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The Creativity Killer: Group Discussions

25 April 2011 No Comment

Traditional meetings are often more about socializing than making decisions. A case for rethinking how we generate ideas.

Originally posted by David Sherwin - the Atlantic

One of the joys of working in teams is the cadence and flow of dialogue between people, and seeing how ideas grow and change through discussion. We often become lost in these exchanges, and delightfully so.

They seem to be core to the notion of design and creativity, but they aren’t. Instead of holding an hour-long meeting with a facilitator at the whiteboard, pen poised to capture ideas called out, what would happen if every person in the room were provided five minutes to generate ideas individually?

Instead of holding an hour-long meeting with a facilitator at the whiteboard, what would happen if every person in the room were provided five minutes to generate ideas individually? How would that transform the interaction between people in the room, as those ideas were shared with the group?

When we lose track of time in group discussion, we are often crafting an enjoyable group experience at the cost of surfacing everyone’s unique perspectives and voices. We risk filling the time with consensus, rather than exploring divergent, multi-disciplinary viewpoints. It is in the friction between these views that we explore new patterns of thought.

Creative collaboration requires disciplined teamwork. And this kind of teamwork requires knowing when not to work in teams. This sounds obvious, but we constantly struggle with the belief that we must be inclusive to succeed. When to diverge and when to converge: that is the question.

A useful tool to combat open-ended group dialogue is “timeboxing,” the use of short, structured sprints to reach stated goals for individuals or teams. That is, you use little boxes of time. When entering into a meeting or group collaboration, you take the first few minutes of the allotted time to plan out a series of manageable steps with tangible work output, such as ideas on sticky notes or sketches. Over the course of your discussion, you pause to acknowledge and discuss the material you’ve generated, and what ideas or areas you may want to address next.

This constant bouncing between generating material for consideration, acknowledging and evaluating that material, and making collective decisions will further your end goals. Whether you’re coming up with rough ideas or working through the complexity of their execution, these methods can radically impact a group’s collective creativity.

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