I have led ‘Creativity & Innovation Meetings’ to solve diverse company problems, including:
• raising quality of product at work;
• identifying new products;
• improving chemical yield of a complex manufacturing process;
• reducing waste at work;
• applying world class manufacturing principles to a product;
• lowering costs and increasing effectiveness of environmental cleanup for a chemical company;
• developing a new technology for manufacturing a specific product;
• handling manufacturing waste for an automobile parts firm.
‘Creativity & Innovation Meetings’ solve important company problems. The advanced creativity triggers in such meeting help you combine more diverse bits from your environment and in your mind into unexpected new and useful ideas.
Many people also consider ‘Creativity & Innovation Meetings’ the best way to teach advanced creativity triggers: the participants want to learn the techniques to apply to the problem.
The Sequence In A Meeting
Although each ‘Creativity & Innovation Meeting’ differs, the same basic sequence appears in all. The following illustrates a typical flow for a four day meeting:
— First session: Introductions; review the goals and agenda; form Creativity Teams and initiate team building within each team; use triggers to create a creative atmosphere; learn that trigger-ideas spark creative ideas during linear and nonlinear creative thinking.
— Second session: The meeting organizer explains the problem and some participants give short talks in their areas of expertise, when necessary. After that, individuals, and then each creativity team, define the problem using advanced techniques.
— Third session: Each creativity team produces ideas using many creativity triggers, after which each individual generates ideas sitting quietly alone. Participants usually produce about eight hundred ideas that we display in the meeting room.
— Fourth session: An afternoon of free incubation time plus some individual fun work to enhance creative thinking.
— Fifth session: Each person combines ideas displayed in the room into an innovative one-page proposal for a fresh approach to solve the problem. The teams then identify the criteria for an effective, high quality solution. Each participant shares their one-page proposal with his or her team and receives feedback for improvement based on the criteria the team identified. Each person then revises the one-page proposal and gives it to management.
— Sixth session: Another afternoon of free incubation time to enhance creative thinking.
— Seventh session: Each creativity team combines the proposals of its members and develops a blockbuster solution to solve the problem.
— Last session: Each creativity team presents its blockbuster solution to the other participants and receives ideas for improvement from everyone, an exciting, constructive time. Then the participants commit to action plans that implement the best solutions.
Whom you include depends on the problem and other goals. For example:
Forty-two people attended a meeting arranged by a vice-president of marketing to develop new products, including the CEO, its president, the vice-presidents and managers of sales, marketing, manufacturing, engineering, and finance, and the directors of personnel and quality. The other people included key professionals in sales, marketing, customer relations, industrial design, manufacturing, engineering, and finance.
In a meeting designed to attack environmental-cleanup problems, the organization included managers and key professionals from R&D and maintenance, as well as outside consultants, university professors, people from government, and experts from other companies. Very diverse.
A consulting engineering firm and its client, a chemical company, worked together in a meeting that contained vice-presidents, managers, supervisors, and key professionals from engineering, R&D, marketing, manufacturing, and finance.
One organization included customers to solve mutual problems in a meeting that comprised managers, supervisors, department heads, and key professionals from marketing, R&D, and manufacturing.
In short, Creativity & Innovation Meetings may include executives, managers, supervisors, department heads, key professionals, and other people from manufacturing, R&D, human resources, finance, maintenance, and marketing. The mix and number of each level and function of the participants depends on what the organization wants to accomplish.
The outcomes fascinate and gratify. Management receives hundreds of ideas to solve the problem, including some high-quality gems. In addition, each participant hands in a one-page proposal, many containing fresh and unexpected approaches. And each team produces a unique, high-quality solution. Sometimes participants combine solutions from different teams and develop them further. After one spectacular meeting, the senior R&D person in charge told me that fifteen to twenty patentable ideas emerged.
Participants say they enjoy the time well spent. They write positive evaluations (“I wish I had learned this stuff 15 years ago”). They learn creativity triggers to achieve quality solutions and most people say that they will use them on the job. (Sometimes people make action plans to spread the creative thinking triggers throughout the organization.)
Designing The Meeting
I custom design every Creativity & Innovation Meeting. To ensure success, the highest quality solutions, I build the following into every design:
Working In Teams and Alone
I use creativity triggers for teams and for individuals working alone in each major step of the problem-solving process. The use of powerful triggers for teams followed with equally powerful techniques so people can work alone results in an exciting mix of team interactions fueled with the creative thinking of each individual. Out of this mixture comes success.
Incubation time represents an important design-factor. The stages in the innovation process include: Preparation; Concentration; Incubation; Illumination; and Implementation. I apply this theory in the design:
— Expert participants come to the meeting with prepared minds (the Preparation Stage).
— People focus on the problem during the meeting (the Concentration Stage).
