Creativity requires more than a meeting


I’ve written a few posts on how to start a creative meeting, and how to run one. But scheduling creative time does not guarantee good ideas.

Your lifestyle and approach have a huge effect on your creative ability.

And time away from the problem may be the key to a breakthrough.

Be open to new things

If your thought processes are rigid and inflexible, you risk rejecting ideas too quickly.

If Galileo saw the world as his parents, teachers and spiritual leaders taught him, he would never have championed heliocentrism, moving us towards a better (not correct, better) understanding of the universe.

The same goes for most scientific breakthroughs. These academics were able to immerse themself in the problem, paying very little attention to how everyone was telling them the world works.

“One prerequisite for originality is… that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it.

Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear… may be overturned.”

– David Bohm.

To come up with new ideas, remain open to new things and ways to look at the world.

“Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn’t try it on. ” – Billy Connolly

Keep your brain healthy

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to build new connections and repair itself.

If we maintain good levels of neuroplasticity throughout life, our brains can adapt to new environments, come up with new stuff, and thrive in difficult circumstances.

Maintain plasticity by looking after your brain:

Creativity is connecting – fill your brain with good stuff

“Creative people are better at recognising relationships, making associations and connections, seeing things in an original way – seeing things that others cannot see.” – Nancy C. Andreasen

Advertising genius James Webb agrees in his brilliant book on how to come up with new ideas:

“An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.” – James Webb

Neuroscientist Nancy C. Andreasen interviewed a bunch of highly creative people (her subjects included George Lucas and Kurt Vonnegut – how?!)

She noted, “I’ve been struck by how many of these people refer to their most creative ideas as ‘obvious.'”

Steve Jobs agrees:

When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.

It seemed obvious to them after a while.

– Steve Jobs

It seemed obvious because they were able to connect experiences.

Jobs went on to say that a lot of people don’t have ‘enough dots to connect’ so they end up with linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem.

How can we give ourselves more dots to connect?

Activities such as travelling (ok, staycationing), learning a new language, visiting museums, talking to a diverse range of people and/or reading fiction can help provide a deeper ‘creative well’.

“Creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness.

The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing.”

– Anais Nin

Better yet, involve other people from different backgrounds in your creative process, and see whether your combined experience creates sparks.

Choose carefully

Just as with food, you are what you eat. Writer Annie Dillard warns:

“The writer… is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write.

He is careful of what he learns, because that is what he will know.”

– Annie Dillard


Once the work on the problem is done, allow your brain to combine thoughts on the problem so far with the archive of everything you’ve ever experienced, while you take a well-earned break.

Einstein relaxed by playing the violin. Douglas Adams took baths, an idea he stole from Archimedes.

Joan Didion took an hour before dinner, with a drink, to go over what she’d written that day. She wrote, “Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages.”

I’ll have what Joan’s having.

Ideas might occur to you while you shower, nap, or go for a walk.

The brain is freed up from actively working on the problem, and combines elements of it with your experiences while you take pictures of trees and squirrels.

“What you do is to take the different bits of material which you have gathered and feel them all over, as it were, with the tentacles of the mind.

You take one fact, turn it this way and that, look at it in different lights, and feel for the meaning of it. You bring the two facts together and see how they fit.

What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.”

– James Webb

So remain open, keep your brain healthy and full of good stuff, do the work, then give your brain a rest to work on the problem for you.

I’d love to hear how you come up with new ideas. Drop me a comment and let me know.

Coming up with creative ideas

Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

A successful creative meeting:

Ideas flow freely. Coffee, biscuits and emergent laughter.

Everyone is contributing.

How familiar does this feel?

Creative meetings can be great for the confident and extroverted.

But I’ve definitely been in ‘creative’ meetings where I’ve been the least experienced in the room.

There is ‘banter’ – people are laughing at one another, putting down ideas they don’t like, vying for status.

What do we want out of a creative meeting? LOTS of ideas.

‘Lots’ means good ideas + bad + terrible ideas.

And if this is the ‘creative’ atmosphere, what you get are the ideas of the socially high status people, and nothing from anyone else.

So how can we run successful creative meetings?

The rules must be clear: we want all the ideas. That old cliche, ‘There are no bad ideas,’ is obviously wrong, but that needs to be the vibe at the meeting.

It’s important to encourage everyone to contribute in order to capture everything and keep the ideas coming until we have exhausted every avenue.

Under no circumstances must any idea be assessed, judged or analysed at the ideas stage.

If in doubt, use the rules of improv with your team: affirm and build. Add to other people’s ideas, rather than judging them.

The four animals in the room

There are, according to One Minute Millionaire, four types of animal that you can have in your team. Not only is this much more adorable than Myers-Briggs personality profiling, it is easier to understand, doesn’t require an online quiz, and can be summed up with an easy acronym, HOTS:

The hare – has lots of ideas, likes to hop from one to another and is more interested in generation than execution.

The owl – is wise and measured. Best placed with the hare to catch ideas. Good at seeing the bigger picture and working out how to take ideas forward. Team leaders are often owls.

The turtle – troubleshoots hare-brained schemes. Turtles like to turn ideas into plans, so that they can work out the problems and suggest solutions.

The squirrel – loves getting things done, happier with a list of tasks than in a creative session.

Work out which animals you have in your team. Encourage everyone to understand their spirit animal, and to embody it during the creative process.

Let the owls and the hares generate ideas. Encourage turtles to resist the urge to problem spot at this stage, or ask them along once generation is complete.

Some of your team might be less happy speaking up. Some people come up with ideas hours after the meeting. Allow ideas to come in late and/or submitted in private.

Give it a bit of time.

Once the ideas have been generated, it’s time to work out which ones to proceed with.

This is where the turtles come into their own. In a separate session, the owl invites the turtles to interrogate ideas. We send the hares for lunch at this point so that they don’t get upset.

The ideas the turtles like can now be given to the squirrels to execute.

If there’s just you in your team, you have hare, owl, turtle and squirrel within you.  You can use this model to plan your day.

If you’re generating creative ideas on your own, separate idea generation and analysis to ensure that you’re not talking yourself out of half the ideas at the generation stage.

This must be why writers like the Ernest Hemingway quote, “Write drunk, edit sober,” (despite there being no evidence he actually said it.)

How do you run your creative meetings?