Collaborative Conversations: A three-step process for stimulating creativity

Creating an innovation culture is a goal of almost every organization, yet most don’t know where to begin.

In the dot-com days, it felt easy to identify a company’s “innovation culture” by whether or not they invested in foosball tables, free snacks and great work-from-home policies. Today, it represents something different: whether people feel safe to share and evolve their ideas in front of others, if they can fail and learn from that failure and if they can quickly move from ideation to execution. With that in mind, I want to share one small tool that helps foster real innovation with real results.

As a facilitator and consultant, I am constantly pushing people to get their ideas out and up where everyone can see them. Unfortunately, too frequently in meetings, some of the most innovative ideas are shut down; they’re commonly met with, “We’ve tried that before.” This scenario can foster three reactions in a meeting:

  1. Fight: People fight harder for their ideas to be heard.
  2. Freeze: People shut down and stop participating.
  3. Flight: People find a way to work outside the system.

So, how do we change this dynamic? 


Most people struggle in one of three areas: how to open a collaborative conversation, how to explore what good ideas will work well and how to close as you drive toward a key decision. Based on the book Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo, I have adapted the “Open, Explore, Close” tool for discussion.

Opening allows people to put as many ideas on the table as possible. When it’s time to plan, the team starts by generating as many ideas as we can. Once everyone has 10-plus ideas, discussion begins; rather than shooting down any options, let each option spark further ideas and thoughts around the topic. Continue this until you feel you’ve tapped into everyone’s full range of ideas.

Now it’s time to move into Exploring. Once an extensive list of ideas has surfaced, it’s time to group similar ideas together, narrow them down and vote. While it seems simple, including a voting component allows people to detach from their own ideas and see the bigger landscape of possibilities. 

Here’s where most people struggle: it’s time to Close. Ideation must come to an end by making core decisions. If you have three great ideas that need to be narrowed down to one, break your team up into small groups—a group dedicated to each idea. Have the groups break off for 30 minutes to further flesh out their assigned idea and then present those deeper analyses to the group. Once the presentations are complete, it’s time for the group to vote and decide.  


This type of collaboration may feel odd to some. Why jump through all these hoops when a decision could’ve been made by a single person in five minutes? This type of exercise teaches teams three things: how to work together, how to rapidly generate ideas, and how to pitch their ideas with clarity. Educating a team on this process creates a bench of innovators versus having one idea generator. When we develop and invest in people’s ideas, they show up differently to work. They show up like an owner, not a renter; they show up ready to innovate.



This article was extracted from Issue 7 (Fall 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.

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