How to Be Innovative in Meetings

The desire for a meeting to create innovative responses is huge – very often we hear: “we must come up with new, innovative ideas and responses to our questions and problems! Can you make it happen?”. That’s an excellent question: can we intentionally be innovative at a particular moment?

We often experience that people in an event – sponsors, organisers, participants – express their expectation that the outcome of the event is innovative, yet they are not really open to be innovative in terms of how the event itself is designed, structured and facilitated. That’s a bit of a startling and daunting situation:how can you expect outcomes to be innovative if you stifle innovation along the way to that goal? How (and why) can you expect things to be different and change if you yourself are not willing to be innovative in the ways to get to innovation?

The leas, innovation demands inevitably in terms of a meeting format is, that the meeting itself embodies innovative ways of thinking, engaging and working. Based loosely on Einstein’s quote “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them”, one could say that it is not possible to produce innovative ideas and solutions by using conventional forms of workshops.

One needs to consider how innovation takes place. First it must be distinct of “incremental improvement”. Experts – due to the characteristics of their knowledge and expertise (which relies on past experience that they analysed and researched extensively) – are often among the most conservative people and as such seldom the source of innovation; what is often largely underestimated is the fact that any expert – like everybody else – has a particular and as such very limited perspective on complex issues, ie. only perceives a limited segment of reality (ie. the “expert’s view”). What is needed is to bring together an abundant group of different people with different perspectives that collide and – in this space of confrontation of thinking – cross-pollinate.
On the ambiguous role of experts with view to innovation, you may want to watch this video of Dave Snowden:

Furthermore, what is needed is the creation of a significant level of discomfort and confusion (in some form) as the basis of innovation (the “room of confusion” in the terminology of Claes Janssen, or a “shallow dive into chaos” as Dave Snowden calls it). It is indispensable to leave the ground of certainty, people must be shaken up! This causes the pressure to abandon fix positions, to shift perspective and look at things in different ways. In fact Snowden says it takes three elements – starvation, pressure and a shift of perspective – as necessary (yet not sufficient) preconditions for innovation:

Lastly, fragmentation of issues into “topics” is often detrimental to the discovery of new, improved solutions, because they lead always to a loss of the big picture, of the understanding how different elements and aspects of a situation or system interdepend and interact. An issue must be dealt with in its entirety and interconnectedness. The Sufi proverb goes: “You think that because you understand one, you understand two, because one and one makes two. But you must also understand and”. This is often grossly violated in many events (by “cutting the issue up” into different themes, topics and sub-issues, that are dealt with in individual sub-sessions or parts of the workshop).

So if we want to have any chance to be innovative in our events, it may ask from us to be really innovative in the way we design those very events in the first place…

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