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I was at a conference last week where one of my co-presenters in a session on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion got me thinking (Thank you Dr. Risdon). We were talking about how to better communicate, how to better use our time, how to leverage teams, and how to ensure that all necessary voices are at the table and that all are heard. She explained that as she leads her Faculty she is ridding them of their idea of how meetings operate and their expected outcomes. She has introduced the concept of gatherings as opposed to meetings, where different tools (liberating structures) are used to better engage all members of the team.

I’ve been thinking about this conversation ever since and it led me to reconsider a book I read some time ago; Creative Conspiracy by Leigh Thompson1. In re-reading it this week I discovered some nuggets that may be helpful as you either continue to meet virtually or move back to more in person gatherings.

I don’t know about you, but the majority of things that I want to accomplish at CAHSPR, in my advocacy role and in my life in general, require that I work with others. In fact, my success often depends on how well (or not) we collaborate! Thompson expands on the notion of collaboration to move us beyond the concept of working together towards a common goal, to that of creative collaboration, which describes the ability of team members and leaders to come together to generate new and useful ideas. Thompson argues that the teams that can meet the creative challenges that have been presented to them are in fact the hallmark of the most successful organizations.

She sets the stage for imagining new ways of leveraging creativity by first exploring and busting some myths about collaboration and creativity in her book. I have to admit, when I assessed my beliefs about the various myths presented, I believed, or at least subscribed to most of them. Reading through the myths and their accepted status as a kind of pseudo science, helped me to think differently and to purposefully challenge myself to take a critical look at the workings of the teams I am part of, and my role in them. It’s time for me to re-examine and challenge my assumptions and beliefs. I’ll start here with this myth that Thompson unpacks:

Team members should first brainstorm as a group to get the creative juices flowing: then work alone

Like many, I have held the belief that being in a group energizes and motivates people to think creatively and that this kind of brainstorming sparks more ideas. Thompson is of the belief that the opposite is in fact true. The counter argument she presents is that it is almost always better to work independently before moving into the group. The argument goes that when brainstorming alone we are in a state of thought, of contemplation rather than action. The evidence she presents shows that when we are with others in a team-meeting we are “doing”, making plans, setting agendas, none of which serve creativity well. The issue of peer pressure, personality types and willingness or ability for all to share ideas is also called in question when we brainstorm as a group. This is new thinking for me to grapple with.

One of the pearls I took from this book is that a successful creative conspiracy starts with a single person who thinks perceptively about how to energize and ignite the members of a team. Thompson encourages us to think of the goal we are trying to achieve. She notes, “you can’t abandon the mission. But you can change how you get there.” I’m going to take this pearl to heart and will be thinking differently about how we meet, why we meet and how we can optimize the talents and energy of the people we work with. Here’s to building a culture of creative conspiracy!

1 Thompson, Leigh. Creative Conspiracy: the new rules of breakthrough collaboration. Harvard Business Review Press, 2013

Maggie Keresteci

Executive Director, CAHSPR