Whose creativity is a priority at a creativity conference?


Fran is at a waterfront hotel at a conference promising to show people how to create, innovate and lead change, one she’s attended annually for more than half of her life when spring reveals summer’s promise.

Creativity and innovation are her passion and business. It’s more than a mind thing to Fran, creativity is life; it’s vitalizing.  It’s unfortunate that the five half-day program she chose for the week is not.


She is waiting for new information, enlightenment, something worthwhile to capture insights of heightened awareness into her little red notebook. New thinking, new thinkers is the title of the program. Its promise: a dialogue with people who are breaking new ground and exploring new ideas and research learnings in deliberate creativity and creative thinking.

The room has no windows, one media projector, and twelve people sitting around a large conference donut shaped table. The air is stifling, musty, old.


Fran listens to men show their creativity processes and research. She feels like a once still and deep mist-covered pond in a rain forest being cleared. Each statement disturbs the creativity landscape, stirs the bottom silt. There is no time to process the new ideas, for them to re-settle anew before another bulldozer unloads it’s pushing.

One presenter after the next offers insights into momentary creativity, transformational leadership, patterns of education that influence thinking, creative processes. The agenda provides time for presenters to give and is not geared for the participants to receive. Fran’s creativity isn’t sparked that way.  She waits.


One steely haired creativity practitioner speaks, eye-glass frames bright red, stressing best decisions are not made through voting. He says other more effective methods exist.

He highlights the stages in his productive thinking process, emphasizing the importance of using clear language to describe the kind of thinking required in each one.

  • What’s going on?
  • What’s success?
  • What’s the question?
  • Generate answers
  • Forge the solution
  • Align resources

Regardless of focus, each stage has a simple internal process: Groups generate options, then select the best from the list.

“How do you arrive at the best one to select?” a participant asks.

“By voting,” he replies. He catches his breath, a tinge of crimson crosses his cheeks and  his posture dips to a near imperceptible slump before regaining his pace.

Make it Simple

Another bespectacled practitioner, this one with a research background, tells the class that four thinking styles are used in getting effective results.

  • Generation (problem finding and fact finding)
  • Problem conceptualization (problem definition and idea finding)
  • Optimizing solutions (evaluation and solution finding, and action planning)
  • Implementing results (gaining acceptance and action)

His process is unique, he insists, because it integrates the styles into his applied creative thinking method.

A participant asks, “How is this different from other models that do the same?”

“They don’t,” he replies, meaning, mine is the only one that integrates personal styles for applied creativity.

Metacognition Saves

A third white male, this one a researcher, younger, shows his work on transcendental leadership, required, he says, for creative progress.

His research into leadership shows three kinds, 3T’s:

  1. Transactional (do this for me and I’ll give you something)
  2. Transformational (the stakeholders or constituents grow)
  3. Transcendent (it benefits the larger community)

To achieve transcendental leadership leaders must think about what they are thinking about, how their actions connect to all things in the web of life.  To do that, the presenter continues, leaders must be authentic.

“Why is it important to think about what I’m thinking about?” a participant asks.  “Wouldn’t that get in the way of me actually doing something?”

“You don’t understand metacognition. Let me explain it to you later,” he replies, meaning, you’ll be a lost soul if you don’t.

Fran wonders if the presenter uses metacognition himself.  Half his allotted time is used apologizing for the state of his Powerpoint presentation and talking through his credentials.

Creativity Can be Lost in a Repeated Moment

How teachers respond to students’ unexpected responses to questions influences their confidence in creativity and hinders their participation.  Speaking from a distance, present in live stream and Powerpoint here is another male researcher. He studies small moments that impact each life.

Here’s a sample pattern: IRE

  • Teacher initiates a question
  • One student at a time responds
  • Teacher evaluates what the student says

When an unexpected student response arises, the teacher more often than not bats it away because it is not on the curriculum and there is no time for considering it.

After years of this behaviour, students learn to play intellectual hide and seek. They wait for others to comment than risk negative or off-putting attention. Their unique responses are buried, their curiosity dulled.  The notion that the teacher has the right answer and theirs is wrong unless it is the same as the teachers is reinforced in classroom experiences throughout their schooling.

He recommends an adjustment to the IRE process outlined to replace students fear of risking or being wrong above to this: IREE

  • Teacher initiates a question
  • One student at a time responds
  • Teacher explores the thinking behind the unexpected response
  • Teacher evaluates what the student says

“Does this IRE fear-based pattern translate into people’s behaviours after they leave school?” a participant asks.

“They become expert at it by the time they reach 6th grade,” he responds. “They practice and perfect the behaviour during the 12,000+ hours spent in primary and middle school.”

Kinds of Creativity

Ascertaining creativity categories is the work of another distance presenting male researcher. He itemizes these domains before showing his work on how avatars influence online brainstorming in platforms like Second Life.

  • Mini c creativity: personally meaningful
  • Little c creativity: ordinary creativity that others will appreciate
  • Pro c creativity: using one’s creativity as a career
  • Big c creativity: revolutionizes the way people experience life

He then provides evidence that avatars tend to interfere with participants’ idea generation. Texting ideas without avatars present is more effective in his research.

“I wonder how distracting it is for people to brainstorm with others in a live face-to-face group,” Fran wonders aloud.

“There’s a lot of new research saying that personal brainstorming can be more effective than group efforts,” the workshop co-ordinator replies. He doesn’t ask to find out what thinking lies beneath her unexpected question.  There isn’t time.

Note: Links to the content mentioned are available upon request.  The names of the presenters have been withheld out of respect of their work.

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