We are often called upon to come up with new ideas under the most difficult circumstances. This is especially the case when asked to 'be creative' in a work environment, especially in a group creativity situation. We get an email that says, "Brainstorming Meeting at 2. Bring your best ideas!" We enter the room nervous, and hopeful, and anxious, and trying to display a patina of confidence regardless of how we may actually feel.
At precisely 2, the meeting leader explains the various problems his/her boss dumped down earlier that morning and asks everyone in the room for some shiny new possibilities that could be offered as solutions. Often the leader is not so warm and fuzzy and actually has very few ideas to contribute, which is why you have been called into the meeting in the first place. This does not prevent him/her from lambasting everyone to come up with something worthwhile he/she can pass on to an equally hard to please supervisor. That's just the way it is.
So how do you make it work? How do you win? How do you turn a potential pit of snakes and problems into one of your bright shining moments? It's easier than you think, and if you can simply allow yourself the chance to be creative, the best of you and the best of your ideas will emerge.
Remember that these kinds of meetings usually begin with a slow grinding noise as people look around to see who is going to jump in first. Never jump in first. The first ideas are usually the sacrificial lambs anyway. While the room is overcoming its inertia, more than likely you are still looking around the soft corners of your cerebral cortex wondering where all that creativity is hiding.
Shortly you will be called upon to speak up and share your treasure with the rest of the room. This is not a time for panic. It is a time for peace. Remember that your creative instinct has been handed down to you over many thousands of generations by people who had to create just to survive. It is your genetic destiny to think of things that have not been thought of before.
So take a deep breath and enjoy the next few minutes. You will be fine, and somewhere along the line your creative instinct will come up with some great idea. Especially if you follow these seven steps and engage the best of you and your creative purpose.
1) Say nothing, until you have something to say. Spend this time attentive to the pace and pattern of the room. Identify the big talker and watch to see how the other participants are reacting to his/her ideas. Get a sense of the room, before you jump in, like dipping your toe in a stream to see what the temperature is.
2) Listen well. Hear what all the other people are saying, and allow their ideas into your head, into your intellect. They will find refuge or rebuke, but either way they will find something in you. Most importantly, listen to the very last few sentences the other participants use. So often people will summarize their thoughts in a concise and much more sensible fashion at the conclusion of their presentation.
3) Trust that your ideas are worthwhile. Believe in the possibility that many of the ideas flying around your head, whether big or small, are worth the attentions of the room and the other participants. The first thing that comes to mind is often the best thing that comes to mind. But you won't know this if you doubt your own creativity.
4) Please yourself. Creativity is satisfying your own curiosity and finding your own solutions to whatever problem is being solved. If you only say what you think the others in the room will like to hear, you are limiting the reach and breadth of your ideas, and creativity never works well that way. James L. Brooks, the creator of The Simpsons and Taxi and several other iconic shows, believes that creativity is ultimately about pleasing yourself, not anyone else.
5) Treat every idea like it's a good idea. Give each one the benefit of your complete confidence. Present them in such a way that they will, at least, have a chance to win over the room. Be precise and exact, and say them in the shortest and sweetest way possible while still getting the entire idea out of your head and onto the center of the table.
6) Present your idea as a statement, not as a question. Say it like you mean it baby! Make sure the melody matches the lyric. The world would be a different place if President Reagan, standing in front of the Berlin Wall that one afternoon many years ago, had said, "Mr. Gorbachev? Would you tear down this wall... please?"
7) Be open the creative input of your teammates. This is the vital step to a successful engagement of your creativity. Maybe your teammates will like the whole idea or only part of it. Maybe it's almost perfect, but for a few minor changes. Either way, you must be open to all that comes at you, including suggestions, improvement, additions or subtractions.
The more comfortable and contributive you can be in these kinds of creative meetings, the more of them you will be invited to participate in. This will only help broaden your reach and reputation and advance your career. If you can become known as "The Idea Person," you will get invited to every meeting.