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Team Creativity At Work I and II: Creative Problem Solving At Its Best
Edward Glassman : Designing Creativity & Innovation Meetings

Creativity & Innovation Meetings

Designing The Meeting

By Edward Glassman, PhD

Creativity & Innovation Meetings last 3-5 days and solve important company problems. I custom design every meeting. To ensure success, the highest quality solutions, I build the following into every design:

Working In Teams and Alone

I use techniques for teams and for individuals working alone in each major step of the problem-solving process. The use of powerful techniques for teams together 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

Incubation time represents an important design-factor. The stages in the innovation process include: Preparation; Concentration; Incubation; Illumination; and Implementation (see Chapter 5 in my book). 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.

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, as participants overlook many excellent possibilities by not using forced-withdrawal and trigger-proposals (see Chapter 13 of my book), 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 warm-up.

Planning Session

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 the 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 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 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.

Team Building

• First Session: Introductions within the team.
Everyone wears a name tag, even if everyone knows each other. I don't.

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.
I 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. •

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