Can you remember the last time you got a group of people together to come up with creative solutions to a problem? Think about who was in the room with you. Were there any unexpected characters, or were the usual suspects wheeled in?
Something we see in teams all over the world is people unintentionally limiting their creativity by getting the same people together to generate ideas. This is problematic because they will often fall victim to ‘group think’. If you haven’t heard the term before, this basically describes the phenomenon where people who work together for an extended period of time start to think the same. For idea generation, this equates to the team coming up with the same types of solutions.
Psychologists at Sungkyunkwan University and the Kellogg School of Management questioned whether this was the best way to go about coming up with ideas. In this studythey looked at the effect of team membership and our ability to think creatively. Participants were placed into two conditions; the first was a group of existing teams and the second was a group of existing teams that had a new member introduced to each team. Both groups of teams were then given creative problem solving tasks. The researchers found that the teams that had a new member generated more ideas and more different kinds of ideas than those who worked in their existing teams. What’s interesting about this is that the new member actually triggered new thoughts, emotions and ideas in every other person, boosting the creative performance of the team.
At Inventium, we call this technique ‘Externals’, and it has a significant impact on the quantity and quality of the ideas generated in a workshop. Not only do these external participants increase the creative performance of everyone in their group, but they also break down ‘group think’ by disrupting group norms and asking questions about how things are done and why. We talk about externals in two ways:
Internal Externals – people from inside your organisation, who are far enough removed from your team, but will still have an understanding of your organisation. For example, if you are working in a finance team, perhaps there is someone in the IT department who could offer a completely different perspective on the challenge.
External Externals – people from outside your organisation, who will have an entirely different perspective on the challenge you’re facing. Perhaps there is someone from a parallel industry or a completely different market who can challenge the team with their diversity.
A great external is someone who is highly creative and can work well in small groups. So, when you’re planning your next idea generation workshop or problem solving meeting, have a think about who you can invite. FYI – I’m still waiting to hear back from Jim Carrey… I’m sure my invitation to him just got lost in the mail#AceVenturaFan.
If you’d like to find out more about how to test scientifically for creative aptitude, or have any insights or questions for how to find great externals, you can contact me via email:email@example.com or Twitter,@fasttrackjudy.