Tag Archives: creativity

It was the best of teams and the worst of teams…

“What was the best team you’ve been on?” I struggled to answer this when it was asked on a recent team coaching course I was on. Then, when I heard others’ answers, I felt as thought I had missed out on a really great experience. I believe many other people have not had the joy of being on a ‘high performing’ team, so I was keen to learn the team coaching skills which could help more people have a better team working experience.

The course was on ‘Team Diagnostics’ and run by Team Coaching International. They have four guiding principles for working with teams:

  1. Teams exist to produce results
  2. The team is a living system
  3. Team members want to be on high performing teams and want to contribute
  4. The team has within it the means to excel

Teams are measured on their positivity and productivity, and the team coach will debrief them on their results using graphics such as these:











The key is that the team is treated as a system, there is no focus on individual team members.

This course made me realise the importance of the state of the team for how creative it is. If ideas tend to happen in fluid networks (see ‘Where good ideas come from’ by Steven Johnson), then the team strengths (in the polar diagram above) of communication, camaraderie, constructive interaction, values diversity, respect, trust, goals and strategies, and accountability are fundamental.

The overall ratings on positivity and productivity (see the quadrant diagram above) could also be considered important for idea development. Ideas need to be nurtured, so require a positive, ‘Yes, and…’ environment to thrive. Ideas also need a productive environment – some momentum and hard work in order to develop.

Two of the guiding principles I mentioned earlier struck a chord with me in terms of creativity:

  • ‘The team is a living system’ – creativity is abundant in vibrant situations where “bundles of potentiality manifest their potential in relationship with each other” (from Margaret Wheatley). Creativity needs a ‘living system’ of relationships to survive.
  • ‘The team has within it the means to excel’ – A quote from Steven Johnson’s book mentioned earlier is appropriate here: “This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network.” (p.58) Creative ideas exist within each team member, and this creativity will grow and expand just by each individual being connected to the team network.

After three days of learning about teams, I feel I not only have the skills to coach teams, but also, more ideas on the behaviours which encourage creativity.

Is your team a positive and productive fluid network which nurtures ideas? How important do you think teams are for engendering creativity?




Introverts and ideas

“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas” – this quote from Susan Cain in her recent TED talk stuck in my mind.

So much of the way we do things at work is designed for extroverts to thrive – bosses are expected to be dominant and out spoken, we are expected to be ‘team players’, we work in noisy, busy open-plan offices. Where does this leave people who need some solitude, some time for reflection in order to their best work?

As someone who Susan Cain would probably describe as an ‘ambivert’ (my learning styles are also equally activist and reflector), I can understand the benefits of both an extroverted and introverted way of being. It’s just that the extroverts’ way of being will naturally be more dominant as extroverts are more dominant. However, as the TED talk suggests, I think it’s worth actively promoting the positive things about the introverted way of being.

For example, Cain suggests that introverts make good bosses. This was based on the work of Adam Grant at Wharton School ‘Analysing effective leaders: why extroverts are not always the most successful bosses’  His article suggests that the best boss for a very proactive team is actually an introverted boss. This is because an extroverted boss may feel threatened by proactive staff, whereas an introverted boss is more likely to listen and support their team’s ideas.

Just as introverted bosses can help encourage ideas, introverts are also better equipped to come up with ideas themselves. The TED talk alludes to Darwin going for long walks alone and Steve Wozniak working alone on the first Apple computer – examples which emphasise the need for solitude in the creative process.

Overall this TED talk made me think about my facilitation work and whether I am fully enabling the more introverted participants to develop their ideas. Am I doing too many group activities? Could I build in some solitude?

What about your work? If you consider yourself introverted, are you able to express yourself properly? If you manage a team, do you consider the needs of the more introverted members?

Managing the unknown through questioning

The title of this post comes from the International Foundation for Action Learning , as this week I had my first taste of Action Learning. This is all about groups (or ‘sets’) working together on real problems, using the current knowledge of the group and ‘questioning insight’.

In the session I attended one member of the group described a problem and everyone else wrote down one ‘open’ question about the problem. The person with the problem then answered some of the questions, and these answers sparked more questions from the group. This way, the person with the problem was realising the answers and ideas she already had hidden in her brain.

This gentle, yet powerful, process underlines the importance of asking questions when trying to come up with ideas.

