A consulting engineering firm and its client, Eastman Chemical Company, an American Fortune 500 company, collaborated in a 3 day Creativity & Innovation Meeting, which I led in Denver, Colorado. They wanted to apply the triggers of creative thinking to the design of an environmentally safe chemical plant.
I consider Creativity & Innovation Meetings the most effective way to teach advanced creativity triggers at work, and to simultaneously solve important company business and technical problems. The high quality of the solutions amaze and delight.
I have led many creativity & innovation meetings for large and small companies to solve diverse problems, including identifying new products; raising quality; improving chemical yield; reducing waste; applying world class manufacturing principles; solving mutual problems creatively with special customers; increasing effectiveness of environmental cleanup; developing a new technology; handling manufacturing waste; and more.
Four managers and I held a one day planning session in a plant of the chemical company. They decided their goal for the creativity & innovation meeting was to generate novel ideas and proposals to make a chemical plant environmentally safe, to upgrade their current approach, and identify new approaches. They wanted to share group knowledge, build team participation, and teach each person creativity triggers.
Before the creativity meeting, each participant read portions of my creativity book, and brought with them a willingness to discard pet preconceptions.
The creativity & innovation meeting started at noon with lunch, during which representatives of the two companies explained the problem and the goals of the meeting to the participants. I then took over.
The first session consisted of introductions; reviewing the goals and agenda; setting a creative atmosphere; starting team building; learning to use trigger-ideas and metaphors; and using some advanced creativity triggers that spark creative ideas.
During session 2, the problem was defined creatively using advanced creativity triggers.
In session 3, the creativity teams generated ideas using advanced creativity triggers, after which each individual generated additional creative ideas sitting quietly alone.
Session 4 consisted of an afternoon of free incubation time involving metaphors and trigger-ideas to spark creative ideas.
In session 5, each person wrote an innovative one page trigger-proposal for new approaches. (A trigger-proposal is a proposal that may not work, but can spark a proposal that will.)
During session 6, the planning team presented its criteria to select ideas. Each creativity team suggested ways to improve the trigger-proposals of its members, who wrote a one page workable proposal that was handed in. Each creativity team then combined the ideas of its members and developed a blockbuster proposal.
During session 7, each creativity team presented its proposal so other teams could help improve it. These written proposals were also handed in. Finally, people planned to how spread creative thinking triggers throughout their company.
The written evaluations by the participants were very positive. Everyone had learned to apply effective creative thinking triggers to solve problems creatively at work. About 950 ideas were generated. In addition, 30 one page written proposals were generated, one from each participant. Each of the 5 creativity teams generated a blockbuster proposal combining and developing the trigger-proposals of its members. The people present thought the time and money well spent.
The powerful creativity triggers for teams mixed with equally powerful creativity triggers for people working alone resulted in exciting team interactions, while fostering and protecting the creativity of each individual. The blending of people from two companies in a focused endeavor had a very serious purpose, and produced excellent, practical outcomes.
Once Again, Can Government Be As Creative And Innovative As The Eastman Chemical Company?
Do you think government agencies can be creative and innovative in a Creativity & Innovation meeting like major corporations?
Yes, you say. We just have to get government officials to attend a meeting where there is time for:
- paradigms to shift & problems to pass through redefinitions (problem definition)
- people to offer hundreds of loopy ideas (brainstorming & brainwriting)
- people to combine nutty ideas to make weird & blockbuster proposals
- workable, useful and amazing, highly effective, high quality, profitable solutions to emerge to solve important questions in the end
- all this during the 3 to 4 days that the meeting lasts.
- Sound easy? Well, I have a prickly feeling in the back of my neck that tells me truly creative & innovative government won’t happen soon.
I have seen many government idea-generation sessions fall short of attacking problems creatively because of the fear that offending and dippy temporary ideas will go public and invite the attack and ire of others, and spoil chances for future careers.
And I remember one creativity session I led for the executive council of a large, prominent university where one of the deans quietly asked a student assistant to secretly destroy one flip chart paper because she didn’t like one of the ideas. It offended and insulted her, she said later.
Far-fetched brainstormed ideas just cannot exist or survive in the practical political world that doesn’t understand the absolutely temporary nature of the bizarre ideas generated in a creativity session. Or their necessity to achieve profitable solutions.
But all my experience with semi-creative creativity sessions pales with comparison to this paraphrased April 25th, 2010 report in the BBC news —
[***** “The Foreign Office apologized for a foolish document about the Pope during his September’s visit to the UK. The so-called disrespectful proposals suggested, among other more disrespectful items, that the Pope could apologize for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.
The Foreign Office stressed the ideas, which resulted from a brainstorm session on the Pope’s visit, did not reflect its views.
The Bishop of Nottingham said, if anything, it was “appalling manners,”
The UK’s ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, has met senior officials of the Holy See to express regret on behalf of the government. Foreign Secretary David Miliband is appalled by the incident.
An investigation was launched after some recipients of the memo, said to have been circulated to a restricted list, objected to its tone. “This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful,” he said. “The text was not cleared or shown to ministers or senior officials before circulation. Once senior officials became aware of the document, it was withdrawn from circulation.”
The individual responsible has been transferred to other duties. He has been told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgement and has accepted this view.
The Foreign Office said the memo had resulted from discussions by a group of three or four junior staff in a team working on early planning for the papal visit.
A source told the BBC News website the individual since moved to other duties had called the group together for “some blue-skies creative thinking about how to make the visit a success,” but their discussions had become “a joke that has gone too far.” *****]
WOW. What a commotion. Such a fuss. Just imagine what brainstorming about how to improve the Popes visit can produce in the way of disrespectful ideas.
Which government official in the UK, or anywhere else, will hold meetings like this again. Any official who requests secrecy opens his career to a possible default, especially by offended coworkers.
On the other hand, hope exists. The mere fact that the foreign office in the UK held such a brainstorming meeting indicates that some people in that government want to foster more creativity & innovation in their work. Decades ago, the same aversion to brainstorming meetings existed in corporations, and look how prevalent these meetings are now. As an example, consider Eastman Chemical Company, above.
And for additional ways to solve problems creatively at work, check out my book: “CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE: How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.”
©2017 by Ed Glassman
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ed Glassman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university.
He was a ‘Guggenheim Foundation Fellow’ at Stanford University, a ‘Visiting Fellow’ at the ‘Center For Creative Leadership’ in Greensboro, NC, a Visiting Professor at the University Of California at Irvine, and a Visiting Scientist at SRI International in Palo Alto, California.
He was the President of the Creativity College®, a division of Leadership Consulting Services, Inc., and has led numerous Creativity & Innovation Meetings and workshops for many companies, including IBM, DuPont, Amoco Chemical, Ciba-Geigy, Hoechst-Celanese, Texaco, AT&T Bell Laboratories, Milliken, Federal-Mogul, Thetford, Standard Products, and others.