendees might have. So long as you have unity of purpose you can honor and tap into a diversity of perspectives.

Change the place.
Behavior is a function of how people interact with their environment (Kurt Lewin), so you can elicit different behavior by changing the environment or changing the people. Use different settings to send messages about what a meeting is designed to accomplish. Quick stand-up meetings in an open area suggest fast idea generation and getting back to business. On-line meetings suggest tapping into talents of people geographically dispersed. A meeting outside the office often suggests an attempt to free yourself from regular work constraints.

Change the process.
Though meetings occur for different reasons, many organizations use a “one size fits all” approach to managing the process for all their meetings. Sessions specifically designed to elicit creativity and innovation need to be intentionally structured to do so using appropriate creative and collaborative thinking techniques and facilitation styles. Similarly you should adjust your discussion process for those agenda items that are part of a longer meeting agenda if they are meant to foster new thinking.

Change the power.
Power ripples throughout organizations and meetings in a variety of ways affecting who says what … to whom … and how it gets said. A creative and innovative mindset in meetings requires a more dispersed power structure that spreads the wealth and reduced fear of intimidation or retribution by either personal or positional power. Pay attention to room settings, normal group participant distribution, reporting out mechanisms, idea collection techniques, who’s facilitating, and much more as you examine and try to adjust the power quotient in your meetings.

Change the pace.
We can foster greater creativity and innovation in meetings both by speeding up and slowing down the thinking process. We can speed it up by interjecting short bursts of creative thinking techniques that challenge us to maximize our idea generation in a compressed period of time (i.e., 5-10 minutes). We can speed up the thinking by having on-line discussions (or individually completed worksheets) prior to ever coming together in person to make a decision or react to the advance thinking. We can slow the process down by separating the idea generation process from the decision-making process, allowing ample time to reflect and incubate between the two. 

What other shifts have you found helpful to refresh the creative conversations in your meetings?