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The Center for Creative Emergence -
Michelle James : 15 Foundations for Facilitating Creativity

15 Foundations for Facilitating Creativity

By Michelle James

1. Set intention and embody purpose.

Get clear on your intention — not only from a business perspective, (i.e., leave with a Strategic Plan), but also from the human element. Creative process in human beings is organic, and contains emotional energy. In fact, the more passion and inspiration, the deeper and more coherent the creativity that emerges. If you intend to support the growth, creativity and awareness of those you serve, you facilitate from a more meaningful place than if focused only on the business goal. If you take time, both in the program design and in the room when facilitating, to think about what is the service you are providing — the gift you are offering — it frees up your own creativity more to support that in your facilitation. Focusing solely on the task limits the creative potential. By genuinely focusing on what is yours to GIVE, (not how you come across doing it), participants pick that up — either consciously or unconsciously — and are more receptive to trying new things with you. Creative Facilitation adds some new "yes-ands" to what already works.

2. Focus on awareness in addition to what happens.

Focusing on the awareness aspect allows it to be transformative. In all facilitation, the debrief can be one of the most powerful parts. It integrates the learnings and serves as a bridge to what's next. In debriefing creative process, focus on what was going on INSIDE of the participants as well as what actually was created OUTSIDE in the room. This leads to self-awareness, which increases the chances of continued creativity and co-creativity after the workshop, program, or process is over. The more aware participants become of what emerges within themselves as they create — both what was most alive as well as what was most challenging — the easier it is to continue to navigate and cultivate their creativity beyond the workshop setting.

3. Understand the normal resistance that occurs with navigating the unfamiliar.

Resistance is a healthy, natural part of the creative process. It only becomes unhealthy when it is allowed to block the process (by overemphasizing it and spending too much time engaging it, or by not acknowledging it all and trying to barrel past it). Be prepared for resistance to show up. It's usually a result of fear of entering the new territory, and it can show up in a myriad of forms — deflection, sarcasm, distraction, disengagement or, most often and most subtly, talking about what is already known. It's not something to be pushed down or avoided, but rather something to be acknowledged and moved through if it shows up. Acknowledgment ahead of time gives it permission to follow it natural course when and if it emerges. It is the natural "contraction" to balance the creative expansion. You find this in all of nature's creativity. The flower feels the resistance of the bud most just before it blossoms.

4. "Fail" gracefully — be comfortable with messing up.

This is a great lesson from improv theater. Improvisers do not see mistakes as static failures. Instead, we see them as dynamic invitations to learn in real time and an opportunity to create something new. To authentically learn how to deepen your experience in facilitating a transformational creative process requires you to be the explorer as well. Unlike facilitation that relies on what is known, creativity depends elements of the unknown. You can better facilitate that which you're willing to experience for yourself. Applied creativity has vulnerability attached to it as being experimental means being vulnerable. And, that means something you try may not work, or may work differently than you had anticipated. Go with it. USE that information as feedback to either refine for the future, or, in that moment, to take the group to another place. The facilitator's discomfort with the challenges of creativity can inhibit the group's creative process. (If you can take an improv class, do it…it's the quickest way I know to free yourself of the "the fear of failure" and develop a comfort with thinking on your feet.)

5. Adapt in real time.

There's always a dynamic balance between creating enough structure and releasing. If you as a facilitator need to control the process, do whatever you can on your free time to get comfortable with letting go, shifting gears, and modifying the agenda in real time. Use the real-time feedback loop: engage, get feedback, modify; engage, get feedback, modify, etc. It's an ongoing process, and like with all things, takes practice to embody. Do this enough and it becomes comfortable and easy…and alive! In fact, you will get to a point where it takes more energy to try to stick to the exact plans than to follow the creative aliveness of what is trying to emerge in the room. Be ready to adjust your "agenda" at any time for what is REALLY going in the room. Otherwise, you can get engagement, and even expanded perspectives, but generally no real novelty. Novelty contains an unpredictability within it, and to facilitate creative process means adapting to that unpredictability in real time. May as well have fun with it :-)

6. Work from your own Creative Edges, not your comfort zone.

This creates a palpable dynamic aliveness in the room. You are all in it together. This may seem antithetical to our "expertise" culture. The paradox is that you must still deeply know and understand what you are doing before you enter the room, but then once in the room, hold it loosely and respond in real time. Be in your own unknown — a co-discoverer instead of the expert on their creativity. Allow yourself to be surprised. Don't limit them, or yourself, by your creativity experience or pre-existing assumptions. While you are the one creating the container and holding the space, this role is balanced with your own openness to what emerges. Creative facilitation is an open system.

7. Respect creative style diversity.

To further expound on #6, one size, approach, method, technique, or even paradigm does not fit all. One creativity model definitely does not fit all. Understand that each person in that room is at a different comfort level, and will have a unique relationship with the creative process. Each carries unique and different stories of creativity in his or her consciousness. You give them tools and techniques as entry points, but be ready to let their creativity show you ways of creating that you can't imagine. This expands your own Creative Practices repertoire.

8. Understand patterns found in the creative process.

This allows you to facilitate during times of resistance. Another paradox: while each person has different creating styles and approaches that work for them, there are also re-occurring universal patterns that tend to emerge in a creative process. The deepest understanding comes from your OWN experimentation and learning, and will most likely be refined over time. Start with what you know, and open up to being "yes-anded" all the time. Look for patterns, not just techniques. Techniques only get you so far…patterns and principles allow you to create new techniques on and ongoing basis. Start where you are, be gentle with yourself as you learn, and learn from direct experience. Insights that emerge from experience and observation are give you a real-time agility that book learning alone cannot offer.

Next: Creativity Foundations #9-15 »