Everyone is creative. This belief runs through everything we do at IDEO, and in 2013, it led my brother David and me to write a book that would help others—even those who don’t think of themselves as “creative types”—to unleash their creative potential. Creative Confidence has inspired thousands of people to adopt a creative mindset and apply it to the diverse real-world challenges they face. In this series, we’ll share some exercises from the book that can help you approach your challenges from a new perspective.
Creativity Challenge # 6: Warm up a group
Creativity thrives amidst free-flowing social discourse. To get a roomful of strangers to innovate, you may want to begin by breaking down some social barriers. When this exercise is done right, the room will be abuzz with chatter and laughter, and participants will be more open to what comes next.
Tool: Speed Dating
Participants: Pairs in groups of any size
Time: 15-20 minutes total, 3 minutes per round
Supplies: Paper printed with a set of questions for each participant. Several different sets of questions will be needed to accommodate the entire group.
Step 1: Give each person a list of open-ended questions. Several different sets of questions should be spread throughout tables in the room so that people aren’t continually being asked the same questions.
Examples of possible questions:
How would your closest family members describe you?
If you had a million Euros to spend in a way that benefits humanity, what would you do?
What do you wish your parents had told you?
What was a live performance or show you really loved, and why?
Step 2: Ask each person in the room to pair up with someone they don’t know very well or have never met. This may involve getting up and moving seats.
Step 3: Have one person in each pair ask a question from the list. Allow three minutes for the other person to answer.
Step 4: Have each pair switch roles and repeat, asking a different question on the list
Step 5: Tell everyone to find a new partner and repeat the process for a couple more rounds.
Tips from the field
You want to keep people moving to create a well-orchestrated round-robin. Be proactive about timekeeping. Assign someone to be a facilitator or timekeeper. To add a little fun, use a buzzer or gong to announce that time is up.
Depending on the nature of the working session that will follow the Speed Dating exercise, you can tailor some of the open-ended questions to be inspirational and loosely related to your topic. For example, if the objective of the meeting is to discuss the future of workspace for the organization, one of the prompts may be, “Describe an inspiring space you have worked in.”
Give a little thought to the type of questions you use. Meaning-of-life questions and superlative questions (the most, the best, the worst) can cause people to stall out or draw a blank. The whole purpose is interaction. So if your question stumps your partner for even a handful of seconds, it’s not quite right. Try the questions out on someone before you use them in a group setting.
If your group might be uncomfortable with an activity that includes the word “dating” in the title, call it Speed Meeting—which we have found works with Nobel laureates.
Tom Kelley is the best-selling author of Creative Confidence, The Art of Innovation and The Ten Faces of Innovation as well as a partner at IDEO. As a leading innovation speaker, Tom addresses scores of business audiences on how to foster a culture of innovation and tap into the creative potential of their organizations.