How to run a meeting about ideas

Are you looking for ways to gather ideas in meetings successfully?  Have you ever held a meeting to generate ideas that didn’t get you anywhere?

Often, we leap into harvesting ideas without planning how.  The truth is that most people are desk-based, and are mostly functioning from their analytical left brains, rather than their inspired, artistic right brains.

So when you call everyone in an ask for their ideas, don’t be surprised if actually get analysis.  It looks something like this:

LYNDI:  Okay everyone, we need ideas to make our new reception area more welcoming.

PHIL:  I’ve got a great idea!  Let’s paint the reception red!

LORRAINE:  Red’s horrible.  It’s too aggressive.

YANU:  Yeah.

KAY:  Let’s paint the reception yellow!

YANU:  Yellow stains too easy.

And so on.  Do you see the pattern?  Ideas are put forwards, and then analysed and rejected.  The sum total is that you get no forward movement.

Edward de Bono writes a lot about this, and he suggests using games and exercises to focus group thinking.  During a phase of idea generation, everyone should be asked to be only creative and no one should be allowed to analyse. Negativity is banned in this phase as it inhibits the right brain free-flow of ideas. Then you run a separate session to analyse ideas.  This utilises both left and right brain much more effectively.

Plus, Minus and Interesting, or PMI for instance, asks users to spend time considering the positives, then the negatives, then the interesting factors about each suggestion.

So now your meeting looks like this:

LYNDI:  I want you to consider a red colour in the reception area.  What’s good about using red?

PHIL:  It’s striking.

LORRAINE:  It’s alert.

YANU:  It’s passionate.

KAY:  It’s fiery.

LYNDI:  Now what’s bad about the colour red?

Get the idea?

Recently I attended an ideas session at ICE. It was the Emerge Networking session, a bi-monthly event designed to aid local creative networking.  This session was about shaping Coventry City Council’s Arts Policy, run by Laura Elliott from Artspace and Caroline Foxhall, freelance consultant and former Director of External Relations and Development from Arts Council England, West Midlands.

Actually I hadn’t been looking forward to it.  I wasn’t sure what ideas I could contribute, if any, and felt daunted.  But I did want to network and I am interested in the future of Coventry’s arts development.

Laura and Caroline put up the key points they wanted creatives to consider, and then gave out red and green sticky dots.  We were asked to put a red dot next to a key factor important for us as artists, and a green dot next to a key factor for the people of Coventry.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  I had been expecting to be asked to generate ideas for the arts policy. I was relieved to be asked instead just to analyse.

Then in a separate session we were asked to consider certain factors and discuss ideas for implementing them.

What I particularly liked was the way Caroline and Laura asked for our participation.  The dots were simple, but allowed us to stand up and move about. Creatives are particularly notorious for wanting to ‘do’ rather than listen, so this was an ideal medium.  The session was also clearly split into analysis and generation of ideas.

So next time you want to hold ‘an ideas session’, get specific about what you want.  Do you want fresh ideas, or idea analysis?

Spend a few minutes planning the best way to do this. If you can find the right method, you’ll move forwards incredibly fast and avoid the ‘one step forwards, one step back’ attitude of unclear thinking.  There are many many tools to do this. The work of  Edward de Bono is a good place to start.

Ladies and gentlemen, ask not what your meeting can do for you, but what you can do for your meeting!

Tools for provoking the imagination – 2

A shortlist of creative thinking tools must include the work of Edward de Bono.

Dr Edward de Bono has written many books on productive thinking. He is responsible for coining the term ‘lateral thinking’.

Lateral thinking allows your creativity to sidestep the impossible, into new realms of potential. One if his best known lateral thinking tools is PO, the provocation operation. Using a PO statement, the group imagine a scenario which sparks off ideas. In this sense, PO is a bit like ‘suppose’.

For example, ‘PO cars have square wheels’ sparked off a discussion about how to make this happen. This led to ideas about a self-adjusting suspension, which were actually developed on modern 4x4s.

Using metaphors has long been recognised as incredibly creative. A metaphor compares something (e.g. a clock) to something which it is not (e.g. a ticking timebomb). In this instance, the metaphor gives the user a powerful sense of urgency.

Another important feature of metaphor is its ability to make the mind of the user active. In order to truly understand the connection, you must imagine it. This ability to engage allows the user to participate, and therefore can be very memorable.

Think of Shakespeare. His plays are full of incredible metaphors and imagery, and somehow his work is remembered 500 years after it was written.

As a metaphor exercise, try asking a question such as “In what way is our project like an elephant?”. The answers given will unlock different perspectives on the subject and spark new ideas.

The Personal Ideas Pad or PIP from The Accidental Creative is worksheet which actually guides you through the productive thinking process. Here you list your challenge, its main subjects, and use brainstorming to generate as many related words as you can. Lines connect these new words and this network will inspire new ideas.

The Creative Whack Pack from creativethink.com is another easy-to-use tool for productive thinking. This is available in a card version or as an iPhone app. You select a card at random which suggests a creative thinking strategy, for example ‘See The Obvious’ or ‘Take the Second Right Answer’. Although a quick hit and a bit like using Tarot cards, they are another effective way to see a problem in a new light.

Like all productive thinking sessions, any negative statements, criticism, or the fact that the idea might be impossible are best put aside for now. Critical thinking has its place, but not during imaginative playtime for the mind. During these phases you want to leapfrog obstacles into new ideas. Being negative or analysing will close doors too early and prevent excitement from building. So let these sessions be free and enforce a strict ‘positive only’ rule.

There’s nothing worse to a creative than feeling stuck. Try these tools next time it happens. Your mind will enjoy being playful, and can quickly become a fertile soil on which to grow new ideas.