Who are the least creative professionals?

Who are the least creative professionals – actuaries, air-traffic controllers, civil servants? I don’t know about the first two (and perhaps I am happy for them to play safe) but I am re-evaluating my prejudices about the third.

I recently ran a half-day team-coaching session, focused on creativity, with a group of eight senior civil servants. We warmed up exchanging accounts of a recent professsional achievement that made us each proud. We got loose with ’10 ways to kill an idea’ – with acolades for deviousness, chutzpah and sangfroid. We got in the creative zone using de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to focus on a real, current challenge. We then got down to generating ideas for how they might meet that challenge.

The output was astounding in both quantity and quality. And I hardly used any of my favourite creative prompts (“what would a six-year old do?”, “what would Machiavelli do”, “what would you do if you were leaving tomorrow?). How did that happen? What was present that enabled the group to be so producative and so creative?

It started with inclusive leadership: the leader identified the need, focused the group’s attention on it and then got buy-in to invest time in becoming more creative. And this style permeated our coaching session.

The group gave the session time and space – moving out of the usual office environment, dispensing with tables, plenty of room to move, and – despite competing priorities – gave it the time needed to work with relaxed energy.

They shared a compelling purpose.They focused on something that was real, current, important, with a real customer and for which all members of the group had some responsibility.

They had the right attitude and spirit – despite the seriousness of the issue, the tone and feel of our work was playful. They were open, encouraging of each other and non-judgemental. If they did come up with potential solutions then they would be taken forward but for the moment they had freedom.

So for three hours, these experts were novices too: using beginners’ minds to release their expertise. They suprised themselves, revelled in each others’ outrageous ideas, sparked off each other and saw each other in a different light. And, who knows, they may have cracked a problem that has defeated all their predecessors.