Do your creative meetings multiply, or are they divisive? Are you the lowest common denominator in a brainstorm or the highest common factor when a breakthrough occurs?
One day I will address all of this and more in a pamphlet provisionally entitled The Mathematics of Creativity.
But having just spent 13 hours being hosed down by PowerPoint while floating along on the soothing corporate speak of a Management Consultant-led brand workshop, I was inspired to bring some maths to the eternal question of “why are some meetings so crap” (or “poorly leveraged interventions” in consultant speak).
Actually this one wasn’t crap, it was a good, productive sharing of information and initial opinions.
But it was not very creative.
And to be scrupulously fair, maybe at this point in the “Process” it wasn’t meant to be.
Anyway what follows is a complete lift from Doug Hall of the Jump Start Your Brain series of books, but with live data. Doug, being a trained Chemical Engineer, a P&G-er and a very creative facilitator, shares my interest in trying to identify the underlying formulae of the creative alchemy.
So his formula for the creative output of any meeting (whether workshop, brainstorm, board meeting, tetchy conversation with spouse etc.) is as follows:
C = (DxS)/F
C = quality of creative output (note “quality”, not “quantity”)
D = diversity of people in the meeting
S = amount of stimulation experienced by people in the meeting
F = fear level of people in the meeting
Now my particular beef is not the normal agency whinge that management consultants don’t understand creativity (darling), but more a worry that they don’t seem to know how to push for high levels of creativity in meetings. For them a meeting is a meeting and is run like all meetings. I think creative agencies could teach them a trick or two.
But now is not the time to go all creative and fluffy, but to illustrate my point with some hard numbers.
To simplify things, let’s say that each of Doug’s variables of Diversity, Stimulation and Fear can have three settings low, normal or good. And let’s quantify that on a three point scale of 1, 2 and 3. Now, with those numbers, a superficial understanding of the creative dynamic might say that a good meeting is just 50% (3/2) more productive than an average meeting.
But applying Doug’s formula, the meeting I experienced was creatively “average” in three distinct ways and, as I shall mathematically show in a moment, fell well short of its creative potential.
On the diversity front, we had people from 7 different markets, some management consultants, some HQ marketing types, a couple of guys from the agencies (including me). But really it was “a bunch of beer guys in blue shirts”. Not a lot of functional or cultural variety. Just a normal meeting. I’ll give it 2 for Diversity.
Similarly, they all brought in good informative presentations about their markets, the consultants shared some interesting stuff from other markets. But again nothing from the broader world; nothing about (say) the political and cultural journey of South Africa; nothing about the mass-affluent consumer in the States. Again, normal beer stuff. So, again, 2 for stimulation.
On fear, the meeting was reasonably well run, the senior people “behaved”. But we were sat around a ghastly oval shape 20 person board room table. Actually it was the board room of the plc. The top person sat in the dominant position all the time. And with the exception of a one hour break-out session, all conversations were done in the full glare of the whole group. Normal business practice perhaps, but again I couldn’t give it a 3 for getting the fear levels right down. So it is a 2.
Running the numbers, Jeff’s formula says that the meeting rates (creatively) as follows :
C = 2 X 2 / 2 = 2
Now this is 6 times better than the worst possible meeting…
C = 1 X 1 / 3 = 0.33
… but if we had been bolder about the diversity of the group, more imaginative with the stimulation provided and more active in reducing fear levels we might have achieved the following:
C = 3 X 3 /1 = 9
So the formula suggests that a well-run creative meeting is not just 50% more productive than an average meeting but 350% or 4.5 times more productive.
This is something the Management Consultants might point to as a “capability” of creative organisations.
But this could just be the maths talking.
(watch out for future installations of The Mathematics of Creativity including such topics as “The Quantity Theory of Creativity”, “Operating on the Edge of Chaos” and "The Statistical Advantage of Errors". All suggestions welcome.)