“A real invention meeting is a collective gathering that produces ideas which none of the participants would have had individually.” – David Pearl
In The Reasons Why People Meet, I introduced seven different types of meeting. In this post, we examine innovation meetings.
The main purpose of an innovation meeting is to pool ideas, under the presumption that you can collectively come up with a better idea than any individual.
David Pearl explains innovation meetings in detail from pages 192 to 198 of Will There Be Donuts?; this post borrows/adapts heavily from those pages, but is certainly not meant to be a replacement – and all credit to Pearl for his keen insights and useful advice.
As Pearl describes it, “Invention is what we do. We can do this by ourselves…but creativity is more often a collective affair.”
I’d say that especially applies to solving the types of complex problems we encounter in the business world.
The table below outlines “the why” and “the who” of innovation meetings.
||There aren’t really any particular guidelines on size or role (as Pearl puts it, “It kind of depends on how much creativity you want to release and how much time you are prepared to invest, sifting through possibilities and tidying up the mess afterwards”), but Pearl does offer this specific directive: “Do be sure that you include people who describe themselves as ‘uncreative’. They will probably come up with the best ideas of all.”|
What’s at least as important as “the why” and “the who” is “the where” or, more generally, the overall environment in which the innovation meeting takes place.
The key words that Pearl suggests are disrupt and and stimulate.
Pearl suggests a change of scenery that will disrupt us enough to get us out of our regular patterns and routines, and stimulation that will fuel our imagination tank: “A full-blown retreat to Barbados is not necessary. But a change of scenery, even a change of rooms, might be helpful. Comfortable chairs instead of formal ones. Get rid of the boardroom table and reduce distance between people. Get some music, some fresh air, some pizza.”
On Teams vs Committees
It’s worth pointing out, here, that the point of the innovation meeting is to produce a genuinely great idea that excites everyone with its potential and wouldn’t otherwise come about – this result is usually a far cry from a least-objectionable idea that everyone sorta tolerates.
The point of the innovation meeting is to produce a genuinely great idea that excites everyone with its potential and wouldn’t otherwise come about – this result is usually a far cry from a least-objectionable idea that everyone sorta tolerates.
Often, the difference between these two outcomes is the result of working as a team, rather than working as a committee.
Pearl quotes the philosopher and management writer Charles Handy, “Committees are a bargaining process, where everyone’s after something and they all end up trading. Teams tend to have a shared purpose and common cause. If you want to get really inventive, you have to turn a committee into a team.”
I shudder each and every time I hear – or worse, use – the word “committee”.
In fact, at the time of this writing, I have an ongoing project in which I need to select small groups of folks to own and drive topical training content – and I’m gonna make damn sure I refer to these small groups as “teams”.
The Two Phases of Decision Meetings
Pearl advises that a good invention meeting will have two phases:
- The divergent phase is all about letting the ideas flow: “The more the merrier… I think of this phase as turning on the faucet in a house that has been unoccupied for a while. You have to let the stagnant water flow for a while before the clear, fresh supply starts to gush out.”
- The convergent phase “is where you begin to filter, sort, and assess the ideas.”; Pearl suggests that we might wan to set up a separate meeting to do this part
A Word of Warning
Pearl wraps up the discussion on innovation meetings with these words of warning:
“The great enemy true invention is Judgement, particularly premature. If it appears too early in the process it will stifle the flow of divergent ideas. It will say things like ‘this won’t work’ or ‘this is a dumb idea’ or ‘how would you implement this?’ There will be a time for your new idea to face rigourous questioning, but the first invention meeting definitely isn’t it. Countless innovations seemed crazy initially. That’s their job.”