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How do we get more creative in training design?

Late last summer, I had the opportunity to have dinner with authors Karl Kapp, Rance Greene, Robyn Defelice. During dinner, the conversation turned to training industry conferences, specifically the observation that whether you attend a conference put on by the Learning Guild, ATD, Training Magazine or any other talent development organization, the format is generally the same.

I posed the question to the group: “Well, how would you do things differently if you were organizing a conference? What would a different format even look like?”

Everyone around the table mulled that over for a moment. Honestly, a conference was a conference, and I didn’t really have any bright ideas on how the standard format could be improved.

Having dinner with people like this is exactly how we get more creative in our training design.

Someone asked: What would it look like if the entire conference was one big escape room?

Someone else added: Yeah, maybe each session held clues that could help conference attendees solve puzzles and ultimately “escape” from the overall conference.

Other ideas emerged as well. I should have written them down. But the simple suggestion that we could throw the current structure of a conference out and begin anew with the idea of an escape room shifted my whole way of even being able to re-imagine what a conference could look like.

I’ve often subscribed to the theory that the best way to be creative is to brainstorm as many ideas as possible, and eventually a new, creative idea will emerge. The more ideas, the better.

I have a hunch that I could have sat at dinner on that late summer evening and, alone, I could have brainstormed a bunch of ideas, but I don’t think they would have offered much variety or quality to address the challenge of re-imagining training conference formats.

This hunch – that quantity of brainstormed ideas alone does not necessarily lead to more creativity – was reinforced earlier this week when I read this article from Psychology Today by Zorana Ivcevic Pringle, entitled Creativity Can Be Taught. She cites several studies which demonstrate that in brainstorming, quantity of ideas doesn’t necessarily lead to higher quality, more creative ideas. In fact, it can often simply provide for a higher number of mediocre ideas.

She goes on to cite other studies that show a connection between greater emotional intelligence (awareness around the emotions your feel and why you feel them when you run into a challenge) and greater creativity when coming up with ideas to address a challenge.

As I reflect on that dinner with those amazing people last August, I think this was what happened. Personally, I just wanted to solve the problem. I wasn’t reflecting on the problem, my mind jumped straight into how do we solve this issue… and for the life of me I couldn’t come up with any ideas to break the conventional conference mold.

I think several other folks at the table – whether they knew they were doing this or not – reflected on the challenges of the typical conference format and why they felt a change was even needed.

In the course of the conversation, concepts such as greater opportunities for authentic connection among conference participants, greater opportunities for more natural engagement with the content and a desire to simply break down the typical conference structure were all things that led someone to say: What about an escape room?

One answer to the question at the heart of today’s blog post – how do we get more creative in training design – is that we need to find ways to sit with our problems for a bit and reflect on them. There’s research that even indicates we need to just allow ourselves to think about the emotions we’re feeling and why those are the emotions we’re feeling, before we begin thinking of creative ways to address the problems that our training is looking to address.

That’s not the only answer.

From now through the end of February, you’ll find a series of posts that explore research, practices and ideas that can bring more creativity to training design. If you happen to know of or come across additional articles or if you have anecdotes about how you’ve built your own creative muscles in training design, I’d love to hear about them in the comment section.

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