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the creative process. Most notably, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is suppressed, silencing the critical, executive functions of the brain, such as planning, inhibition and self-censorship. T e creative process is widely

believed to comprise of four phases. While the boundaries between each might blur, the behaviours that best serve each phase are distinct.

Phase 1: Priming

Let’s imagine a situation where a marketing team needs to create an innovative campaign for the launch of a new product. In the fi rst phase of creativity they Prime the brain to make connections. T is Priming phase – also known as the Preparation phase – will work best if the team can create the conditions that foster creativity: a quiet space with no distractions and the chance to dream, which gets the alpha waves rolling. It’s in this state of wakeful relaxation, with eyes closed, that the brain conducts an orchestra of activity in pursuit of our imaginings. T e time to think discourages the brain from resorting to the common or stereotypical solutions. Techniques that help with this

phase include guided visualisation – the ‘miracle question’ (when you go to sleep tonight a miracle happens; you wake up and the campaign is just as you want it to be, what is happening?), and the ‘magic wand’ (if you had a magic wand to wave, what would happen?). Emerging from this restful state,

their brains brimming with possibilities, the team can start to share their ideas. Brainstorming is helpful here as are three distinct behaviours: Seeking Pro- posals, Proposing Content and Building.

Seeking Proposals Seeking Proposals is the behaviour which asks other people for their ideas, thoughts and suggestions. When you

use this behaviour, you do three things: ``

You open the gates to new ideas. ` ` ``

You demonstrate an interest in other people’s work.

You help the group to start to make connections, which in turn creates further ideas.

Examples could include: ``

22 | may 2017 |

“If anything was possible, how would this turn out?”

`` ``

“What if you had unlimited time and resources to address this, what would you do?”

“What if we couldn’t pursue any of these options, what then?”

Proposing Content Proposing Content is an actionable idea or suggestion – in this case about the new campaign. Quantity trumps quality at this stage of the process. T e more ideas, the better. T is can often be a stumbling block for many teams as they start to evaluate the suggestions too early. T is is the kiss of death to the cre- ative process and yet a damaging refl ex in many businesses. T e brain cannot create and evaluate at the same time. T e more varied the input, the

more creative the ideas. Creativity can be higher in people who have lived and worked in a number of diff erent roles and geographies. Some businesses purposely hire in outsiders to benefi t from their diff erent perspectives. T is might mean inviting someone from another department or using your network to involve people from outside the business. In one organisation where I’ve worked (an energy business) they invited diverse professions to help them fi nd a way around a gnarly business problem. T is included a potter, a policeman and a yachtsman.


Building is a highly skilled behaviour which adds to, or modifi es, an existing idea. It’s also a rare behaviour because it relies on the team members listening to each other’s contributions. More often, in the fl urry of brainstorming, ego pre- vails, where each person is preoccupied with their own genius. In contrast, when a team uses Building behaviour they

get on a roll, the climate gets even more exciting and those creative juices fl ow. T is fi rst phase rarely follows

best practice. Here are just some of

the reasons why this is the case: ``

` `

Creativity is misunderstood. T ere’s a widely-held belief that some people are creative and others have no chance!

` `

Scant attention is paid to creating the optimal conditions for the phases of creativity. Instead, teams dive headlong into the task, coming up with a few ideas and settling on one option at speed.


T e team leader fails to create an environment of psychological safety where people feel they can contribute without fear of judg- ment or humiliation.

`` ``

T ere’s a belief that only the boss can generate ideas or ‘it’s not my job’.

T e process is dominated by one or two vocal people, preventing the wider group from being heard.

Phase 2: Incubation

Where teams avoid these pitfalls, once they have captured the wealth of ideas from phase one they can progress to phase two: Incubation. T is is eff ectively a break from any formal activity, allowing the conscious and other-than-conscious brain to make connections. T is is the phase that can often be

overlooked. In a world where action prevails and distractions abound, the team is at risk of the creative process being hijacked by the pressure of delivery or other immediate concerns. To aid incubation, create that break.


People don’t understand how the brain works. We favour the rational over the creative.

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