The Art of Creative Conversations

John Kao, in his book The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, offers seven principles to follow to promote creativity and innovation through communication:

  1.  Creativity is a two-step. A leader’s first priority is to allow ideas to develop by keeping possibilities open – you have to suspend disbelief and avoid making judgments too soon. It might take the second, third, or even fiftieth idea before something clicks.
  2. Use positive-speak to inspire confidence. Nothing shuts down creativity faster than a negative or judgmental tone. Fertilize creative ideas with supportive comments like, “I like it. Tell me more or can we explore one other option.”
  3. Discover the gold nuggets in the muddy stream of ideas. Downplay negative feedback. Try to find the positive aspects in even the worst ideas. A bad idea could have elements that serve as starting points for excellent ideas.
  4. Your schedules, timetables, and deadlines should harmonize disparate work styles. Recognize that creative people view time differently. A leader needs to acknowledge this reality and sometimes negotiate a mutually satisfactory agreement about time.
  5. Well-set boundaries define extensive possibilities. Leaders need to set some boundaries. At times, you do need to be firm and keep creative people from going beyond time limits.
  6. Ask questions that get to the essence of problems. Use a technique like the five “whys” to break through superficial understanding of a problem to reveal the fundamental truth. Practice genuine dialogue that leads to an explosion of ideas.
  7. Remember that you are dealing with individuals, rather than interchangeable parts. A creative leader must be like a detective, using exploratory questions about “big” matters to gain a much-needed sense of employee’s personalities. Leaders need to treat each employee as an individual since each person has a unique set of skills, needs, and interests.

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