Why do people say that they need a change of environment or some fresh air when they feel that they’re getting caught in a rut, a routine, stuck on a problem that they can’t seem to be able to solve?  Because a new environment has the potential to take the mind to a wondrous place filled with new ideas and possibilities.  By stepping into a fresh environment your senses are inundated with stimuli of all shapes and sizes.  When new sensations collide with whatever happens to be on your mind, you are literally forced to make thousands of new connections, to see hundreds of new possibilities.

Where do we create?  Peter Lloyd, New Product Inventor (and many other things), says that “The ideal setting . . . is away from the workplace goofing off.  Consistently creative people open their doors to all sorts of possibilities.  The more possibilities they consider, the better their chances of letting in the wild idea that, combined with what they know and molded by their specific skills, makes an unmistakably breakthrough idea.  In short, the creative process thrives on diverse and exotic stimulation.  Which is why creative people need and seek stimulation.  The typical office discourages diverse stimulation.  So creative people find it elsewhere.”

Which brings me to meetings.  Why not apply the same premise to your next meeting?  Think about the amount of money that’s invested in bringing your clients offsite and the challenging objectives that are set.  When you bring people off-site, irrespective of the reason, you want them to come with a fresh, open mind, receptive to new ideas.  One way to open the mind and clear it of stale, preconceived notions is to disorient it.  Disorientation is essential to creativity and new thought.  Just making a few changes in the room and adding elements (like toys) that people don’t expect to see in a traditional meeting setting, can itself be disorientating.  Mike Vance, in his book “Think Out of the Box” describes a concept called the “Kitchen for the Mind” which is a room filled with creativity-stimulating objects and décor – a resource rich environment.  It provides the ingredients to feed the mind and imagination.

So, let’s do something about the room for your next meeting.  Just because it’s likely to be a hotel conference room doesn’t mean you’re doomed.  Consider the appropriate size for your meeting.  Go with a larger room than you really think you’ll need for the day.  Give people room to move around.  The smaller the space, the more constrained the thinking – weigh the cost against the consequences of claustrophobic thought.  Make sure there are windows.

Meet the basic human needs.  It seems obvious to state that if someone is hungry or cold, that that’s all they’re thinking about.  Keep the room temperature slightly cool to keep participants alert, but not so cold that they’re uncomfortable.  Same thing goes for food.  Provide bowls of candy on the table and a supply of fun snacks (make sure it’s a mix of healthy and decadent).

How should the room feel?  At a minimum, make the room visually stimulating.  Anything you do, no matter how small or silly, to make the room feel less like a dull, drab conference room, will go a long way towards setting the proper mood.  And the proper mood is one of fun and play.

Let them play. Da Vinci, Edison, Einstein and Picasso all loved to play and they loved to explore. Their passions resulted in genius. Michael Michalko attributes Disney’s success to “his ability to draw out the inner child in his business associates and combine it with their business acumen.”  Michalko advises play because it relaxes tension in a group and leads to less “fixation and rigidness” and therefore, more spontaneous output.

And let them have fun!  In his book, How To Get Ideas, Jack Foster lists having fun as his first suggestion on how to get the mind into idea-condition.  His experiences in the creative departments of advertising agencies showed that the best ideas came from the teams that were having the most fun.  To Doug Hall, the author of Jump Start Your Brain, “Fun is Fundamental!  There’s no way around it.  You absolutely must have fun.  Without fun, there’s no enthusiasm.  Without enthusiasm, there’s no energy.  Without energy, there are only shades of gray.  It’s a law of creativity physics.”

Serious people have few ideas.  People with ideas are never serious.
— Paul Valery

So encourage them to play and have fun.  Put some toys on the tables.  Play-doh, pipecleaners, puzzles, games, yo-yos are just some examples. Bring in some funny hats.  Throw in a hula-hoop.  Put some lively music on as they’re arriving for the meeting, during breaks and lunch.

Creativity is not like the weather:  You can do something about it.
— John Kao, Jamming