How leaders can stir up creativity in meetings

Creative paint space
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This piece is based on the thoughts of Mark Batey, Senior Lecturer In Organisational Psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School. HRZone interviewed Mark in January 2017. His thoughts are based on a decade worth of research and practice with senior teams, helping them be creative and develop new strategies. Mark's approach is to draw together the best of the research and combine it with what actually works in the real world. We interviewed Mark in January 2017.

1. Leaders must orchestrate the balance of what the meeting needs to achieve

Is the meeting a creative meeting, where idea generation is most important, where a free and open atmosphere is most appropriate?

Or are you ready to choose an option, in which case evaluation and criticality is key? Leaders must signpost effectively e,g, "Guys, I don’t want this too serious, let’s just get some ideas down at the moment.”

These leaders tend to do a better job than those who don't make it very clear which ZONE the meeting needs to happen in - the creative zone or the innovation zone. The leader must remove the ambiguity.

2. Rotate responsibility for record-keeping

Properly creative sessions end up producing lots of ideas and it's important to get all these ideas down on paper. Ideas needed to be recorded quickly and without interrupting the creative process, as far as possible. The leader should rotate responsibility for record-keeping among the whole team.

This is a good idea for a few reasons:

  1. People will empathise with the role of record-keeper - it can be hard to keep up with the flow of information - and will be more sensitive to their needs
  2. They gain experience of synthesising other people's ideas into words that can be understood by all
  3. They must be assertive in making sure all ideas are written down so they develop assertiveness skills

3. Provide useful information in the accumulation phase that will help kickstart people's creative processes

Find out what the accumulation stage is and what comes after.

When you're in the accumulation phase of creativity, before you start generating ideas, diverse and interesting sources of information are key to helping people kickstart their thinking and making connections between different things.

Provide interesting facts and opinions to people but seed these over time, don't dump a report on people they need to read 10 minutes before the meeting.

The idea is to give them new reference points that can be used to bridge connections and form new ideas in new ways.

4. Frame the question in the right way or you'll lead people astray

When trying to be creative, you must frame the initial discovery question without leading people down a particular path.

It's very easy to lead people down a particular path, for example 'how can we use agile working to create better products?' Maybe agile isn't appropriate but you are forcing people into a specific paradigm.

What is the underlying challenge or problem? Why are you talking about it right now? What is the business rationale? Techniques can help here, such as empathy mapping, "a day in the life" run-throughs, or the Kipling method.

Always keep the first question as broad as possible and trust in the process - don't rush things and don't focus on the journey, focus on the outcome.

5. Always set aside time for incubation

Incubation is an absolutely essential process for creativity and it must be woven throughout the creative process, not just used in the idea generation stage.

It's a passive process whereby parking ideas or items in your head and then moving actively onto other tasks utilises a natural human process designed to forge connections. The realisations of these new cconnections are often felt as insights.

Leaders should practice good creative process design to allow time for incubation and reflection in each stage of the creative process.

Building an atmosphere of trust whereby people do not need to contribute straight away can help, for example by telling people they are welcome to email thoughts at a later time.

Want to better understand how to create a culture of creativity? Read our five evidence-based steps.

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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