A great way to juice up your creativity sessions is to choose a different environment. A conference room inside your regular office building is easy and convenient – but it is also familiar, dull and lacking in stimulation. People are tempted to wander off back to their desks at breaks, to read their e-mails or to chat to colleagues.
The normal alternative to the office is an off-site meeting at a local hotel. But this is not much better. Hotel meeting rooms are typically bland, anodyne and boring. By choosing somewhere more radical you send a message that delegates will be out of the office and can think ‘out of the office’ thoughts.
Here are some venues that have been successfully used for creative thinking meetings:
? A zoo. Delegates walk around the zoo and choose an animal. On their return they have to argue passionately why their animal should be used as a model for the company. They focus on the animal’s attributes – for example, an owl has great vision and what we need is to establish a clear vision to replace conflicting messages.
? An art gallery or a museum. A business challenge is issued and then the delegates wander around the place drawing inspiration and stimulation from the paintings or artefacts they see. They return bursting with ideas.
? A football (or other sports) stadium. Delegates can walk on the pitch and see the sports photos and memorabilia. Sports metaphors abound.
? A castle or stately home. What lessons from history can we learn and apply today? What would the great entrepreneurs, leaders, innovators and empire-builders of the past have done with our types of challenge?
John R. Hoke III is Nike Inc.’s chief design guru. One way that he sets conditions to arouse his team is with ‘design inspiration trips’. He sends his team to the zoo to observe and sketch animals’ feet. He’ll hold a lecture on the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly or bring in Eva Zeisel to discuss structure and forms. The Detroit car show is an annual pilgrimage that he makes and his reason for going is more about drawing inspiration from sleek lines, styling and colour schemes than fascination with automobiles. ‘I go to the show, and I’m not even looking at cars’, Hoke says. ‘I’m looking at form, surfacing, and silhouette. I’m looking at the assembly of materials, the depth of colour.’ One design camp involved an excursion into origami with its rigorous focus on constraints. Designers were asked to build an ergonomic chair out of cardboard. Instead of conventional glues, participants had to concentrate on folding and bending. Then Hoke threw in another twist: The judging would be based on whether the new seats could hold people in a contest of musical chairs. Hoke also brought in an Israeli origami artist as a tutor, and ‘we had designers fold paper for three days’, he says. ‘The ideas that have come from that session are phenomenal. It forced us to look deeper at flexibility and how geometry works.’ Instead of cutting and sewing, he says, ‘what about crimping, folding, and bending?’ (Hoke, quoted from an article in Business Week published on 28 November 2005).
A change of environment can help engender a change in attitudes, so think about changing the environment in your office and also about using entirely different venues. Being somewhere novel will assist your people to think novel thoughts.