How to use this crisis to spur innovation in meetings

Four-minute read

I think this moment will make people think creatively and think ahead

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet (owner of Google and YouTube),
quoted in this week’s Time magazine double issue (April 27-May 4, 2020).

COVID-19 has demolished the hopes, livelihoods and health of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Among the rays of hope are that this crisis would spur innovation. That’s why Sundar Pichai’s words inspired me.


To be honest, these words also depressed me.

I recalled a team meeting during the 2008-2010 financial crisis in which we sought innovation, fast. During this meeting, everyone (including me) repeatedly interrupted each other and three of the eight participants dominated 95% of the airtime. This meeting was rushed and frenetic and nothing got done. Why? We squashed creativity in three ways:

  1. Hogging airtime: A few assumed that only they could generate solutions.
  2. Interruption: We all assumed that we could correctly guess what someone was about to say, so merrily interrupted in a futile bid to speed things up.
  3. Saviour attitude: Some assumed that only they should drive the thinking, as if their superior intellect could save the group from missing a creative solution.

Much innovation happens in meetings. But my memory of the above meeting depressed me because, too often, our meetings are less effective than a chocolate teapot.

I appreciate Sundar’s optimism about what this moment may bring. But do we assume that innovation will come through improved technology? In part, it will. However, how will we generate that technology and what about other solutions?

To ignite innovation together, run your virtual and in-person meetings as a Thinking Environment.

What is a Thinking Environment? According to Nancy Kline (author, More Time To Think), ‘The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. And the quality of our thinking depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking.’ A Thinking Environment is a unique and powerful framework for generative thinking developed by Nancy Kline. This framework enables people to think for themselves with rigour, imagination, courage and grace.

If we are going to stop destroying creativity in our meetings, we need a strategy. Here are two actions and one way of being that my clients and I have found most effective in innovation meetings:

  1. Action: Prioritise equal turns: Give everyone a turn to speak near the start – rather than having a chair, leader or others shatter engagement by dominating airtime from the start. A meeting hasn’t begun for a person until they have had a chance to speak. Don’t assume that (temporarily) silent participants agree with what’s being said, or have nothing to contribute. Instead, sprinkle your meeting with additional rounds, where everyone gets to speak.
  2. Action: Give generative attention: Give attention without interruption (especially during fierce debate), rather than assuming that you can do someone else’s thinking better than they can do their own thinking (1). Often, my best thoughts come towards the end of what I’m saying, when I have been allowed time to develop my ideas. The best ideas may emerge from the most ‘unlikely’ sources.
  3. Mindset: Above all else, cherish the calibre of team thinking: Creativity (and team performance) depends on the calibre of thinking that the entire team can do. Adopt this mindset, rather than a ‘saviour mentality’ whereby innovation depends on how heroically I can direct others to think what I thought anyway before the meeting started. For many, this is a revolutionary change. If I most cherish the quality of the team’s thinking, then not only do I act differently, I am different – my levels of respect and even love for others rises, along with innovation.

Three days ago on Friday, I enjoyed Brian Draper’s tremendous weekly live reflection, ‘Mid-day Moment Live’. In last week’s reflection, Brian lit a candle to represent anyone who hasn’t been able to hug anyone during the last 5-6 weeks. Wow! That moment moved me and I will call a relative later as a result. It’s not possible to hug anyone (yet) using Zoom. But experiencing a Thinking Environment in virtual meetings is the closest thing to a hug on Zoom that I have ever known – a sense of calm focus that brings beautiful results.

This way of being and these kinds of practices create meetings where ‘people think creatively and think ahead’, meetings that are invaluable in a changing world.

To find out more about how to maximise your performance in and out of meetings, sign up for my free interactive training session, The three most costly mistakes people make with their time and energy … and what to do instead.

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Stay well, stay safe and enjoy innovating.




(1) ‘Interrupting is touted as a strong, assertive, intelligent thing to do, but in fact it is none of these. It is actually an assault on the thinking process and is selfish and costly. Ideas are crushed in the wake of interruption and policies are developed that are based on immature fragments of ideas’, Nancy Kline, Time To Think

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