A Non-Creative’s Guide To Sparking Imagination In Meetings

A Non-Creative’s Guide To Sparking Imagination In Meetings

Here’s an edited extract from Go For Bold: How to create powerful strategy in uncertain times (Major Street $29.95) by facilitator, speaker and strategist, Rosie Yeo (main photo)…

You don’t have to be a portfolio-carrying arts-school graduate to inspire curiosity and imagination in meetings. Here are some simple suggestions to inspire creativity.

1. New setting, different views

Leave the everyday meeting room and go somewhere different. Find somewhere beautiful, or at least somewhere with windows! Use space differently. Do away with a boardroom table, and possibly with every table. Move between different spaces. If you’re operating virtually, you can still change the view. Ask people to start the meeting with a backdrop chosen to highlight a key opportunity, or ask everyone to wear themed clothing; if you have budget and time, send them team sweatshirts.

2. Play with time

Traditional agendas with too much detail can mean that people enter the meeting with pre-determined views about the end point (‘I’ll agree with item 1, oppose item 2 and am not interested in item 3 because it’s only a 20-minute discussion’). If you’re the facilitator of the conversation, you need a clear and very detailed plan – but participants don’t need to know everything in advance. Write your agenda as a barebones outline, or even as a series of questions.

Vary your speed. Incorporate some rapid-fire questions and answers, as well as opportunities for thoughtful reflection.

3. Become more T-shaped

Invite a guest speaker with an alternative perspective to shake up the conversation before it starts. Provide interesting pre-reading material.

4. Spark imagination by phrasing questions differently

Be more specific. For example, asking broadly ‘What are your team’s strengths?’ often prompts a laundry list of people’s ideal strengths (for example: innovative, friendly, motivated, problem-solving). A more specific question could be, ‘What’s one way this organisation/team is better than the last place you worked?’

Start more questions with ‘Imagine …’ or ‘What if…’ to allow creative thought. For example: ‘What if a competitor were starting up a new organisation to do our work today; how would they do it smarter?’ Imagine in three years’ time this problem doesn’t exist. What has changed for the better?’

Encourage out-there thinking before you narrow things down. Include both positive and negative extremes. For example: ‘What would it look like if we could succeed beyond our wildest dreams?’

“What are the worst things that could happen?”

“If money were no object, what would we do differently?”

“If we only had $10 and the contents of a fridge, how would we solve our problem?”

5. Help people let their guard down

There is a time for responsible, rational decision-making, but it’s not at the start of a strategy session. Walk the group through an opening series of visualisation discussions, without prescribed results, and you may be surprised by the ideas that can bloom during open-ended discussions.

Ask people to draw an image (using no more than three words) of the organisation’s best future and then describe what they’ve drawn. Use imagery or objects to prompt responses. Show a series of photos and ask, “Which of these photos best reflects our organisation’s current lifecycle stage and why?”

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Rosie Yeo

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