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!

The Timeboard – get creative with your scheduling

Are you a creative, looking to improve your scheduling? Is your schedule different every week?  Are you sick of reading business guides about scheduling that have no relevance to creatives?

Jenna Hubbard, Project Assistant at ICE, recently introduced me to the concept of a Timeboard. And no, this has nothing to do with Doctor Who or time travelling.  

Get creative with your scheduling!

A Timeboard is just a simple way of scheduling for creatives.  It is extremely useful when you have certain core activities but your schedule changes every week.
It’s very simple.  You take a big piece of paper and split it into seven columns, one for each day of the week.  Label each column clearly.  Then grab some coloured Post-Its and a marker pen. Each Post-It becomes a block of time.  Let’s say Monday you spend two hours emailing.  Great, just write Email, 2 hours on one colour of Post-It. Then stick it on the chart under Monday.  Put different kinds of activities in different colours.

Afterwards, take a red pen and a blue pen and put stars on the Post-Its.  A red star indicates where you give energy.  A blue star indicates where you receive energy.  This can help you keep track of how energising or tiring your weeks are, and prevent burn-out.

Then once a week you can sit down and plan your week ahead.  If things change, no worries! Just take off one Post-It and replace it with another.

If you suddenly have a week-long project that usurps everything else,   When a week changes like this, the way you spend your days changes. All those housekeeping, adminny things get left behind.  Maybe emailing goes out of the window. No problem! Can you fit emailing in on a Sunday evening?  Or will you just lose emailing for a week and survive?  

Take off the Post-Its for activities you don’t do, and put them under or around your Timeboard. Then you can clearly see what you have, and have not made time for.  

You can see the dotted red line on my Timeboard separates my schedule from those activities I haven’t made time for.  I don’t have much wall space, so I put mine onto A1 card I can move around my flat.  

A few weeks after I made my Timeboard, there had been no progress in one area of my business.  I checked my Timeboard to find this was the one Post-It that repeatedly never made it into my schedule.  No surprise there’s been no change!

The Timeboard is a revolution for me, and one of the best scheduling tools I have ever seen for creatives.

What you put on your Timeboard is entirely up to you.  If meditation is vital to your daily schedule, put it in!  On mine I have my yoga classes, time for walks and I have even figured in time for creative play.

So get yourself a Timeboard, and get creative with your schedule.

ICE and graduate mentoring for creatives

I have just been accepted onto the Graduate Mentoring Programme at the the Institute for Creative Enterprise in Coventry.

The Institute, more commonly known as ICE, is owned and run by Coventry University.  It offers hotdesking, networking opportunities, meeting rooms, a post box and lots of advice and mentoring to local creatives.

This is great for me, as I’m not short on ideas but I could definitely do with help on running a business.

After a chat with Jenna Hubbard, ICE’s Project Assistant, I had a really good chance to define what our theatre company does, and how I envision our creative future.  This is a real turning point for me.  Our theatre company is just about to undergo a massive change as Jan, the Artistic Director and founder, moves to Denmark.  I am just about to undergo a massive change myself: in October I start an MA in Creative Thinking.  I need business advice to carry the company forwards, and possibly starting a new company which will specialise in improving creativity in businesses and schools.

I was accepted onto the programme and immediately opportunities started flying my way.

ICE are brokering an internship scheme with The Future Works.  This means we as a theatre company can offer a graduate an internship. It also means I can become an intern, perhaps in an area I’d like to learn more about. Perhaps for a company that specialises in creative thinking…

I am alos given my own access card, which means I can come and work art a computer here at ICE 24/7.  All the hotdesking spaces have massive 20inch Macs with both Windows and OSX.  They all come with the full Adobe Creative Suite and I can come and work away here all day and all night, if I wish. Each desk has a phone, and each computer is hooked up to a printer, so I can work here at virtually no cost to myself, with no distractions.

There’s also two kitchens, plenty of meeting spaces and toilets with showers – so if I want to cycle down and get freshened up for my business meeting, I can.

I already have a session booked in with Jenna to look at scheduling, and in September ICE will put me onto a training scheme.  Here I will get free business training, business tools and a chance to design the future of my own creative business.

Not only that, but ICE is a hub.  I can find out what’s going on in the area creatively.  I can meet other people who are working in Coventry as creatives. I can find opportunities and events more quickly, and more importantly, build relationships.

So far, so good!  It’s all about the ICE, ICE baby.

Your problems are your opportunities

How can you turn your problems into opportunities?

Next week I have a meeting at the Institute for Creative Enterprise in which I hope to find new ways to take my company forward.

In preparation, I decided to mindmap the problems I currently have in business. I followed this with a mindmap of the opportunities I would like.

Have a look at both mindmaps.

Notice anything?


They are virtually identical!

Visual proof that our problems are actually our opportunities. There is really no difference in the details. But the two require very different approaches. By approaching a task as potentially positive, rather than negative and difficult, we approach with a strong ‘Yes!’.  Feeling like you have an opportunity, having an open mind, having hope and energy are all essential to creativity.

So next time you feel like you have a problem, make sure you take time to see the opportunities.

All that is required is a change of perception.