Don’t Expect Creativity at Work

Written by ida

October 3, 2012

In a previous post on this blog, I wrote about the need for a change of environment & activity in order to stimulate creative brainstorming during meetings.

We can also increase the likelihood of our participants generating better solutions to problems if we give them plenty of advance warning as to the agenda, objectives, and requirements for the meeting. This practice gives the attendees thinking and preparation time — to conduct research, talk to colleagues, and make a few advance notes. By the time participants arrive at the meeting, they are already actively engaged in the topics. (Isn’t that what you want?)

Springing an issue or question on them without any forewarning is a recipe for failure. For some people, their best ideas come as afterthoughts. Let’s explore that for a moment.

Most meetings are generally conducted within regular business hours (unless they include geographically dispersed teams in various time zones). Interestingly, business hours may not coincide with the most creative times of day for some employees. This excerpt from an article in Psychology Today summarizes the results of a relevant research study.

In a paper published last December in the journal Thinking and Reasoning, psychologist Mareike Wieth and her colleagues found that when people have to solve “insight problems” that require a high degree of creativity, solvers are much more successful when they tackle these problems at the time of day in which they are least alert.

Least alert? The results seem counter-intuitive. Apparently, people are more creative at their least optimum times of the day — when they are using less brain power.  People who considers themselves “morning people” may be more creative in the evening, and “evening people” more creative in the morning.

Clients have told me that they generate their best ideas when they are showering, jogging, or driving. What are their brains doing during these activities? Chances are they’re not focusing on the problem or question that needs creative solutions.

My best ideas generally come about as I wake up in the morning or just before I fall asleep  at night. When I’m in the shower or in my car, my mind wanders. I think about other things, I relax, and I take in other types of stimuli, and then it often happens — the “aha” moment — an idea, a solution, or an insight presents itself.

In conclusion, then, if creativity happens when you least expect it, it makes even more sense to combine various elements in order to get the best out of your employees at meetings. Give people plenty of prep time before the meeting, change the meeting environment, change the stimuli or activities, and perhaps even re-visit the objective again another time after everyone has had a chance to let the ideas percolate.

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  1. Mark

    I especially like the idea of change in meeting environment Ida. It suggests something different and can itself capture- sometimes even elevate- one’s attention level. When the topic of discussion is especially important, changing things up like this can be useful. My caution would be to use this tactic sparingly, however, so as not to dilute the impact over time. I have found creativity is often stimulated when group members are knowingly unrestrained in their thought process. The subsequent chain reaction of ideas as one person’s viewpoints feed off another can sometimes be astounding. I believe that much time is often wasted in meetings and organizations many times fall short of their potential- in part because of this. I enjoyed the post and you got my tweet!

    • ida

      Thank you for your comments. I especially liked your use of the term “chain reaction of ideas”. It suggests an energetic productive move forward that is both exciting and innovative. As an addition to this post, this week there were articles in 2 Toronto newspapers, The Star and the Globe and Mail, highlighting the features of the Canadian Google offices: a music room, a stationary bicycle that mixes smoothies, a mini-golf putting green, a tent room, a tube slide, video games, and more. How’s that for creating stimulating meeting environments!


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