Using creativity to get more from less

Using creativity to get more from less. That was the title of the Masterclass I ran for MPI UK and Ireland’s Conference entitled ‘Delivering Creative Events within Budget’.  It’s interesting that the title of the session was also, in a way, a definition of creativity.

It’s great that so many businesses are suddenly interested in using their creativity more. They’ve realised that if money is tight – it’s time to think. What we discovered on the day was that the success of a meeting is not always proportional to the amount of money spent on it. We looked at what would happen if we did things differently – took all our methods and processes for organising a meeting and then put them back together again in a totally different way.

I always like to open with a song. Sometimes I write a bespoke song but this time I already had written one that encapsulated what we were going to discuss (a more interesting way of saying what we’re going to cover than a bullet-point list). There’s one line in the song that says, “Just one good idea, could see your way clear”. Ideas cost nothing. Your next idea could be the big one, could be the one that changes everything.

Are you capable of generating a genius idea that could revolutionise your business? Can anyone or everyone be creative? The answer, of course is ‘yes’. Being creative, being able to solve problems, to innovate and make things better is part of being human. We can all do it. But some don’t. Why is that do you think? Why is it that some people are just dull? Why is it that most of us aren’t quite as creative and inventive as we think we should be? What’s going on?

The answer is that people have blockages around their potential, like a restrictive barrier that they (or sometimes well meaning parents, teachers or others) have placed there. The zone within the barrier becomes your comfort zone and you cease to be able to move outside of it. The barrier could be lack of confidence in your own abilities or fear of looking foolish. Sometimes these are masked by self congratulatory statements like “I’m sensible and reliable. I don’t want to be one of those ‘creative’ people”.

So the first thing we need to do to generate more ideas is to get rid of such nonsense by finding out what the real barriers to innovation are. We do this by asking questions like “Why can’t we do that? Why not?” and “What if?”. If the answer is “because that’s the way we’ve always done it”, then you know you’ve found an artificial barrier to progress. Smash through it.

The second thing we need to do is to be aware that the people we work with will have similar barriers to their idea generation ability. Make sure you help them by creating an environment where people feel they’re able to contribute without judgement (judgemental thinking is the real creativity killer).

The third thing to realise is that we should never attempt to generate ‘great ideas’. By qualifying them as ‘great’ before we even start means you’re already judging and filtering. Don’t. Those things activate the wrong part of the brain and will close down further ideas. That’s why it’s a better idea to actually try to think of ‘bad’ ideas. This works because it’s fun, which helps in itself. It works because some of the bad ideas are actually great ideas that you would never have thought of otherwise, or, sometimes if you invert the bad idea you find something amazing that works. All ideas are valuable and welcome, even ‘poor’ ones because they all spur on further ideas. That’s why you must never cut them short.

This is the process we then applied to the meetings industry. We divided the room into teams who would each generate 21 ideas for one of the four areas of the industry we deemed were ripe for innovation:

1. Before the meeting: how can we get people more excited?

2. The logistics of the meeting: how can we provide a richer experience?
3. Core activities: how can we add more value and gain better results for the client
4. Legacy:how can we make the messages stick, the meeting memorable, and have lasting impact?Each team generated (in a very short space of time I must add) at least 21 ideas on how those things could be achieved. That’s at least 126 ideas.If you go through this process, the next stage is to then take those raw ideas and invert them, modify them, combine them. Think what they make you think about and generate more by improving them. Then choose which ones you are going to act on, and do it. Creative thinking is only the halfway point. Creative ‘doing’ is what we need.

If we expand our thinking by getting rid of perceived imagined barriers, build confidence with those we work with, create a positive atmosphere of optimistic excitement we will find that we can all generate the kind of ideas that can improve every aspect of what we do.

By being more creative we really can achieve more with less.

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