Creative Breakthroughs

By Heather Baldwin

Every rule has an exception. Take one of the most common tenets of sales meetings, for example: Start and end on time. You absolutely should break that rule if you’ve got a great creative discussion going that might help your team break through one of its challenges, says Alex Hiam, founder of Insights for Training and Development, an Amherst, Massachusetts-based company that helps individuals and organizations improve performance.

“Meetings usually are tightly scripted in terms of time and agendas – here are the things we need to talk about in this order. So they generally degenerate into briefings where information is provided as people are called on,” says Hiam. “There might be some short discussions of problems, but they don’t usually get too creative.” Without some flexibility in the agenda you’re not going to get free-flowing creativity, and without free-flowing creativity you’re unlikely to achieve real breakthroughs in thinking and problem solving. “One thing sales managers should consider if they’ve got a creative discussion going is violating the rule of the definite end time,” says Hiam. “The rule of creativity is you never nip it in the bud.”

To get the creative juices flowing Hiam recommends an exercise he outlines in his book, The Manager’s Pocket Guide to Creativity (HRD Press, 1998). After displaying the meeting agenda, the meeting leader should ask attendees to write down their answers to the following questions: Of all possible agenda items, which single topic is in greatest need of fresh, creative thinking? Who is most likely to voice creative or controversial views on this topic? (The answer is your first speaker). Who is most likely to discourage or criticize creative views on this topic? (The answer is your last speaker).

“If you don’t have an agenda item that requires creativity, create one,” says Hiam. For example, if you haven’t been able to crack IBM, get your group to think about creative ways to woo the technology giant as a customer. Or ask: How can we double sales next month? Or: How can we expand our customer base in the adjoining state? “Breakthroughs come when you take some time at every meeting to think creatively about ways to turn problems into opportunities,” says Hiam. If you can get your team to think creatively at each meeting, he adds, you’ll find they become more proactive and creative in other areas of their lives as well.

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