“I’m not creative, haven’t got a creative bone in my body” said a business leader participating in a session I was leading.
Then he turned and asked the group a question that started a most creative conversation. It was like witnessing a group of kids with a fresh set of finger-paints. This leader’s question opened a creative space his colleagues couldn’t fill fast enough with insights, adding color and details to each other’s ideas, alternately jumping in with excitement and pausing to see what was taking shape before adding more.
When we hear “creative” we often think paintbrushes or clay. Certainly artistic endeavors are forms of creative expression but all creativity is not limited to making art. Effective leaders use questions as their preferred creative tool. Their questions evoke, stimulate, and engage.
The key is to choose creative over destructive questions. Questions that move people in the direction of possibility versus impossibility. Imagine questions that invite people to turn to each other to create, instead of turning on each other in blame or fear.
Try this exercise. Read the question below and envision the thoughts and feelings this question would bring about:
What do we do if this thing goes south?
When we ask people to envision things going wrong, they feel the emotions associated with or at least the fear of things going wrong. Those images and emotions create a downward energy spiral in which imagination, empowerment, and confidence shut down.
Read the next two questions and envision the thoughts and feelings these questions would create:
- What if we were on the other side of this challenge looking back at ourselves with pride about what we did and how we did it?
- How can we bring out the best in ourselves as we figure this thing out?
When people envision themselves responding successfully, they free up positive energy and mental capacity to innovate, collaborate, and act. Most importantly, these questions help build relationships because people are invited to turn to each other. And that matters because relationships among people are the pathway to creating the results we need most for our organization.