Summary: How do you engender creativity at work? A reflective piece on recent experiences Description: Juices

Have you ever sat in a meeting that was meant to produce innovative and creative ideas and was dreary and dull and never really got started? Have you ever tried to chair a meeting that was meant to provide a creative environment for talented people to come up with solutions but singularly failed on both accounts. If not you’re lucky. Sadly too often I’ve done both and yet there have been times that at a meeting where I hadn’t thought I would find answers or wasn’t even expecting to be particularly productive was unexpectedly energizing and even exhilarating and from which you leave buzzing with ideas and plans. When I’ve looked back at these productive meetings to try to analyse what went right and how it was that the creative juices flowed it wasn’t always clear to me; which was a pity as life would much more fulfilling if I could have more of these types of encounters.

Recently two occurrences – one discussion with colleagues from computing and one paper presentation at the Stirling meeting I’ve previously written about - have given me some insight. I thought that sharing these occurrences might stimulate others to share their own insights.

At the meeting with colleagues about the possibility of writing a joint grant proposal one academic said, “We all need to agree the problem and the funders need to agree the problem too. We can argue about the solution or solutions but if we don’t agree the problem then we are onto a loser.” This does not sound terribly profound but actually it is fundamental. Looking back at failed meetings many times half the people around the table did not see the area we were discussing as issue (and sometimes I was one of them). Why then would they join together to find a solution?

The paper was entitled: Understanding phases of creative knowledge processes in innovation by Ingunn Johanne Ness and Gunn Elisabeth Søreide University of Bergen, Norway. This paper presented the results empirical study of three multi-disciplinary groups working with innovation; two groups in an international oil company and one group in a Research Institute. Ingunn presented findings from the analysis showing how the creative knowledge processes develop in phases in the three groups. She found that across the three groups the processes investigated could be understood on three levels. Firstly, creative knowledge processes could be described as six phases of innovation work. Secondly, the initial three phases seemed to establish a knowledge platform, which in turn facilitated the development and formulation of ideas in the three last phases. Finally, the two first phases ensured “input” to the creative knowledge processes in the groups and enabled them to expand their current knowledge. The last, and sixth phase where the groups finalize concrete ideas, could be characterized as the “output” of the process. What I was particularly taken with in Ingunn’s presentation was the need to have a time when people really listened to each other and individual knowledge was freely exchanged and valued by all participants. I suggest that interested readers go to the RWL area on the University of Stirling website ( www.stir.ac.uk/education/researching-work-and-learning/ ) where you will find the conference programme and look up Ingunn’s abstract (paper 100) and read more about her work. I understand a paper documenting her study and findings is currently under review and so should hopefully be available soon.

So in summary my personal learning points to try to get the creative juices flowing at meetings are:
1. you need agreement on the problem or issues;
2. early in the process you need to have a time devoted to real listening and knowledge exchange.

What about yours?