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Hector Ramos

Ground Rules for Creativity Sessions

Ground Rules for Creativity Sessions

Don’t forget your Toys for Creativity Sessions

If you wish to engage in a fruitful workshop that leads to innovative ideas, you may wish to clarify some basic ground rules for creativity sessions. These ground rules have been adopted from the Creative Problem Solving toolbox by the International Center for Studies in Creativity (Buffalo State University of New York). And, they have been proven essential through many creativity sessions:

Defer Judgement

Evaluation of ideas is not part of a creativity session. This needs to wait to its proper stage. Constructive criticism becomes part of the refining stage. Comments we heard before like “This doesn’t work!” or “Nice idea. Just not practical” kill other good ideas. Participants will not bring up their out-of-the-box ideas – that often start with something that sounds even stupid – because they will be scared to receive this kind of feedback from their fellow-participants and lose face, especially in Asian cultures.

Remember, judgement is not just verbal expression. A facial expression or a gesture can say more than thousand words. The effect of a mimik of disapproval might be even worse than the spoken word. Hence, put your poker face on and, as a facilitator, try to control unhelpful emotions. Best is, keep participants for the whole session in a positive mood. Enforce your ground rules for creativity.

Go for Quantity

Uwe letting the hair down during innovation session - ground rules for creativity

Uwe letting the hair down during innovation session

In any session we have seen, first the low-hanging fruits need to be collected. This is ok. And, this seems to be necessary. Only as participants are stretched in their efforts to generate ideas, original and breakthrough ideas will come up. This needs enough time. Giving up after the initial phase that delivers the in-the-box ideas means giving up on the quality of the ideas. Quantity turns into quality … after some time, some patience and some “work”.

Build on Each Others Ideas

Ideas generated by members of the group can be the stepping stone to a breakthrough idea, produced by another member. Creativity sessions are team events. Collecting ideas by sending out emails and waiting for the response will get you some responses but hardly some quality ideas that lead to innovation. Take time out for the team and you will get results.

Go for Wild Ideas

Ideas that are completely outside the paradigm could be either very promising or useless depending on the techniques to extract valuable insights and build on them. This process needs an experienced facilitator who is well-versed in the tools and can engage the audience. The team leader is not necessarily a good facilitator for a creativity session. This leader will be rather biased due to his experience with the matter at hand. The less the facilitator is involved in the daily work of the team he needs to facilitate the better.

Wild ideas expressed in wild behaviour - ground rules for creativity

Wild ideas expressed in wild behaviour

It is not hard to abide to these ground rules for creativity after some practice. Creativity is not one session. Creativity is a process that needs to be trained and experienced. Only after some sessions, after all participants know, understand and accept the process, great results will be generated.

All these ground rules for creativity help to make your session more fruitful and certainly more fun.

Read also Innovation Strategy


Contextual Thinking – The Key to Success in Communicating Innovative Proposals

You may have heard and read much in the last few years regarding creativity and innovation. Or you may even have attended a creativity workshop that you found interesting and fun that has helped you come up with some new ideas. Now your current employer may be requiring innovative input. However, you find that your suggestions are mostly ignored or frowned upon. This is mainly because nobody has told you the „The Secret of Contextual Thinking”.

Contextual Thinking - Improvement and Innovation Mindset

Improvement and Innovation Mindset

You may have heard and read much in the last few years regarding creativity and innovation. Or you may even have attended a creativity workshop that you found interesting, fun and helped you come up with some new ideas. Now your current employer may be requiring innovative input. However, you find that your suggestions are mostly ignored or frowned upon.

This is mainly because nobody has told you „The Secret of Contextual Thinking‟.

In the case of creativity and innovation, not only do managers have different ideas of what they mean, but they find it difficult to express them in a consistent manner. This results in resorting to clichés such as out-of-the-box thinking, or ideas producing bottom-line results. If there is such a variety in opinion, what can you do as a potential or current employee to provide the required creative and innovation input?

Seven Steps to Develop Contextual Thinking Skills

1 Do not get excited about it (or at least control your excitement)

Your innovative idea has flaws that your managers and colleagues see a mile away. However, they seem to be blinded to the financially rewarding innovative insights that you find obvious.

2 Do not get frustrated by rejection (or at least control your emotions)

This comes with the territory. Instead you can deflect negative criticism by asking for constructive input: How would you improve this idea? How can we overcome this hurdle? (people usually do not give much feedback, but if they do, it can help you improve your idea and keep them quiet for a while).

