Creative sessions, what's the point?

Published on July 20, 2016 by Stina Vanhoof

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Ping… a new appointment pops up in your agenda: “creative workshop: design the future”. Great! (sarcastic) We’re again going to have one of those useless days of brainstorming on the most unrealistic topics and come up with ridiculous ideas we are never going to implement. Another day of wasting thousands of post its. #wasteofprecioustime

A lot of sessions indeed evolve this way. They lack a holistic project approach and only focus on the session by itself. They don’t conduct enough research beforehand to set a solid base and lack the follow up afterwards. But creative sessions cannot stand by themselves, they need preparatory work and follow up. A creative session is only a tool to start off a much larger project on the right foot. During these sessions you create the soil for successful innovation, but it’s only a small part of a much bigger project.

A creative session is much more then just coming up with a lot of ideas. I believe a good creative session has three different goals.

  1. Understanding the problem for getting valuable ideas
  2. Setting a base for collaboration thoughout the whole project
  3. Creating shared goals

1. Understanding the problem

We don’t need a creative session to come up with ideas. But we do need them for getting valuable ideas based on customer insights, technological evolutions and future predictions to come up with personalised concepts that work specifically for a certain organisation. Valuable ideas only evolve when you understand the problem you are solving. Therefore I always spend more time on the problem during a session instead of generating ideas, they will follow automatically.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” - Albert Einstein
We asked the chef instructors to test the prototype of the digital learning platform and gathered insights to iterate on the design.

2. Base for collaboration

A creative session is only one small part of a much larger project (or that is what it should be). A good session results in future plans and projects. Therefore it is crucial to get the know the team you will be working with to improve collaboration throughout the whole project, this will make communication a lot easier. Often this means working together with various companies, to make this work, you need to understand eachothers company culture to find the best suitable approach for collaboration throughout the whole project. I have found that participating together in workshops provides an excellent way of creating a team spirit within such a group and on the long run results in great innovative solutions.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”
Michael Jordan
Designing a proces for video creation within the VDAB organisation.

3. Shared goals

A creative session is about getting all faces into the same direction by deciding on a common goal and creating a clear vision where you want to end up together. Its about creating starting blocks to get a project successfully to the finish line and producing a plan to make it work.

“When it comes to how a cohesive team measures its performance, one criterion sets it apart from non-cohesive ones: its goals are shared across the entire team.”
Patrick Lencioni

Hard labor

Hard work, clashing opinions, reoccurring arguments, opposing visions are all part of it. More importantly, they have to be tackled during these sessions. If everyone immediately agrees on something it means you did not question it enough, which means you will not turn up with innovative solutions. It is about listening to each other, learning from each other, rethinking your opinion and creating something amazing together. Being an innovative company means hard work, it can be a warzone. It is about falling hard and starting over and over again. It is about belief and perseverance, but when you get through this, the results will be great!

“Oh this is tough work, I really need a gin tonic!” (at 11 AM) - workshop participant

So creative sessions, what's the point?

A good creative session is a lot more then just a day of generating ideas. It’s part of a much larger goal of delivering innovation in a company and creating the right culture to achieve this. Creative sessions are hard labor but in the end they can result in great solutions. But its necessary to invest this time in the beginning of the process and get everyone on board. On the long term this will save a lot of effort and it will reduce the chances of project failure. But think about the time saved in the end, the motivation levels reached, and beautiful things that can happen. #precioustimewellspent

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