A recent Brainzooming post on positive creative thinking skills from team members led to discussion about what the opposite behaviors are – team member behaviors in a group setting that kill creative thinking. Who knows how many different examples there are of ways to deal fatal blows to creative thinking in a group setting?

From a quick mental survey of team meetings and group settings I’ve been involved with the past few years, here are eight behaviors which can kill creative thinking pretty effectively:

  • Making your first comment all about what’s not working with the situation your group is working on, especially when you don’t have any real ideas of your own about what might be successful.
  • Sharing your assumption that creativity is more complicated or expensive than doing something practical.
  • Refusing to stop talking once you have a negative head of steam going.
  • Dumping verbal napalm on other peoples’ ideas, especially if you don’t have a sense of what their ideas are or how they’re intended to work.
  • Refusing to contribute to or build on a new idea someone else has contributed because you’re only able to voice objections to it.
  • Sitting silently and looking distracted, indifferent, or non-participatory when the group is discussing creative thinking perspectives.
  • Getting up and removing yourself from a creative thinking discussion.
  • Displaying “corporate aggressive” behavior in an otherwise calm meeting setting, i.e. raising your voice, leaning forward, stomping off, etc.

If you try to foster creative thinking in group settings, what fatal blows to creative thinking from team members have you had to endure? And even more importantly, how have you dealt with them successfully?  – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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31 Responses to “How Creative Thinking Gets Killed by Team Members – 8 Fatal Blows”

  1. Jan Leslie says:

    The biggest hurdle to creative thinking in a group setting to me has always been the person who won’t stop talking–not negative, just talking. They introduce an idea, then go on and on, restating it in different ways. I often have ideas to build on theirs or to expand their idea to more uses, but they talk so long, I forget what I was going to say. Then, I become one of those distracted people.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Have definitely seen that Jan. That’s why it always helps to jot down the idea! With long talkers, you  almost have to impose time limits (with a timer) or be willing to let them talk themselves out . . . if they ever will.

  2. Great post Mike. I’d add the people that have fallen in love with their idea and won’t let it go — no changes, no other idea trumps theirs. And the people who don’t listen to others then repeat something already stated.

    • Mike Brown says:

      When people say the same thing just to be talking, it drives me crazy. Sometimes that’s from not listening, but it also happens deliberately, too. I put together a whole decision tree on dealing with people in love with their ideas: http://brainzooming.com/managing-client-who-love-their-creative-ideas/7389/

      So good to see you back out online, Stephanie. You’ve been missed!

  3. tannerc says:

    One of the biggest problems presented in creative group sessions is criticism. Undoubtedly there is a place for evaluating ideas, but a brainstorm or creative session is not it.

    Instead, have the group focus on coming up with ideas and not critically analyzing each as they come up. If you’re short on time and really want to make something good come from the meeting or brainstorm, I’ve found that dedicating exactly 50% of your meeting to brainstorming (no critiquing or evaluating ideas allowed) and then the last 50% to critiquing (asking “Which of these ideas are feasible? Which aren’t?”) works wonders for inspiring the group and moving good ideas forward.

    That’s what has worked best for the creative groups I’ve managed, hopefully it can help others too.

    • Mike Brown says:

      The 50-50 balance is intriguing, Tanner. I’ve tended to try and tilt things toward probably 80% divergent thinking and 20% convergent thinking figuring people can get to decisions faster than they can to ideas. It’s definitely worth playing around with that formula.  

  4. Lisa says:

    My experience is lack of focus on the goal.  The clarity of the definition of the goal or problem to be solved.

    The reason for the thinking session in the first place, no?.  Otherwise, everything there on out devolves into personalities and brinkmanship. Poor listening skills, ineffective managers, etc.  Blah, blah.  Often times, the ones with the ideas are the ones sitting and listening and processing.  Not the blow hard yackers.  Have often observed how (with a clear goal, or problem to be solved) the format could be altered to a non-confrontational, get in a room, setting.  It always seems to be a ‘setup’.

    I also don’t think – unless it’s an emergency – ‘spring’ the issue’ in a staff meeting works at all; with subsequent ineffective ‘talk’.  Present the issue, give people time to think about it and formulate ideas.  Define the issue, ask the participants and thank them for their time to come up with their ideas.  Then reconvene.

    Bottom line – most people are engaged in their work and want to make things for the better.  Poor managers stifle it.

    My 2 cents.

    • Mike Brown says:

      The lack of focus on the goal is a big factor, Lisa. Once you lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish, you see a lot of talking that isn’t directed to anything important or constructive. Really appreciate you commenting!

  5. QuinnCreative says:

    Misunderstanding “creative” to mean weird, bizarre, eccentric or fun and then making sure the conversation stays there. Suddenly the creative is turned into a pedantic process-enforcer. Solution: make an agenda for the meeting so instead of looking pedantic, you can be keeping the meeting on track.

    Lisa’s idea of lack of focus on the goal is huge. Combined with lack of knowledge of the audience for the goal (who are our customers and what do they need?) Add to that the wrong people in the room for problems solving and the project is set to fail. Solution: manage the attendee list very carefully.

    The “devil’s advocate” who starts criticizing too soon in order to own the power of saying No. When the creative has to say, “let’s get all the ideas out first, before we start to choose,” the devil’s advocate says, “Fine, but it’s just wasting time.” Which, of course, strikes fear into time-crunched people. Solution: the agenda again. “We have 20 minutes for idea generation, let’s just stick to that.”