3 Start asking some appropriate questions

Your aim is to know what your managers understand by creativity and innovation. What is their “box” when they use the “out-of-the-box” expression? How do they see the development of the products and processes and the technologies supporting them? This step is essential in discovering “the secret”.

4 Continue to collect relevant information

What is the market or technological trend that you can use to back your future innovation? Which innovations from other players in the industry or similar industries in your country or abroad come to mind? What are your customers looking for? How can you meet their current challenges?

5 Generate many ideas

Stretch your mind to go beyond the 2nd best to the best option. Once you have generated many options you will get a better understanding on the different innovative possibilities facing you. Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling said “The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away”.

6 Be selective on your ideas

How does your perfect solution look like? You will start building a series of criteria that will guide your selection and future building up of a valuable solution. (This is crucial to find “the secret”).

7 Start building up ideas into solutions

You can proceed by identifying potential flaws (your colleagues will volunteer to help you do this) and refining your idea to remove those flaws or turn them into leverage points. The weakness of an idea can become its strength in a different context. For instance, the product Post-It™ was the result of a failed attempt to create stronger glue for paper.

Six Guidelines for Making People Accept Your Creative Input

Some basic guidelines to adopt when giving creative and innovative input are as follows:

  • Start small. By providing small feasible improvement suggestions you can start providing quick benefit to the company.
  • Consider the resources you need in terms of knowledge (what do you need to know) and manpower (who can help you). For instance, following up on competitor’ product history, usability reports or global technological trends in similar or different industries can help you gather insights for your innovative input.
  • Persevere and persuade. The innovation process may not be easy. You need to become a diplomat, be careful communicating calculated risk, testing periods, and never oversell your proposal on excitement.
  • Don’t listen to your VOJ. This is the small Voice of Judgment critical to all novelty in ideas even before they have been deliberately analysed and selected. As Einstein once said “If the idea is not absurd at first, there is no hope for it”. The process of making sense or connecting the idea to reality is a separate one.
  • Remember that suggestions need time and have their time. Some of them may flourish at a later date.
  • Learn from every mistake as much as you can. The more you learn, the more your managers will appreciate your work (these lessons will be applicable in future innovation initiatives).


Finally, use “the secret of contextual thinking” from the first to the last moment of the process. This is simply stated “the ability to perceive, understand and value creative and innovative input from the other’s (your manager) perspective”. You may even get to the point where the ideas that you produce resonate so much on your managers that they will themselves carry them out. This ability builds up through insightful questioning and deep listening but it all starts with the intention (desire) to discover and understand deeply the cultivated (reasoned) viewpoints of others (try practicing with friends or relatives).

The leverage to “the secret of contextual thinking” is that the more you build trust in the existing managerial paradigm on creativity and innovation, the more you will be able to stretch that paradigm to enable the company to see beyond to the possibilities of new business models, markets or even redefining one’s industry. Are we not after all in a “City of Possibilities”?

Cases, Innovation, Lean Six Sigma, Operations, Service, Strategy

Innovatively Leveraging on Six Sigma Framework

Some time ago, I was facilitating a Six Sigma project group involved in solving a process challenge. This group had been working on defining the parameters regarding recruitment policies. This included the allocation of cubicle, phone number, password, printing of name cards, email, pass card, etc for the new hires. The process involved seven people, taking about five months to complete. The team had dutifully performed all the analysis required, used the necessary tools and come up with detailed process delays corresponding to different positions to be delivered to the new hires. It all pointed out to be a ‘people problem’. “If Mr X and Mrs Y did their job properly we would not have any delays” was the assumed concluded answer to all the problems.


The Power of Webbing

If you want to clarify or explore a task, find root causes of a problem or develop your strategic thinking skills you may want to consider the queen of exploration tools: WEBBING.

One of the ways to remember this tool is by looking at Spiderman. Like Spiderman you can use the tool to move from building to building (question to question) having always a different perspective of the world (task). Why would you do that? You may want to better understand why things are the way they are. Or even look for what is the point of leverage for your future actions. And, remember that every building (question) has insights (assumptions and details) that can help you understand your task more clearly – sometimes more objectively – and reach your target faster and with less effort. Therefore, you need to become an in-depth inquisitive person (also called strategic thinker, innovator and coach). As a result, you will be able to assess questions by their value.

