Meetings can be a drain on everyone, or an invigorating session where creativity flows freely. While it's tempting to view every meeting as a waste of time spent hearing reports that could have been summarized in an email, the truth is getting a diverse set of perspectives on a problem and a collection of brains thinking together can be just what you're team needs to find a creative solution. As I've studied creative people and innovative companies, I found that  what separates creative teams and people from noncreative ones is mostly just the language we use to describe ourselves and the creative process.

Toward that end, here are 4 phrases that can fuel the creative fire of any team: 

1. "Yes, AND..."

Research into brainstorming has yielded mixed results. While some studies show that more ideas are generated by individuals working alone than all together in a room, others show that the right facilitator can enhance the total number of ideas. The trick is to let ideas build on top of one another. "Yes, AND" is a technique from improv comedy where actors know not to contradict or correct each other, but to keep finding a way to build off of each others. When someone offers an idea...even one you don't like...say "Yes, and" before suggesting one of your own.

2. "What would our competitors do to beat us?"

Instead of thinking up what you should do, think about how your rivals are working to counteract what you're already doing? How would you drive yourself out of the market? Research suggests that we're able to think of more creative solutions when our frame of reference is someone else, rather than ourselves. In addition, if you think of what you're competitors would do to steal your customers, you can think of ways to turn that around and gain more customers yourself.

3. "What would have to be true for this idea to work?"

We're terrible at judging creative ideas. Research has shown that, while most of us say we want more creative ideas, we're actually more likely to harbor a hidden bias against new and untested ideas. When someone on your team presents an idea, and it's shot down, it can signal to the whole team to play it safe and turn down their creativity. Instead of saying yes or no, ask what factors we would have to judge the idea on and involve the whole team in thinking through if that idea has merit.

4. "Where might we be wrong?"

Despite decades of warning from the research on groupthink, we still have a tendency to move toward consensus whenever we gather in groups. The downside is that the divergent thinking that could yield a breakthrough often gets silenced in the service of cohesion. Even worse, sometimes we become blind to the weakness of the ideas the group is falling in love with. When consensus is setting in, a simple challenge to the "rightness of the idea might be all you need to encourage the divergence needed to round out your thought process.

These are just a few phrases to try next time you're meeting to solve a problem or find new ideas and there are definitely more. Meetings can be a drain, or they can level up the creativity of a whole team...it all comes down to how we run them.

Published on: Jul 20, 2016