Creative Meetings: Controlling the Meeting

For churches that have unsuccessfully experimented with Creative Team Planning, what is most likely the worst part of creative team meetings is making order out of the chaos of a chorus of voices and opinions.

It’s Not Chaotic or Controlled – It’s Both

When you open up the floor to creative ideas in the initial brainstorming part of the meeting, there’s a certain amount of chaotic activity that should occur. This is the time when a slews of ideas, concepts and opinions are shared and bounced around. In this initial phase, the designated note taker (on a white board – or  use mind-mapping software) will capture as much as possible and not stop the flow of ideas.

But, there’s a lot more to it than just spewing out ideas and writing them down.

A sure fire way to keep people from adding to the conversation is to not allow the brainstorming time to be fun. This should be a time of laughing, silliness, crazy ideas and lots of group interaction. Some pastors are freaked out by this concept because silly, crazy ideas often don’t turn out to be practical. ‘Why bother with crazy ideas if we’ll never see one happen?’, you might ask. That’s a good question and a good example.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide everything into two groups, and those who don’t. – Anonymous

Many of us tend to either have a stronger tendency towards being imaginative or being practical. Sure, we can do both, but our natural inclination would be to be more weighted towards one or the other. I’m more weighted towards the logical side, but due to my ENTJ personality, I’m also highly imaginative.

Here’s the point: during the meeting, it’s imperative that the logical-minded crowd doesn’t stifle the imaginative crowd with practical limitations. Let those zany ideas roll and whittle down the list after the brainstorming is done. Plus, you never know when a zany idea will actually work or even when it will spark another idea that is more practical!

Roger von Oech, a creative genius, says it this way:

A good analogy for the need for both types of thinking in the creative process is a potter making a vase. If you’ve ever done any work with clay, you know that it’s a lot easier to shape, mold and throw the clay if it has softness to it. By the same token, after the vase has been shaped, it has no practical value until it has been put into a kiln and fired. Both the hard and soft elements are required but at different times.

As great ideas emerge from the not-so-good or good ideas list, the chaos is turned to order by the leader (there has to be one!) as only great ideas are circled/highlighted/underlined to give a sense of direction to the flow of the meeting.

Develop the Metaphor

My friends Jason Moore and Len Wilson of Midnight Oil Productions are masters of teaching about metaphors. I highly recommend you visit their website and pour over their archived articles and and purchase their books. At the risk of not measuring up, I’ll go ahead and post some of my thoughts about developing a metaphor in creative team meetings.

Hopefully, the pastor will come to the meeting with a general direction for a message. Maybe that will include a topic, specific verse, theme or entire book of the Bible. Sometimes the pastor will even come to the meeting with a title in mind. That’s all very helpful, but an understanding must exist with the group before the brainstorming begins: While the pastor has ultimate veto power and control of the message, the group must have the freedom to come up with alternate titles, verses and themes. Remember, if the group doesn’t have creative input, the creative team process will fail.

I subscribe to the same school of thought as Len and Jason when it comes to metaphors: people retain more information when they can more easily relate the message to something they know. I have to say that I’ve sat through far too many sermons where the message was very informative and Biblically accurate but completely useless to apply into my life. Jesus masterfully took complex subjects and made them so very easy to understand. In his teaching ministry, he was a master metaphor communicator, so I feel compelled to tell stories metaphorically as often as possible!

Work Through the Six Hats

In my first post, I talked about Edward DeBono’s brilliant book on organizing and running creative brainstorming meetings. DeBono famously worked with NASA and said ‘you know how people say it doesn’t take a rocket scientistto do something? Well, I had a room full of rocket scientists and they couldn’t self-organize for a productive creative meeting.’ His book, Six Thinking Hats, is a fun and highly recommended read.

White Hat:
With this thinking hat you focus on the data available. Look at the information you have, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and either try to fill them or take account of them. This is where you analyze past trends, and try to extrapolate from historical data.

Red Hat:
With the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also try to think how other people will react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.

Black Hat:
Using black hat thinking, look at all the bad points of the decision. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.

Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans ‘tougher’ and more resilient. It can also help you to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action.

Yellow Hat:
The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.

Green Hat:
The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. A whole range of creativity tools can help you here.

Blue Hat:
The Blue Hat stands for process control. This is the hat worn by people chairing meetings. When running into difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking, etc.

There’s still so much more…

Assigning different people to wear different “hats” is part of the process (dependent upon their personalities), but there’s still more to it than that. Some leaders will stifle creative thinking by not understanding which “hat” their teammates should wear.

The amount a person uses her imagination is inversely proportional to the amount of punishment she will receive for using it. – Anonymous

Clearly, there’s more to DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats than I have room to share here. In the next post, I’ll cover thewhen and where of creative team planning meetings. 

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Anthony Coppedge
Anthony has worked in the secular world of A/V, the ministry world of church staff and the para-church ministry of three companies that serve the church space (Auxano, Fellowship Technologies and Worlds of Wow!). Today, his consultancy focuses on helping churches and para-church ministries leverage appropriate systems, processes and technologies for more effective ministry. Anthony leads out of his strengths of effectively caring for people, efficiently managing resources and enabling scalable growth. He has been consulting, teaching, writing and speaking to church and business leaders for nearly 20 years.