4 Tips for Igniting Group Creativity

Photo Credit: Nan Palmero Haier Share Your Ideas, Creative Commons 2.0

By Anne Orban, M.Ed., NPDP

Brainstorming or ideation gets a bad rap because some of the basics are not practiced. Here are 4 tips for igniting group creativity that are easy to put into practice and that make a significant difference for a good experience and useful outcomes.

1. Prepare the climate for creativity

Preparing the climate for creativity is important for all groups no matter whether the group is made up of people who know each other well, don’t know each other, or where there is a range of ‘power’ in the group. Introductions are climate setters and always important. Some introductions can be an activity or game that requires group members to interact with each other physically. Games that require no objects like balls or hoops can be done when brainstorming is impromptu. One that I like is what I call ‘The Ghordian Knot’. It’s good for groups of 5 or more. The group members stand side by side in a circle. And lift up their right arms and each person takes the hand of a person that is not next to them. Then the group members lift up their left arms and take the hand of a person that, again, is not next to them. Then they work together to unscramble themselves into circle, hopefully all facing the same way, and without breaking their hand connections. Other games can be with several sheets of paper crunched into throwable ‘balls’. Stand in a circle with space between group members and start with the first ‘ball’ throwing it in any pattern between the participants who must remember that pattern and then introduce a second and then third ball in different patterns. It’s fun and takes both concentration and relaxation – both characteristics the produce good brainstorming outcomes. Climate setters like this clear participants’ heads and stimulate creativity by having fun with something completely different and group dependent in contrast to interacting with their electronic devices.

2. Ensure the process/content split

Brainstorming or ideation works optimally if there is recognition for separating process and content.   What happens if groups do not separate process and content is that either there is a power-struggle for leadership or there is one member whose approval of ideas will control the group. To manage group brainstorming to ensure participation without power plays, either appoint a facilitator who does not get into content or use a technique for head-lining your comments that starts each idea with “I wish” or “What if” or “We could” or “How to” then follow that with your idea as succinctly as possible in language that everyone can grasp. This way all ideas are created equal and can be built on using the “yes and” technique.

Concept Sheet and Toys

3. Go on creative excursions

Creative excursions help groups take a mental break and then use the content of that mental break to relate back to the subject and generate new ideas and potentially more creative ideas. One mental break that I like is to reverse the task and rather than ask what we could do, ask the group what they would never do. For each statement about what they would never do, ask them to turn that into a positive idea. This often creates stretch ideas which can then be a candidate for developmental thinking. Other mental excursions include taking a holiday in your mind and then applying those images, feelings, sensations back to the task. Also, each group member can be asked to think of a favorite character in a novel, movie or cartoon and then offer ideas from that character’s perspective. Not only will you have fun, but you’ll generate lots of interesting ideas.

4. Practice developmental thinking

Developmental thinking has everything to do with pushing idea generation out beyond the current threshold of acceptability. Most ideas group members offer fall very close to that tactically-accepted threshold. If a group member throws out an idea well beyond the threshold of acceptability rather than pounce on it as ridiculous, value it and give it ‘hang time’.   Use ‘how to’ thinking to nurture and develop it to the point that it is ‘acceptable’ and you’ll see that it has pushed excitingly beyond the original notion of the threshold of acceptable.

These tips are four of many. They are easy to use and do make a difference.

So, please do not complain about unproductive group brainstorming or ideation efforts if you don’t commit to using these tips.

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