— People pay attention to other things during free afternoons, evenings, and overnight (the Incubation Stage).
— Every morning-after provides an opportunity for new insights (the Illumination Stage).
— Most people leave the creativity & innovation meeting committed to action plans (the beginning of the Implementation Stage).
Incubation partly explains why the most effective meetings last at least four to five days. This time sparks the incubation processes in the mind so participants make unexpected connections and blockbuster ideas appear. Three-day meetings also succeed, though not quite as well.
I insert incubation time into the design of each meeting and often plan specific adventures. For example, during free afternoons in Washington, DC, participants visited the Smithsonian Air And Space Museum (and the Museum of Natural History or an Art Museum) and wrote metaphors and poems about the problem while they incubated the problem there.
And during a six-day meeting in Orlando, FL, participants spent many afternoons and evenings at Epcot Center, Sea World, and the Kennedy Space Center. People used the idea triggers and metaphors they found on these outings to spark creative thought in the meeting.
Separate The Front and Back End of the Meeting
I design the front and back end of the meeting as consecutive, non-overlapping processes. The front end focuses on creative thinking, while the back end on logical, evaluative thinking to produce comprehensive solutions and action plans.
The one or two day problem-solving meetings that organizations carry out on their own do not last long enough to yield truly high quality solutions. The front end becomes shallow and rushed, so participants usually generate common and ordinary ideas. The solutions usually consist of ideas some participants carried with them when they entered the meeting.
Shallowness also exists during the back end of a short creativity meeting, as participants overlook many excellent possibilities by not using forced-withdrawal and trigger-proposals, stunting the development of high quality solutions. Such home grown meetings often wind up with solutions previously thought of by management or other people, instead of creating new ones. And half-day brainstorming meetings only provide a nice warmup.
About a month before the meeting, I attend a planning session with people in the organization to discuss the problem(s) and to agree on goals. This takes place on their site because I want to meet many participants and listen for the organization’s needs.
After a break for reflection, I outline the kind of meeting I think the organization needs to achieve the high caliber solution they desire. If warranted, I suggest a Creativity & Innovation Meeting.
I request we hold the meeting away from the plant site, preferably out of town. I don’t want the participants disturbed or tempted to visit the office. I advise them that four-day meetings produce more effective outcomes than shorter meetings. I talk about incubation time, the slow processes of creative thinking, and avoiding the quick fix. I emphasize success.
At home, I develop a minute-by-minute design and send it to people in the organization for comments.
They assign people to the creative thinking teams before the meeting. I advise them to put people at the same level in the same creativity team (no executives with supervisors; no bosses with subordinates), and to mix diverse people according to functions, locations, departments, and talents. I suggest five to seven people on each team.
I like to use six-person teams. This provides one recorder and five other group members. If one member leaves the room, the team can still function. If the group has only five members to begin with, then the loss of one member leaves one recorder and only three members, too small for the most effective work.
I aim for a diversity of people on a team. In addition, I keep status and job levels equal. If unavoidable, I ask high-status persons and experts not to doom the creative climate. I encourage low-status team members to participate.
First Session: Introductions within the team.
Everyone wears a name tag, even if everyone knows each other. After all, I don’t know them.
The first interaction within a team consists of ‘introductions,’ I ask each member to share something about themselves that no one else in the group knows about. For example: share one creative idea or innovation of yours in your organization; share a funny experience; share something you are proud of; etc. I want this first interaction of the team to remain low key and allow each person to contribute something unique.
Warm up using riddles and puzzles.
After introductions, I ask each person to solve a puzzle alone, and then working with the team. I discuss the answers in terms of habits that affect the creative atmosphere in the meeting.
• Another first-session warm up.
Soon after the first session starts, I carry out a warm up exercise that teaches or reminds people about ‘non-evaluative listing.’ I ask each team to list items (for example, list ways to spoil creativity at work; list ways to spoil meetings; list ways to spoil teamwork; list what you want to accomplish here), and then I describe non-evaluative listing, the gauntlet that each idea runs, and recorder roles. I emphasize the necessity of a creative atmosphere during the meeting and that everyone has 100% responsibility for everyone’s creative efforts.
• Starting each day.
We start each day with a low key interaction within each team. For example, I ask them to share new ideas they thought of overnight; funny experiences; jokes; dreams that triggered new ideas; etc. I want people to connect with each other each morning with a low key task. Sometimes, I remove the captions from New Yorker cartoons and hand different cartoons to each person; I ask them to write captions for the cartoons overnight. Laughter is a wonderful way to start the day’s interactions.
And check out my book:
“CREATIVITY TRIGGERS ARE FOR EVERYONE:
How To Use Your Inventiveness To Brighten Your Life.”
©2016 by Ed Glassman, Ph.D.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 in Palo Alto, California.