Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

May 2013

Kings of Creativity at Convene Live 2013

Michelle Russell, Editor in Chief
PCMA Convene

The spirit of our magazine will infuse Convene Live - a three-day program on creativity and meetings featuring workshops led by Todd Henry and Keith Sawyer.


As speakers and authors with hot-off-the-press books on creativity, Todd Henry and Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., have their own approaches to innovation. But they're in sync on many things when it comes to creativity and execution, including the importance of collaboration — which is what they'll be doing for the first time as a team at PCMA's Convene Live program on July 28-30, in Ottawa.

During two four-hour workshops, Henry and Sawyer will work alongside meeting-professional participants to help them tap into and unleash their creative potential. Henry will kick things off with a session drawing from his consulting experience and popular Accidental Creative podcast, which will lay the groundwork for creative exploration. Sawyer will pick it up the next day, with findings from his extensive research on the creative process and exercises to help participants translate their ideas into plans for more inspired and productive events.

Convene recently spoke to Henry and Sawyer about the often winding road from idea to execution, how to smooth out the journey — and what Convene Live participants can expect from them come July.

‘Creativity Doesn't Mean Art’

It’s not an autobiography, but the title of Henry’s first book — The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, published in 2011 — speaks to his “thoroughly unpredictable career path.” After studying marketing, Henry worked in the music business. He wound up as the creative director at a nonprofit, and when he networked with creative directors at other agencies, he asked how they kept their teams “engaged, fresh, motivated, and healthy. They looked at me like I was crazy,” he said. Their response? “‘We just burn through them, and then we bring in a fresh crop. There's always somebody waiting to take their job.'”

That didn't sit right with Henry, so he started doing research and experimenting to see what keeps creativity alive — “distilling all of that down,” he said, “into a set of practices.” Once Henry started sharing those practices, he began getting requests from companies to consult with them on idea generation, marketing strategy, and the creative process. “Really, and I say this without any irony, but I started the Accidental Creative company accidentally,” he said. “I created a podcast called the Accidental Creative, and within really a couple of years I was spending most of my time working with companies, helping them generate ideas.”

Henry's new book —to be released in July — also speaks to his life's work. Die Empty: Don't Go to Your Grave With Your Best Work Inside of You is designed to help people avoid falling “prey to forces that lead to mediocrity,” he said. “Instead, make sure that you're being [intentional] about how you spend your day, your focus, your time, and your energy.”

How do you define creativity?

If you have to solve problems on a daily basis — meaning taking data, lots of things in your environment, and weaving them together to form some kind of elegant solution — that is the act of creativity. Anyone who works with their mind and solves problems has to do that every single day. You have to do it on demand. You have to do it underpressure.

I want to help people understand that creativity doesn't mean art. It doesn't mean design. It encompasses those things, but it's much more expansive than that. If you have to solve problems every day, you are [under] the exact same pressures as the designer who sits in front of a screen and has to visually design something. It's just that you may not be equipped to deal with them as effectively, because you weren't steeped in that creative culture in your training or in your experiences prior to this. There are specific things you can do to help you have better solutions to those problems and have them when you need them most.

What are those specific things?

I go into the elements of rhythm that we can build into our life, which basically means building an infrastructure, a set of practices that positions you to have ideas more consistently when you need them. There are five areas where I've prescribed very specific practices.

The first is focus — how you define the problems that you're trying to solve. This is really important, because many people get carried along by their work [without] stopping to define their work consistently.

Second, relationships are critical, because when we get into problem-solving mode or creative mode, we tend to isolate ourselves because we think, “I have to knuckle down and make it happen.” But that's really the worst thing we can do, because innovation is typically a collective grasp, [and we need to] stay connected especially during those busy times.

The third element is energy, [which is] all about how we manage our ability to bring the fullness of who we are to what we do. We tend to think that if we have the time available for something that we can do it. So we stack meeting after meeting after meeting, but we're not cognizant of how each of those meetings or obligations requires something of us. If we're not conscious about managing our energy, we'll have absolutely nothing left to offer.

I talk about some practices related to energy management that make us effective. For example, pruning — regularly going through your project load and asking, which of these things are really good ideas that I need to remove because I simply can't bear this entire load right now? That's a hard thing to do and we don't like to do it, but we can't do everything and be effective at the same time.

‘If you want to be brilliant, you have to get as far upstream from the moment that you need a brilliant idea.’

The fourth element is stimuli. These are all the things we put in our head that form our creative process — that challenge us, help us see the world in new ways, and inspire us. Many people are less than purposeful about the kinds of things they fill their mind with — I give them practices to help them identify beneficial stimulus and fill their lives with it.

The final element is hours. Hours are all about where we put our time, but many of us default to efficiency versus effectiveness — meaning we would rather crank through a bunch of work because it makes us feel like we're getting something done, crank through emails, crank through phone calls. We don't do the things that may feel really inefficient in the moment, but might actually make us more effective in the long term. We don't sit around trying to come up with ideas for our most important project, because in the moment that doesn't feel efficient. You know, we might sit around for an hour doing — and I'll teach [attendees] exercises related to this — some exercises to come up with ideas for the work that we're doing. It feels inefficient, yet we may come up with an idea that yields five years’ worth of value for our company. That’ s pretty effective. We need efficiency and effectiveness. We just can't default to one at the expense of the other.

How do these practices put you in a more creative state?

If you want to be brilliant and want to be noticed, you have to get as far upstream from the moment that you need a brilliant idea. The way you do that is by building these practices that prepare you for the moment when the client comes to you and says, “I need something and I need it in three hours” — and you have to come up with this great idea. If you've been managing your focus, you've defined your problems effectively, you've got inspiring relationships to draw from,

Please log in to post comments.


Connect with Convene
on Facebook & Twitter