The Role of Conversation in Creative Problem-Solving

I recently spoke with creativity consultant and expert, Dr. Amy Climer, about the role conversation plays in her work to ignite creativity for teams. Amy affirms, “Conversation plays a BIG role in creativity. How someone reacts to other people’s ideas either elevates or kills creativity in the moment.” She emphasized that creativity requires people to be open to one another, making it safe for people to brainstorm without fear of criticism.  She noted that she encourages specific and positive framing for each step of the 4-part process. “You have to make room for divergent thinking before convergent thinking.”  She goes on to say, “Creativity is not linear, but the process is presented in a linear/cyclical way. In practice, it might mean moving back and forth between two stages before moving forward. Understanding the process helps team members know what kind of conversation is appropriate at any given point on their journey towards creative outcomes.”

The Importance of Conversation and Process

Amy emphasizes that both conversation and process are important for creativity. She teaches teams to begin with conversations that clarify their purpose. Such conversations help team members develop a shared understanding about the focus of their session, the needs, the outcomes, and any criteria needed for creative solutions. The next step in the process, Ideation, calls for conversations grounded in openness. People need to feel safe throwing out ideas without fear of being judged.

Generative Questions Are Essential

Asking generative questions inspires creativity. “Generative questions play an important role in fostering creativity and those questions differ depending upon where we are in the process,” Amy says. She goes on to say there are specific sentence stems that she teaches teams to use, such as “How might we . . .?” Such questions don’t ask for a single answer (compared to “How should we . . .”) they encourage ideation, creativity, and imagination. Further questions begin with

  • What are all the ways we might . . .?
  • In what ways might we . . .?
  • How to  . . . ?

Amy says lots of people want to analyze or critique ideas as they come up. She continuously reminds people to stick to the process.  “Part of the reason,” she explains, “is we use different parts of the brain for ideation and assessment. Assessment and critique actually shut down the parts of the brain we need for ideation and creativity.” People who excel at analysis are encouraged to know that in the next phase the conversation will shift to convergent thinking where they select the best ideas.” At this time, questions change again. Conversations are around converging on the ideas that will meet agreed upon criteria, support best outcomes, and deliver on results. Once an idea is selected, the conversation shifts again. This time guided by questions such as, “How might we implement this idea?” and “Who needs to do what for this to be successful?” Tone and direction for the conversation is about breathing life into the idea: Prototyping or piloting, planning, and taking responsibility.

4 Principles for Creativity Conversations

I asked Amy if there are common principles at play for her clients who successfully have conversations that foster creativity. She confirmed there are four:

  1. BE OPEN. Have an open mindset and be willing to be influenced. “It’s important to hang in and see what happens. If a few people are open, it helps make it safer for everyone else to be open.”
  2. EXPECT MANY POSSIBILITIES. Be aware there is no “right” answer.
  3. HOLD A WE ATTITUDE. When team members are humble and unconcerned about getting credit for having the selected answer, the team is usually more creative and more successful.
  4. EMBRACE DIVERSITY. Understand and accept the unique and even sometimes quirkiness of your team members. Recognize and value differences and different styles.

Amy also pointed out that it is important for team members to recognize how important each person’s words and actions are. Any one person can derail or uplift the conversation any time they speak (verbally or non-verbally). “It is not just the leader who has power,” Amy notes, “Every team member has great power. And with great power comes great responsibility.”

Amy Climer, Ph.D.   Dr. Amy Climer works with teams who want to be amazing, collaborate at a higher level, and solve problems creatively. Her clients describe her as approachable, inspiring, and transformative. Amy has a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change. She developed the Deliberate Creative™ Teams Scale to help teams understand how to increase their creativity. Amy is the host of The Deliberate Creative™ Podcast where she shares practical advice and strategies to help leaders build innovative teams. Connect with Amy and learn more at climerconsulting.com.

Check out Amy’s podcasts on Conversations Worth Having.

Note: The process Amy uses is called Creative Problem Solving. There are 4 stages: Clarify, Ideate, Develop, Implement. There is a visual and more details at climerconsulting.com/003.

Cheri Torres

Author Cheri Torres

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