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Facilitating the Creative Process

There are so many factors that influence the way that a structured creative thinking process unfolds that it’s not surprising that every now and then the process seems to get, well….. just stuck. It’s not always the easiest thing to address these factors directly, you may not be able to change the working environment, or make sure that people get sufficient sleep, or even provide all the data that the process warrants, but, as a facilitator, your intervention can be critical in ensuring that the result is a positive one. So what’s available to you as effective unblocking approaches? Heres a free checklist that might help your groups develop a coherent presentation of their creative ideas - RSVP Design 7i Process

In general what you’re trying to do when your group is ‘stuck’ in their attempts to develop creative solutions is to ‘break state’. This means lifting people out of a negative spiral that goes along the lines of ‘the ideas aren’t coming - get anxious - the anxiety blocks free thinking’. It’s a bit like not being able to go to sleep the night before a big meeting, and the only way to break the spiral is to change the mental state we choose when we engage with the situation.

If you read the situation as indicating that the group is profoundly, paralysingly, stuck and need a major intervention to lift them out of this, it might mean taking a break and doing something that creates a totally different emotional state. Taking a walk works well as it introduces some physical activity as well as a change of scene, visiting a new and calming environment such as an art gallery can have the same effect. My most successful intervention of this type involved taking to group to a public aquarium, where the calm environment and engagement with animals led to a very positive response which carried through into the creative process.

Where such a break from the working environment isn’t appropriate or available, many of the benefits can be derived from getting the group to engage in a short bout of alternative activity. Having them buy in the materials for their own lunch then work together to prepare the meal  seems to work. Alternatively there are lots of purpose-made activities that can be introduced. RSVP Design offer a wide range of such activities, and here are a selection.

Seeing the problem from a different viewpoint means a change in our current mental state, and the use of images that challenge current thinking is a simple way to achieve this transition. We have many different card decks which can be employed around questions such as “what does this card suggest as a different way of tackling this issue?” or instructions such as “choose a card that resonates for you when you think about the process we’ve been using to address this issue”. 

We can also usefully get people to step back and reflect on the way that the ‘being stuck’ has developed. Making them aware of how their group process or interpersonal exchanges have affected their creative output can offer very significant insights on how they might choose to work differently. Our favourites, being short, impactful and very reliable are Challenging Assumptions and Seeing the Point. Used individually or in combination thy have the potential to really shake a group out of the negative spiral described above.

Finally there is a lot to be said for simply injecting a lot of energy into the group. Breaking state by introducing a fun but constructive and engaging activity works very well, and even an element of competition between sub-groups can be a positive if you keep it light-hearted. I’ve used Webmaster and especially Team Balance for this purpose on several occasions, and I’ve found that 15 - 30 minutes of absorbing, fun and often loud, activity will pay dividends when the group return to their creative deliberations!

Dr. Geoff Cox