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Event Managers, Get Creative!

Event Managers, Get Creative!

This guest post is by speaker, author, and innovation expert Cyriel Kortleven.

In today’s world, the only constant is change. Organizations have to deliver better, faster, more efficient products and services to increasingly demanding clients—and event managers have to do the same for their attendees. With the seemingly daily influx of new technologies, social platforms, and business models, adapting to change is no longer a luxury, but how you will survive in today’s business climate. You have to be able to think on your feet, adapt to new situations, and keep learning new things daily.

Your choice is: out of the box or out of business? Welcome to the new normal.

You may also want to read: How to Make Meetings More Interactive

Kill the Ideakillers with “Yes And…”
First, we need to face the biggest enemy of creativity: the ideakiller. Ideakillers are reasons why an idea isn’t going to work. I’m sure these will sound familiar: “No budget.” “No time.” “Since when are you an expert?” “We have already tried that.” All these statements are disguised “Yes but…” sentences. And they’ve been around as long as humans have:

If you can go from a “Yes but…” to a “Yes and…” attitude, you’ve conquered the biggest challenge to developing a creative mindset.

Suspend judgment. Of course, judgment is important—it helps you to make thousands of decisions daily. But because judgment is based on previous experiences and knowledge, and new ideas by definition don’t fit into existing schemes of thought, the danger is that you judge a new idea too quickly and lob a “Yes but…” ideakiller at it. We need instead postpone judgment by developing a “Yes and…” mindset.

Free yourself from perceptual biases. We need to realize that our perceptions also are based on our history, and oft-repeated patterns of perception tend to become increasingly dominant. Studies have shown that fully 80 percent of what we perceive is produced within our brains, with only 20 percent of information gathered from outside of ourselves. If you don’t believe me, check out this video:


The key is to recognize patterns in your own perception and work to set yourself free from perceptual biases.

Work beyond words. Because our educational systems rely on the language of words, organizations tend to rely on words to create new ideas. But because imagination—a crucial skill for creative thinkers—is the capacity to represent in the mind something that cannot be seen at that moment, it needs to go beyond words. Ask how an idea would look, sound, smell, taste, and feel. When you ask a lot of questions, you stimulate your imaginative powers.

Create flexible connections. Our brain cells are interconnected and continuously transmit signals to one another. Association happens when one thought generates another—“this makes me think of …” When the connections are repeated, they are reinforced, and it can be easy to get in a rut. Forcing yourself to create new connections and associations helps you find less obvious tracks and generate new ideas. A good method for finding those less obvious connections is to speed up the association-making process.

Diverge. We tend to stop looking when we come to what seems to be a reasonable solution, which is very efficient. But to be more creative, don’t stop there. Diverge—push past your spontaneous tendency to stop when you get to the first common-sense solution and continue to come up with ideas. It’s a better idea to limit the amount of time you give yourself to diverge than limit the number of ideas you want to generate.

An idea is just a thought (or some words on a Post-It) until you make it happen. But making translating ideas to reality is very hard work—you have to have the guts to break some fixed thinking patterns. And you will come across a lot of “nearlings”—things you do with the best of intentions which have not (yet) led to the result you want.

But don’t give up! If you allow yourself to experiment with these principles, I guarantee that you will generate a lot more creative ideas.

You can download the summary of the creative skills and a poster with ideakillers via this link.

The Three-Minute Rule Exercise

Here is an exercise that will help double or triple the number of ideas you come up with during a meeting. Humans have a tendency to criticize and judge new things. It happens in a fraction of a second: Our brain compares a new idea with previous experiences, and if there’s a big difference between the new idea and the things that it knows, it blocks the idea. There are a lot of (sometimes good) reasons why we do this: being afraid to go out of our comfort zone, we only see the downside of the idea; we expect that the new idea will cost a lot of money and will take a lot of time … These are all ideakillers designed to keep the status quo so we don’t have to change.

Check this out! 21 Ways to Make an Event More Interactive, Fun, and Engaging

The three-minute rule works as follows: Explain your colleagues why, even though it’s difficult, we all need to suspend judgment of new ideas. Then invite them to get into the “Yes and…” mindset—for just three minutes. Instead of responding with an ideakiller, they have to answer with “Yes and …”, showing that they accept the idea and can even add something to it. It helps to put print some of the most common ideakillers on a poster before you start. During the three minutes, no one judges any ideas, and quantity is more important than quality. In three minutes, you will have a lot more ideas than you normally would—some are probably a little crazy, but that’s not a problem because you don’t need to implement all of them. Maybe you can use some of the more feasible elements of an idea, or combine several small ideas to one or two good ones. Everybody has a chance to contribute, so the chance that the idea will be implemented also grows substantially.

P.S. Don’t use the “Yes and …” rule all the time. Reserve it for when you really need creative ideas (which is probably only 5–10 percent of the topics on the agenda). There’s nothing wrong with judging (we would go crazy if we had to think in an open, “Yes and…” mindset all the time), but use it wisely when the need for alternative solutions is high.

Cyriel Kortleven is a sought-after speaker at conferences, events, and internal meetings. Through his playful and enthusiastic attitude to life, he creates an open and informal atmosphere—ideal for bigger events and conferences. Cyriel stimulates people to break their fixed-thinking patterns and inspires you with creative skills and examples to gain more with less.

Cyriel has been working more then 14 years in the domain of creativity and innovation. He delivers keynotes all over the world and is on average around 100 days a year on the road (or in the air)—he presented already in 20 different countries in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. He is also author of four books.

Via his Web site, you can subscribe to his weekly blog; get a nine-week inspiration boost; get access to 69 Amazing Creativity Quotes, and more.


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