Executing On Creativity

I’ve just finished delivering a ZIG ZAG workshop at the “Convene LIVE” annual event, hosted by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) in beautiful Ottawa, Canada. The theme of this year’s event was “Executing on Creativity.” In addition to my workshop today, Todd Henry delivered yesterday’s workshop on the theme of his 2011 book, The Accidental Creative.

Todd Henry on his new book “Die Empty”

I arrived a day early so I could watch Todd’s workshop; he does great stuff and I was eager to see him in action. His title was “Harnessing creativity: Concepts and processes that lead to everyday brilliance.” His session closely followed the messages from his book. For example, the second half of his session was about the “five elements of rhythm”:

  • Focus (staying focused on business priorities, vision, and what’s important)
  • Relationships (interacting with people who will help you get great ideas)
  • Energy (how to sustain a high energy level)
  • Stimuli (make sure you expose yourself constantly to new and interesting stimuli)
  • Hours (time management)

My overall take-home from Todd’s talk: great advice about productivity, work effectiveness, and time management, but with a particular focus on creative professionals. Todd’s message reminded me of Scott Belsky (the author of Making Ideas Happen). I had a chance to watch Scott’s awesome keynote when he and I both gave keynotes at the Creativity World Forum in Belgium in 2011.

My workshop today was four hours, giving me plenty of time to engage the audience with hands-on activities from all eight steps of the creative process (each step has one chapter in Zig Zag):

  1. ASK: Find and formulate the problem
  2. LEARN: Acquire knowledge relevant to the problem
  3. LOOK: Gather a broad range of potentially related information
  4. PLAY: Take time off for incubation
  5. THINK: Generate a large variety of ideas
  6. FUSE: Combine ideas in unexpected ways
  7. CHOOSE: Select the best ideas
  8. MAKE: Externalize your ideas

Here are some photos of the attendees, using the “Affinity Diagram” technique to develop creative solutions for planning their next meeting.

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And I learned a lot about event planning! Thanks to Kelly Peacy of PCMA for doing such a great job organizing the event.

Tips to Maximize Creativity at Work


These tips, from Scientific American Mind, are all also found in the book Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity:

  • Become an expert. You need a solid knowledge base. (Zig Zag Chapter 2: LEARN)
  • Observe. Carefully study how people use what they currently have, and what problems they face. (Zig Zag Chapter 3: LOOK)
  • Know your audience. Walk in the shoes of the intended consumer. (Again, LOOK)
  • Step out of your comfort zone. Seek activities outside your field of expertise. (LOOK again)
  • Be willing to work alone. Balance group time with alone time.
  • Talk to outsiders about your work. This helps with novel perspectives. (Research on how to balance solitary and group time is in my book Group Genius)
  • Have fun. A good mood helps! (Zig Zag Chapter 4: PLAY)
  • Take a nap or let your mind wander. Sleep and daydreaming can get you past the impasse. (Again, PLAY)
  • Take a break. Occupy your mind with a different task. (PLAY again!)
  • Challenge yourself. Disrupt your daily routine. Go beyond your initial idea and look for more. Try to improve on other people’s answers. (Zig Zag Chapters 5 and 6, THINK and FUSE)

This is a wonderful set of advice, prepared by Professor Evangelia G. Chrysikou of the University of Kansas.

Creativity Advice “Greatest Hits”

You should really take a look at the free “creativity sampler” containing excerpts from some of the best-selling creativity advice books. And guess what: It’s completely legit; the publisher of all of these books (Wiley) is putting this out for free:


Here are some quick summaries of the authors and material in the sampler:

  • Josh Linkner’s Disciplined Dreaming. Linkner draws on jazz improvisation as a metaphor for innovation and collaboration.
  • Keith Sawyer’s Zig Zag. My latest book, published April 2013, maps out the 8-step creative process and contains over 100 fun exercises to enhance your creativity.
  • Shelley Carson’s Your Creative Brain. Carson draws on brain science to identify a core set of creativity “habits of mind” and also provides hands-on techniques.
  • David Burkus’s The Myths of Creativity. Challenges many of the common creativity misconceptions.
  • Ken Robinson’s Out Of Our Minds. Sir Ken’s TedX talk continues to be the most watched of all TedX talks. This book, published even before he was invited to TedX, describes how to transform schools to foster greater creativity.

Where else can you find so much free creativity advice, from five leading experts? Of course, we all hope you’ll read this and then want to buy the books 🙂