Structuring a Creative Workshop: Key Principles

This is the scenario. You’ve been asked to facilitate a creative workshop. You’re clear on the task and the output you’re looking for, so how do you create a session plan? Here are the key principles you should follow

1. Spend equal amounts of time on divergent and convergent thinking

Divergent thinking is about generating new ideas – the classic brainstorming phase, whereby new thoughts are generated and captured. Convergent thinking is about colliding ideas, selecting the lead ideas and working them up in more detail. Both phases are equally important so you need equal time on both.

If you’ve got a 1 day session, spend the morning on the divergent thinking and the afternoon on convergent thinking. If it’s a 2 hour session spend the first hour on divergent thinking, the second hour on convergent thinking. Simply divide the time you have available in two.

2. Always start with an individual sharing session

Often in creative sessions, the high energy extroverts take centre stage. This is great because their energy is important and they’re often full of great ideas. However, we need everyone’s ideas. Beware of neglecting the more introvert attendees or the more reflective types. They need to be given their own time and space in order to ensure (a) we don’t neglect their valuable input (b) to make sure they feel included and more willing to participate. Therefore, ensure they get given the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas early in session.

3. Never undertake more than 3 creative exercises

After the initial download, the next phase is to undertake a series of exercises in smaller groups using a series of creative techniques to encourage people to generate new, fresh ideas. I’ve found that you should plan on undertaking a maximum of 3 exercises. Beyond this, either the quality / volume of ideas diminishes or else ideas start to become repetitive. I think it’s because

– people have only so many ideas within them to give in a workshop scenario – no matter how creative they are

– after 3 creative exercises, people have had enough – creative exercises can be quite challenging and their brains get too frazzled

4. Make sure each creative exercise is very different

There are many creative techniques to choose from to help you come up with new ideas. This is when you spend a lot of your planning time in thinking about the most appropriate technique to apply to the task. Make sure that each technique is very different because

(a) you need to attack the problem from all kinds of perspectives

(b) you need to keep the session engaging and interesting

(c) you need to push the attendees as hard as you can and challenge them to come up with new ideas

5. Plan for several, shorter breaks

In most conventional 1 day workshops, you tend to have a break in the morning and a break in the afternoon. However, I find that in creative sessions, people need more frequent time-outs. This could be for only 5 or 10 minutes maximum to just clear their heads, grab a coffee or get some fresh air. Plan for 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon and in between, work intensively. Never, ever attempt the ‘working lunch’. You either eat or work. You can’t do both!

6. Have a contingency plan

Timings will inevitably shift – despite your best efforts, so make sure you allow for this. If you get through the creative exercises early, have an extra creative exercise up your sleeve. If they go on a bit longer, be aware of which one you’re prepared to drop. And finally, give time back rather than take more. People are delighted if you decide to finish a session early. They’ll hate you if you keep them late.


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