In the book Gamestorming five types of idea sparking questions are outlined:

  1. Opening – to generate ideas/options and provoke thought e.g. What kinds of things do we want to explore? What are the biggest problem areas?
  2. Navigating – to summarise key points and check the group is aligned e.g. Is this helping us to get where we want to go? Are we on track?
  3. Examining – for observation and analysis, to narrow your enquiry and focus on details e.g. What is it made of? Can you give me an example of that?
  4. Experimental – to invoke the imagination and make unlikely connections e.g. What else works like this? If this were an animal, what animal would it be and why?
  5. Closing – to gain commitment and make decisions e.g. How can we prioritise these options? Who is going to do that?

Often people equate questioning with interrogation, but when trying to come up with ideas questioning is about collaboration. Having a group of open people asking open questions around a real problem is a simple, but highly effective, way of finding solutions.

How can you build open and exploring questions into your work?

The first follower

Is leadership overglorified? This is the question raised by this short and very entertaining TED Talk from Derek Sivers: First Follower

This video prompts the thought that perhaps alongside thinking about leadership and what makes good leaders, we also need to consider how to encourage the first followers of an idea or movement.

Highlighted in the talk is the need to treat first followers as equals and to nurture them. What should this nurturing include?Perhaps it could include an element of ‘Yes, and…’ so they can build on the original idea,  and so feel more part of it, and then be more confident in spreading the idea? As Derek Sivers says, it takes guts to be a first follower, so being open and inclusive as an idea leader is important for not scaring first followers away.

We are all potential first followers. We have the power to make a lot of things happen just by looking around at others’ ideas and supporting them, as well as focusing on our own ideas.

What ideas have you come across that you could be a first follower of?

On hedgehogs and ideas

I haven’t written anything for a few weeks now, and this step back/away and the freshness it has created, made me think about the value of stopping.

It has been said that the greatest discoveries have been made on the bus, in bed or in the bath. In other words, when someone has stopped consciously working and left their desk/laboratory/studio. This break from focusing on an idea/project is known as incubation.

However, when I think of incubation, I see intense concentration and bright lights – which doesn’t really express a break from thinking about an idea.

I prefer to think of the stepping back from an idea/project as hibernation. For me, this means being out of sight and in the dark. So idea hibernation is about putting the idea ‘out of sight’ so your subconscious can work on it in the ‘dark’.

Then, just like a hedgehog uncurling from its winter sleep, so your solution will uncurl from your subconscious, fresh and ready to be used.

How an escalator can inspire ideas

You know what it’s like, you’ve been working on an idea or challenge for ages and you’ve reached the point where your mind is bogged down and you’re not moving forward anymore. This is the point when getting ‘fresh eyes’, a different perspective will help your thoughts move again.

For inspiration on looking at situations from a different perspective, have a look at this TED Talk from Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere:

This video shows that when you look at your surroundings with fully open, fresh eyes (and mind), the everyday location or situation (such as an escalator) can be transformed in a way which lifts the spirits.

After watching Charlie Todd’s TED Talk I wiped away the tears of laughter from my now (re)freshed eyes and realised how important this kind of approach to the world is for idea generation and development. Todd stands back from the things we see in everyday life (an escalator), and looks at them from a different perspective (a captive audience who would welcome entertainment). If you can stand back from your idea and look at it from a different perspective, you might be amazed with the results.

Techniques which can help you gain a different perspective could be: considering your challenge from a child’s point of view; representing your idea in LEGO; just going for a long walk and forgetting about it for a while. Anything which prompts you to look at your idea from a different angle will work.

How do you get ‘fresh eyes’? I would love to know your techniques for gaining new perspectives on challenges.


Do you search for ideas with a spotlight or a lantern?

To an adult it’s a cardboard box for packing books. But to a child it’s a car, a giant’s hat, a king’s table… As we get older and gain more experience as adults, this experience affects how we look at the world. Hence a cardboard box tends to be just for packaging, as from experience that is the main use we have seen for it.

This has an effect on how adults search for ideas. In a recent TED Talk this was described as the ‘spotlight’ or the ‘lantern’ of consciousness.

This talk highlights that adults have a very focused, purpose-driven, ‘spotlight’ kind of attention. Young children and babies don’t have the ability to focus yet. They can’t get rid of all the interesting things that could tell them something and just look at the important thing – their ‘lantern’ of attention lights up many things.

When we are searching for ideas, starting out with a ‘lantern’ and then using the ‘spotlight’ is an effective process.

How can adults regain their ‘lantern of consciousness’? It’s suggested in the TED Talk that one way of doing this is to put yourself in a completely new situation. Perhaps you could learn a new skill, a new and completely different language – maybe with a different alphabet, or visit a new city without a guidebook or map.

How will you light up your lantern?