9 Ways Participants Can Keep Creativity Alive in Meetings

A creative meeting is like a great jazz jam session — it’s a safe place where people with different skills come together, experiment, and build on each other’s ideas, and these meetings are fun and spontaneous as well. But creative meetings require initiative from the participants. Here are nine things you can do, as a meeting participant, to keep creativity alive in meetings.

 1. The ‘Yes… And’ Rule

The first rule of improv jazz performance (and good meeting behavior) is ”Yes… and”. When someone suggests a theme or gets off a good riff, you accept it completely, then build on it. You say,” Yes” and then add something to carry the music to a new place. That’s how improvisational jazz flows. The moment someone says, “No” the flow is broken. The principle is, to accept and build on the last refrain (thought) offered.

Even if carefully worded, saying anything like,” I think it won’t work” immediately kills the flow. If you encounter this blocking behavior, say something like,” Well, have you got anything?” or ”Let’s hold off deciding right now and instead take this idea and build on it to create something better.” All of this diplomatically worded, of course!

2. Keep Going Until You Stop

Patient facilitation is needed. Instead of frustration, help people reverse out of dead ends: “You know, we seemed to be stalled. What is something new we can bring in to break us out of this stalled state?” But also know when to stop, ending the painful grind when the group isn’t feeling ready to move beyond the sticking point. This often means tabling the issue until later instead of completely giving up.”We’ve been through a lot of permutations. But let’s move on now and come back to this later with a fresh perspective.”

3. Defer Judgment and, Instead, Test Ideas

Some ideas are recognized as terrific when they first enter the conversation. Most of the time, however, the merit of an idea is not immediately apparent. It is easier to see the criticisms than it is to see the potential in a new idea. Discuss the content of new ideas but don’t argue over the merits just yet. Just play with the ‘what-if’ of implementing the innovation to see if it has promise.

Don’t immediately judge the new idea, judge through execution, even if you have to do it by simulation. Even then don’t abandon the new idea when the first problem comes up. Adopt a tinker’s mindset to play with variations to explore options. And be alert for the times when tinkering with an idea makes you realize you don’t have the right problem statement. Do not hesitate to reframe the problem when playing with an idea that leads to that discovery.

4. Use Rapid Prototyping

The deadlines on a project are often absurd. Don’t unthinkingly fall for,” We’ve got to do it immediately.” Start the innovation iterations but don’t fall for a false sense of urgency. Instead, propose a system of rapid prototyping; often by segmenting the challenge into manageable, bite-sized chunks.”

5. Embrace Happy Accidents

Louis Pasteur said, ”Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind.” Prepare yourself in two ways. First, prepare for the subject matter of the meeting. It is hard to know what to do if you don’t know the subject. And second, prepare yourself to be open and receptive to new ideas and, especially, a curiosity about how to tinker with new thinking to make it work.

6. One Conversation at a Time

The difference between a creative jazz session and a bunch of people playing their own thing is listening. Everyone has a chance to be heard and have their ideas validated as understood. This does not mean agreement, but it does mean a commitment to understanding one another. Contribute through two suspensions. Suspend premature judgment and suspend the instinct to be thinking about what you want to say while the other person is talking. Listening, like other hard work, takes concentration. And consider going the extra step of acknowledging that you are listening by repeating back what you think the person is saying. Doing so not only checks for understanding, but also lets them know you’re making the effort to understand.

8. Don’t Repeat The Same Idea.

If an idea has been given a fair airing and is ultimately judged as not workable, be ready to move on to something new.

9. Lots of Punch and Cookies. I once worked with a talented woman who was good at dealing with people in conflict. When I asked her the secret behind her many successes, she said,” Punch and cookies!” By that, she meant that she never lost sight of the reality that meetings are social events. She was talented at the technical aspects of the job, but she was equally good at managing the social dynamics of the group. Changing the social dynamics improves thinking, listening, and collaboration often allowing creative moments where new ideas can emerge.

Often, the assumption is that the meeting leader owns the responsibility to implement the creative process. Truth is, each meeting participant has the same responsibility, especially for managing the way they choose to make their contributions to the creative jam session we call a meeting.

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Copyright:   © 2022, Michael E. Fraidenburg. All rights reserved.