Recently I was speaking at a virtual conference and I got a question that stopped me in my tracks.
It was a creativity conference for the American Psychological Association, I was presenting with my colleagues at the Center for Applied Imagination at SUNY Buffalo State. In addition, we had a number of graduate students in attendance.
“How do you move people from a one-off creative team meeting or from your program, to internalizing principles of creativity in their work and life?”
I blanked at first trying to answer this question. How could I say this in just a few sentences?
I have been in the field of creativity since I was 21 years old. I’ve thought this way for the last 44 years. This was like a fish being asked to describe water.
Perfect. Thank you, Tanya.
So, what is the language of creativity?
The language of creativity is the language of possibilities.
The most powerful piece of the language of creativity? A simple question.
See, if you want creative ideas, you need to ask creative questions. Because the language you use to describe a problem is going to dictate the kinds of solutions you will generate.
For example, “We don’t have enough money.” Good or bad question?
Answer: Bad question. In fact, it’s a statement. When you hear that statement, your brain says, “OK, we don’t have any money.” Decision made. Move on.
Let’s try using the language of creativity. We’ll be saying “What might…” and “How to…” at the beginning of our sentences. “How might we raise the money for this project?” OR “What are all the ways we might reduce the cost of this project?”
Good and creative questions.
Questions framed in this way provoke your mind to search for ideas. They tell your brain. “Let’s go find some answers. And because we are using the word ‘might,’ these can be any answers. We haven’t made any decisions yet. Look for options.”
Creative questions diffuse difficult conversations.
Instead of: The marketing department doesn’t give us the information that we need.
Try: How might we increase communication between marketing and engineering?
Creative questions lower judgment.
Instead of: The management team would never go for this.
Try: What might be all the ways to demonstrate the value of this method to the management team?
Creative questions allow everyone to be heard in a constructive way.
Instead of: You never take out the trash.
Try: How might you enjoy taking out the trash?
Or, “How might you feel that taking out the trash helps our home be more comfortable?”
Or, “How to make a game out of taking out the trash?”
Phrasing problems like creative questions actually changes the energy in the room.
You can feel it.
Two simple phrases. “How to…” and “What might be all the ways to…” Give them a try the next time you are working on a tough problem or building a creative project. You will be amazed at the progress you can make.
Because words have power, and a creative question inspires possibilities.