A TRUE STORY: At one workshop, a manager told me he had learned creativity triggers like brainstorming before, but never the habits that affect the creative climate with clarity. He claimed a positive atmosphere was missing, and that negative habits spoiled creative thinking all the time. As he said: “Creativity triggers by themselves are not enough. A creative atmosphere is essential.”
Quick Negative Criticism
In my workshops, some people (about 3%) state that they feel frustrated, even angry, when they are creative (not a good feeling), because of the quick negative comments of other people. What a shame to miss out on the joy of creativity.
When presented with a new idea most people make a negative comment under the guise of honest criticism, devil’s advocate, or constructive criticism. Indeed, quick negative criticism inflicts our society. “You don’t want me to lie, they say.
AN ANTI-CREATIVITY HABIT: We respond to new ideas with quick negative criticism and an habitual automatic NO that usually maims or kills new ideas, and spoils creative thinking.
Yet criticism spoils creative thinking. Only the toughest risk takers will volunteer to share the first-stage, half-baked ideas that most of us have. Successful creative people, who have written about their creative thinking, agree that quick negative criticism has a devastating effect on new ideas. Albert Einstein made this point in his autobiography.
Of all the ways to spoil creative thinking during problem solving, quick negative criticism heads the list. Still, you have to give honest opinions about new ideas. Some ways to do this without spoiling creative thinking and stifling people’s desire to present new ideas follow:
Suppose a people brings you an idea he likes very much. How should you respond? Very carefully, I hope.
First, you should be thinking that whatever the idea’s flaws, you need to trust this person. Consider that the new idea has merit. After all, its proposer thinks so.
Second, you do not want to discourage this person and other people from bringing you ideas and proposals in the future. Indeed, you want to encourage idea-sharing.
Third, you do not want this people to leave feeling resentful because you rejected his/her idea.
Finally, you want this people to tell you about their idea without feeling defensive, or under pressure. Change the hot seat into a positive creative climate.
Given all this, you do not say: “That’s a lousy idea.”
IDEA-HELPING PROCESSES THAT INVITE IDEA-SHARING
We usually expect sellers of ideas to present their ideas in perfect form. No half-baked, half-developed ideas for us. Every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed, every concept clear, every label and term used correctly, with no errors of spelling or grammar.
In other words, we expect them to help us before we help their idea. Beware. Creative ideas rarely appear in perfect form, and negative consequences occur if you insist on this. People will expend valuable time and effort toward perfection. Besides, few of us have training in selling ideas anyway.
How can you help the submission of new ideas? In my creative thinking workshop I recommend the following:
You will find yes-if easy to use. Curb your automatic NO, say “Yes, if…,” and then describe the conditions needed to get from NO to a conditional YES. Watch the climate change from a negative one that deters creative thinking to a positive, idea-helping climate.
A TRUE STORY: At the end of one creative thinking workshop, a participant who tried “yes-if” for the first time confirmed its effectiveness.
He said he noticed that “yes-if” not only kept him away from his automatic No, but led him to listen to the new ideas presented to him very intently to discover the ways to convert a NO to a conditional YES.
As he put it: “Yes-if converted me into a collaborator to help a new idea get going, rather than a judge.”
A TRUE STORY: A participant wrote me after a workshop and said: “Yes-if turned me into a better listener, one who is more empathetic, better understood, and now more predictable. My effectiveness improved by leaps and bounds!”
Let’s see how you might use yes-if.
Say… “YES,” there are many interesting and useful features about this idea, “IF, we can improve this snag…”
Clear, supportive, and crisp. Very useful when hearing ideas on the run.
Say What’s Good About It
If this approach isn’t comfortable, you might use “What’s Good About It” and state three positive statements first.
Pretend Your Boss Presented The Idea
Or, you could pretend your boss presents any idea you hear, and devise your own idea-helping approach. Your attitude counts a great deal when you help ideas. Increased idea sharing and better idea improvement will result.
Other statements to encourage new ideas include:
• The value of that idea is….
• That seems like a useful idea. Can we build on it?
• A good start. How can we help it?
• It seems you are getting somewhere.
• Describe that in more detail. Tell me more about it.
• How can we make this work?
• I would be interested in what you have to say.
• Tell me what you are thinking.
• I like your idea. How we can get over this difficulty.
• That idea has value. Let’s get the bugs out.
• You may well be right. Still, let us look at it another way.
Quick Spoilers Of Creative Thinking
The more polite alternatives to yes-if and “What’s good about it” include the following quick idea spoilers:
• It’s already been proposed.
• We’ve never done it that way before… or We tried that before.
• If it ain’t broke, why fix it.
• Once you analyze the problem properly, the solution seems obvious (so we don’t need to generate more ideas).
• We don’t need any more new ideas around here. What we need are more doers and implementers, etc.
• The problem with that idea is…
• We don’t have the money …
• We haven’t the personnel.
• What will they think?
• We would have suggested it before if it were any good.
• We’re too small for that … or We’re too big for that.
• We have too many ideas already.
• It has been the same for a long time; so, it must be good.
• I just know it won’t work.
• That’s not our problem.
• You’ll never sell that to …
• Why something new now?
Stop using these quick spoilers. They have many detrimental effects.
First, many people suppress and stop expressing their ideas.
Second, creative people stop being creative.
Third, some people become defensive and apologetic, and shoot-down their own ideas before anyone else does.
Finally, some people tend to do things the same old safe, complacent way instead of taking risks, shifting paradigms, and turning half-baked, half-developed, bizarre ideas into winners.
Not all new ideas pan out, of course; but unless you deliberately and relentlessly help develop new ideas, they perish, and complacency takes over.
I do not remember who said it, but if you want to be around butterflies, you have to generously help many caterpillars. Help new ideas with Yes-if. Or pretend every idea you hear comes from your department chair.
ASSERT THAT YOU WANT OTHERS TO HELP YOUR IDEA
When people quickly shoot down an idea, many people get defensive and start shooting down their own ideas first, that is, if they actually muster up the courage to share them. Some ways they do it include:
• This may not work, but…
• You’ll probably laugh, but…
• It might be a dead end, but…
I’m no genius, but…
Stop shooting down your own ideas with such apologetic phrases. Instead, assert that you want others to help you develop your new idea further. Take responsibility. Change the creative climate around you.
A HABIT THAT SPOILS CREATIVE THINKING: We don’t object when other people stifle our ideas.
We allow other people to shoot down our ideas and spoil our creative thinking., and we do the same to our own ideas.
Stop doing this. Take responsibility for the creative atmosphere around you.
Ed Glassman, Professor Emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, founded the Program For Team Excellence And Creativity at the university. He led scores of problem-solving creativity meetings and creative thinking workshops-seminars for many large and small companies. 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.