I sat in a corporate meeting staring at the tired, drawn faces of those around the table. Silence was filled only by the clicking of Blackberry keys until the moderator came in and started trying to dial the speaker phone to bring in some other zombies to this graveyard of a meeting. I tried to keep my energy high, planning the baseball bat that would knock the heads off these zombie stares (if you watch zombie movies, you know what I’m saying :)).
I was to lead a meeting that would ignite a stalled project. A PowerPoint deck of approximately 36 pages was handed out. The presentation was met with what it deserved – little sighs and people going to the last page to see how long it was, which is exactly what I would have done. I stood up and said “Hi, I’m Donna Highfill, and that huge piece of dread sitting in front of you is my work. Lucky for you that’s just reference material that you can look at later. Today we’re going to talk about ourselves for a while, and we’re going to start by drawing a picture.” There were some grumbles, but suddenly people looked up from the “deck of dread” and looked at me.
I had them put the PowerPoint deck away, and then handed out a single page of white paper with crayons. “I want you to draw how you feel about this project right now. Start by drawing a house that represents the project, and then create an environment around it. Maybe you’ll have a rainbow if you feel hope, or a descending downpour if you think trouble is coming. Go.”
I had high level executives coloring like crazy. Their faces went from drawn and pale to animated. Their eyes danced with ideas. They started fighting over crayon colors (everybody always fights for “Azure” for some reason), some people hogging the ones they thought they would need later. When they presented their pictures they narrated them in detail, and we soon had a strong start to determining the strengths and weaknesses of the project.
I think creativity walks through too many company doors and dies of boredom and lack of use. Leaders think that graphs and statistics make them look smart and prove their point. Okay, we all need data to make informed decisions, but we aren’t moved by them. Creativity allows people to use that side of their brain that gets everything unstuck by thinking in a unique way.
If you want to create energy around any project it starts with:
1. An ability to connect with stories. You can preach numbers to me all day, I still say people don’t really connect and commit until you touch their heart. A story about you, or the company, or the project can save months of trying to get people involved with bright colors on a fifty-page Excel spreadsheet.
2. A unique approach. If you need your group to solve a problem, start with a puzzle they have to put together. Put paper plates, paper clips, and pipe cleaners on a table and tell them to build a bridge. Get their problem solving abilities going because I guarantee they’ve been asleep for a while.
3. A chance to create. Whether you’re talking about a project or how to sell to new clients, people need to be forced to really, really think. Give them a picture of a typical client, then give them a cut-out of a person and say “This is the salesperson. To make this sale, where is the one place she must be?”
Every single person in a meeting used to know how to create – they used to look at clouds and see dinosaurs, they used to make up brand new games, they drew faces on their chins and hung upside down and gave presentations (okay, maybe I was the only one that did that :)).
That same creativity must be reawakened so that companies can stop being meeting assembly lines and become think tanks where the trees can be blue and employees can expand the company’s success by coloring outside the lines. Whether it be stories or coloring books, we need to replace our PowerPoint mentality with our sleeping Picassos.