    The Drama Queen (or King) who feels less creative and hijacks the meeting by suggesting something impossible, then says, “I’m not really the creative genius, that’s X, so tell us how that would work.” And X is on the spot, either having to say “I can’t explain your idea,” or “I don’t know” which, of course, is the business kiss of death. Excellent way to handle it: “Tell me more, Dramatist, so we can see what you see.”

    The crisis predictor. “This will never work, because there is a huge problem.” “You weren’t here when we tried this before, but I see disaster.” Solution: Never ask this person to describe the problem, ask for the solution to the problem instead. They have no idea and you can move on. Do NOT allow the person to begin describing the problem.

    • Mike Brown says:

      What a great addition to the blog post! Such rich examples with strong solutions for dealing with each of them! Thank you so much for sharing these ideas!

    • Mike Brown says:

      What an incredible response, Quinn! This is a guest post all on its own. Thanks for sharing your multi-dimensional perspective!

  6. Lindsey Lake says:

    This is a great post because I think everyone has been in a situation where someone ruins the team imagination flow. I am a very positive person and I try to make sure to always be supportive of everyone, while still being critical of our work. I think the best way to handle these type of situations is to be smart about how you word things. In group settings it is important to have everyone voice their ideas and opinions and so if everyone has an understanding of each other and where they come from we can be supportive and positively critical of each other. Coming into a group setting with a positive attitude can set the tone for the rest of the time everyone works together.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Great point about the importance of keeping a positive attitude and how subtle wording can play a role too, Lindsey. I had a boss who always asked us to offer a positive before introducing a challenge to an idea. That’s a solid practice to follow in so many areas.

  7. Excellent discussion.  It is obvious that the people posting have all faced this… which certainly validates your points.

    I was especially intrigued that you brought up the “silence.”  85% of all communication is non-verbal… so when someone is showing disinterest or outright disrespect for the process and the people involved it can be so damaging.

    Depending on who it is you almost don’t want to get them engaged (or you are hesitant) because the ones who sit and show the nonverbal signs of disagreement, if given the chance, will often just move into the role of the “verbal napalm.” 

    I have tried one technique in the past that might help out in that situation… it is sort of a role play, and I am sure the people here can just adjust and go with it… but you assign that person the responsibility of “acting” like “Mr./Mrs. Positive” and set that stage that the others hold them to it. 

    At first it might seem confrontational, but you can lighten it and have fun with it.  My experience has been “the more comfortable a person is the more a contributer they become.”

    • Mike Brown says:

      Great idea, Michael about assigning roles. Another approach could be to go to the person in advance you expect to be negative and prompt all the challenges you can. Doing this gives you time to consider them, address them, and then even coax them out in a group setting to make sure they aren’t holding back when everyone’s together, only to attack an idea or concept after the fact.

  8. PM Hut says:

    Hi Mike,

    Point #3 is spot on. Many Project Managers/Managers continue to speak in a meeting even though the whole conversation is taking a wrong turn. They just won’t stop, and they think by doing this they are enforcing their point or explaining it to team members. This indeed kills creativity.

  9. Joe Schiller says:

    No one likes group projects, but at times they can be beneficial.  As a current college student its hard for me to give a fair opinion about group work because I’m paying for my education.  When my grade depends on someone else to complete a solid final product, I have a hard time supporting the cause.  However, as an employee for a company, if I’m told to work with my co-workers I have no problem doing so.  If that’s what my job asks me to do than I’ll do it because I’m being paid to. 

  10. Adam Jacobs says:

    I’ve noticed that in the collaborative process, if one person has more of an outgoing or aggressive personality than the rest of the group, the dynamic can suffer. I was working on a commercial recently, in which we had to end up removing this individual from the team. Not only does it confuse the creative energy, but wastes time. This is especially true when pitching one of their ideas that the rest of the group doesn’t agree with, and they continuously attempt to persuade the rest that their idea is best. It can be uncomfortable and like I said, wastes time.

    • Mike Brown says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Adam! A team really depends on the mix of people and personalities. While all the team members may be attuned to the challenges, ultimately you need someone who has the authority (or will step up) to manage the team’s mix. When you have a strong personality on the team and no official person who can readily act on the team’s composition, you have a big challenge on your hands.

  11. JohnRichardBell says:

    Taking a step back might be in order, Mike. Rule number one: pick the right team members. Hmm, that’s not a bad idea for most things in life.

  12. John Bennett says:

    Thanks for reposting this, Mike! Wasn’t aware of Brainzooming back then… Really need at some point to go through the archives titles!!! My favorite demo your list: “Sharing your assumption that creativity is more complicated or expensive than doing something practical.” Believing that to be better – to get a creative improvement – means automatically that the update must be complicated, expensive, or both immediately sets the wrong environment, the wrong thinking!!!

    How many times have we admired a solution because it was so simple??? I do an exercise with my students related to an actual hotel renovation. When it reopened, there were frequent guest complaints that the elevators were too slow. So the staff sought to solve this problem to stop the complaints. The question to the students: How would they fix the problem? More elevators, elevator upgrades for more speed, …. In the actual case, they noted this complaint didn’t happen prior to the renovation AND nothing was done during the renovation to upgrade the elevators! The solution: After finding that the area around the elevators was stripped of any items, they added mirrors and “Today’s Events” postings on each floor; the complaints stopped! Guests didn’t have anything to occupy themselves waiting for the elevator – except wondering why it was taking so long!!!

    Creativity need not be complicated or expensive!!!!


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