Think Leadership Ideas

Free the Creative Genie

Sooner or later any group that works together, be they employees in the same office, volunteers on a non-profit board, or executives on a management team, will be called upon to come up with some creative ideas – to innovate. Unfortunately, what typically happens when the designated leader asks the group to “give me your best ideas,” the reply is limited to standard answers, conventional responses, or blank stares. Would that these hard working souls had some creativity in them! Well I’m here to tell you that groups can let the genie of creativity out of the bottle if they understand three counter-intuitive principles.

Key 1: Quantity Over Quality
Groups tend to wish and wait for that great idea to magically pop out of someone’s head, be immediately recognized, and have everyone run with it. Rarely does it work that way.

The secret to finding creative ideas is generating lots of ideas, including really bad ones, then picking out the best. This can feel inefficient because it is opposite of how most other work is accomplished. After all, you don’t generate lots of finance reports and then pick out the best, or make lots of different machine parts and then pick out those that fit, or for that matter prepare a dozen meals and then decide which is the more appealing.

Key 2: Reduce Inhibition
If you think “increasing creativity” seems like a dubious task, I agree. I believe that you don’t need to increase people’s creativity, rather what you need to do is reduce inhibitions that get in the way of people using the creativity they already possess.

In Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon Mackenzie describes visiting elementary schools. When he asks first graders how many are artists, 100% will raise hands and do so enthusiastically. About half of second graders will raise their hands, a third of third graders, and the response continues to drop as the grade level increases. He laments, “Every school I visited was participating in the suppression of creative genius.”

Our creativity doesn’t go away, but too often in the course of growing up we learn not to use it. Releasing our inherent creativity, therefore, requires getting past learned habits that squelch creativity. Reducing our inhibitions resembles, well, play. And play by definition is the antithesis of work.

Key 3: Seek Some Chaos
“We cannot innovate without opening the door to havoc,” says management guru Tom Peters. Creative ideas don’t emerge from linear, 1-2-3, step-by-step processes. To the contrary, creative ideas flow from discussions that are “all over the map.” Creating venues where ideas can tumble and fall all over each other stimulates volume, variety, and vitality of ideas. Of course, the nature of chaos is that it lacks control, not a comfortable prospect in many organizational settings.

It’s easy to understand why behavior that is generally considered inefficient, uncontrolled, and, well, playful might be deemed questionable and resisted in work and professional settings.

That is why simply asking a group for their good ideas, however well-intentioned, rarely moves folks beyond their inhibitions to a place where ideas flow freely. But combining brainstorming techniques with good facilitation in the right setting can set the stage for impressive results. Set up a process that introduces a bit of chaos as well as some fun that reduces inhibitions to play, and just about any group can generate an abundance of remarkable ideas.

by Tom Stevens (c)2006
Tom Stevens helps individuals and organizations create brilliant futures and make a difference. To contact him, visit

This article may be freely reprinted in your company, association, or commercial publication (or website) under the following terms: that the author attribution, copyright notice, contact information, and this reprint notice be included; and that you inform us that you are using the article (samples appreciated).

** ** **

blog comments powered by Disqus