Convening your creativity will spark into innovation



For those of you returning to the office, the idea of organising meetings in-person may be filling you with dread or elation. Which end of the spectrum you’re relating to likely depends on your level of experience and success with facilitating teams.

ut, according to the person I’m delighted to introduce you to today, no matter whether it’s your first or thousandth meeting, it’s time to put everything you’ve heard about “facilitating” aside and adopt a new, more meaningful approach to bringing people together known as “convening”.

Steven Kowalski is the author of the new book Creative Together, Sparking Innovation in the New World of Work. He also leads development excellence for a large biotech company. As he was preparing to write his book, he happened to be taking a course on the art of convening from the Centre for Purposeful Leadership.

DON’T FACILITATE. CONVENE

Knowing he was going to work his book-writing around his full-time work, he decided to apply convening as his approach.

“I know it may sound a little ‘California’, but I did a ceremony and a meditation and then I just listened, and wrote what I heard,” Steven told me. He added that, of course, there was also a structure and process of editing. But this approach allowed him to relax and not feel as much pressure as he might have otherwise.

I went to the organisation’s website to learn more. Founded in 1995 by husband-and-wife team Craig and Patricia Neal, the Centre for Purposeful Leadership explains that “Convening is different from facilitation. Conveners create the container and set the conditions for mutual trust and respect, key to any collaborative engagement.”

“Creating the container” is just one step in the nine-parts of the convening process advocated by the Neals. It essentially calls us to formally embrace the diversity and inclusivity of thought and perspectives of the various participants. Or as Steven applied, openly listen to any and all thoughts from within us.

“Brain science shows that your meeting performance and outcomes can be significantly different when you take time to connect, even in the simplest of ways,” write the Neals. “Convening is a path and a technology that takes the potential in each person and amplifies it through connection and engagement.”

THE POWER OF RITUAL

From where I sit, it’s all part of orchestrating our individual or collective mental space through ritual. And there’s plenty of science to back up why rituals are an effective tool for life. From a wedding celebration to a funeral, to a yoga or spin class, rituals powerfully set our mood and performance. It only makes sense to add extra layers of personal engagement to similarly set our business meetings.

The Neals describe the unhappy sentiment so many of us feel about meeting as a waste of time as “tragic.”

“Meetings bring us together as human beings. To achieve the kind of meaning or breakthrough results most of us really yearn for when we gather, the key quality needed is…a genuine expression of what is true for us, and an attentive listening to what is true for others.”

Back to Steven, he applied convening also as a way to spark team creativity which leads to innovation and value.

“There’s more and more complexity and uncertainty these days. It is getting harder to navigate and it can be scary if we don’t know about the tools we can use. Yet there’s incredible, creative potential in us,” he told me. “That’s why I wrote the book.”

PURPOSE, POSSIBILITY AND CONSTRAINT

“Creativity gets activated at the intersection of a purpose that’s meaningful – amidst possibilities and constraints,” Steven said.  

“Let’s put it into a work context. I’m a new leader and it’s my first time to lead people. My purpose is I want to be a catalyst, I want to be a good manager. I want to help folks. Constraints: Maybe the department is going through a lot of change. Maybe I’ve had crappy training and I don’t know what to do. The possibilities are: maybe I can learn and take a class or ask others.

“But, if you’re that new manager, don’t think you have to be in that intersection alone,” advised Steven. “Clarify the purpose among all your people. And then share that.”

When it comes to constraints, Steven encourages you to welcome them.

“We need people to see the obstacles. Don’t avoid them. We need to know compliance or regulatory issues. We need to explore and work with constraints. When we understand it’s a dance around shared purpose, possibilities and constraints, together we will create and get innovation.

“Innovation depends on creativity,” he says. “If your creativity is sparked and activated in work with others, you’re going to get innovation.”

When you’re getting ready for your next meeting, plan to convene.



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