Basically this Spiderman-like behaviour is involved in three types of actions:

  1. One type is related to space (position-perspective). By asking “Why?” and “What is stopping you?” he can move from a given position to greater abstraction (more of a visionary, motivating angle) or to a specific position (more a tactical angle).
  2. Another type is related to time. Timing is always a factor. Where does all the motivation, vision come from? What are the past causes? When did they happen? And what has and is stopping us from moving into our desired future? And by when?
  3. Finally there is a combination of both in the WEB – the movement. Movement goes in two basic directions:
  • Depth: By asking the question “Why?” many times over new question statements proceeding from the starting challenge we move in greater analysis of the task and underlying assumptions.
  • Breadth: By asking the question “Why” and “Why else” we see the task under a different light.

The Case – Webbing the Problem

We met a client to prepare the launch of their Process Excellence programme. One of the project proposals we have been looking at was putting the solution upfront being “Automation of the XYZ application process to increase customer satisfaction”. Obviously, everyone, including project leader, sponsor, head of department and even CEO were quite sure that this was the way to go. Since having the solution stated that clearly, we could not expect creative and open-minded teamwork that could apparently lead to a different solution. Hence, we decided to “Web” the task and shed some light on the background behind the project definition (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Power of Webbing

Figure 1: The Power of Webbing

Finding the Purpose

After putting the question “How might we automate our process?” in the middle of the Web (in the middle of Figure 1) and asking “Why” and “Why else” often enough, we easily discovered the driving forces behind this task as “Long response time to customer”, “Low customer satisfaction”, “Many processing errors” and “High staff workload” (upper part in Figure 1). After stating the obvious, we moved into a more interesting discussion by asking the question “What is stopping you?” to reveal potential blocking stones and associated assumptions at a much more detailed level (lower part in Figure 1).

Forcing people to think in this direction made clear that we had not done our preparation for the project yet. Besides the question about the approval for the investment we struggled to answer questions around resources as well as change management. Most importantly, the pressing need and the benefits of the investment. Going one step deeper we could not even say whether there are alternative approaches. Because we did not have a clear picture of weaknesses in the process. This way, we mapped the web for the “Automation Solution” (burgundy area in Figure 1).

Finding Potential Root Causes

Starting again from top to bottom and asking the “Why else?” question often enough, the web changed to an alternative task that is “Increase Efficiency” driving nearly the same outcome Automation was supposed to drive. In the Web this “Hot Spot” shows up by having many incoming and outgoing arrows.

Furthermore, it became apparent that focussing on the task “Increase Efficiency” we could not only improve our process but also gather enough data and information (red arrows in Figure 1) to support the “Automation Idea” in a second phase.

Going through this simple exercise enforced revealing assumptions and details behind the original task and resulted in change of the latter. This exercise “opened up” the project title. We moved from stating the solution towards requesting information and analysing root causes with an open mind. Only then, the best solution will evolve.

The Webbing Method

Creative thinking tools can be used individually (you can explore your challenge yourself), in pairs (good for coaching, counselling) and IN GROUPS. You can mix all these approaches as you want. Hence, participants can use it individually or in pairs before they come in a group (or start in a group and then proceed to refine it individually before coming together in a group again). What are the benefits of doing this?

  1. Contextual Thinking. As you work in a group people will come up with different questions. This is because they see reality differently. Webbing will provide a common platform to see reality more holistically. As the group stretches together ,you will find the inquisitive power increased. As a result, you start producing insightful questions (especially if you have people with different thinking skills in the group: analytical, creative, detailed or implementers). Needless to say, this will help people to understand each others’ perspectives better. Finally, this enhances team building as well as group cohesion and synergy.
  2. Break-Through Meaning/Insight Search. As webbing is being used by a skillful facilitator two things will happen:
  • Abstract Words that mean different things to people will come up. These words should be defined, explored and agreed upon, especially if they are critical for the ideation process because they provide the most important information for focused thinking.
  • Opinions, Assumptions, Conclusions and many other non-factual items will come up as well. Using the ladder of abstraction the facilitator may want to clarify with the group in order to look into the data more closely – always asking, “What is the other data that we are missing?”
  • Innovative Areas and highly efficient ways to solve problems will come up by facilitating this tool. Some of the most promising areas companies miss out because of not turning their current challenges into innovative opportunities to deliver higher value. Webbing provides the connection between both.


Webbing is a powerful exploration tool. It can and should be used in situations where there is some slight doubt about what is stated. Consequently, it can help to open people’s mind to think outside the obvious thread of thought. The method works both ways, to uncover the consequences as well as the root causes of actions. Applied in a group by a skilful facilitator, this tool can help exploring tasks and conclusions to support – and question – decisions. And, it always helps to realign project teams.
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