Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

Is Forced Creativity The Best We Can Do?

Real creative dialogue leads to deeper relationships, not just better solutions. And it often comes from simply taking your time.

I recently engaged in a Productive Thinking session where the stakes were very high and the interests truly in conflict. PT is a powerful creative problem-solving technique and we had high hopes, but in the end, it didn't offer us a solution. However, the month-long effort led to something more important – real understanding and connection. And miraculously, a few weeks after we'd given up on problem-solving, a solution emerged. It's clear now that it wouldn't have emerged without the understanding and empathy we had found in our creative problem-solving dialogues.

The act of creative dialogue with another person is an act of receiving. Ideally the parties would come from a place of calm – making space for the appreciating, exploring, and challenging that the creative process demands. That calm requires release from the urgency of producing results. And, in my experience, release is not truly possibly in a single working session. Yes, I think it's possible to force a creative solution from a group in a marathon problem-solving session. For groups unaccustomed to creative work, forcing can serve to "throw open the gates". But I don't think a forced solution will be the best solution. And it won't develop the deep empathetic bonds that colleagues need to be creative, together, on a day-to-day basis.

This observation applies emphatically to a company's leadership culture, from managers to the boardroom. The time demands placed on senior management, especially, encourage immediate resolutions and gut-level decisions. That kind of leadership tends to concentrate decision-making in the hands of the individual rather than in the wisdom of the group. It is eventually disempowering, and discourages the open-ended calm that real creative dialogue demands. There may be short-term gain in quick decision-making, but in the long-term it is a very weak strategy.

Therefore, my recommendation to all problem-solvers everywhere is to take your time. Let the process extend over days or weeks. Learn to respect silent reflection. And most of all – be willing to give up! Sometimes, it takes the release of giving up to make way for the miracles.