It's list-making time!
The lists don't have to be orderly and neat. Jot down anything you can think of under the following headings. What are . . .
All the great ideas I've ever had in my life: (Think about decisions like whom to marry, where to live, a great outfit you put together, the lighting fixtures you chose for your kitchen, your idea for a great vacation or outing, your way of distracting a crabby toddler.)
What I've designed: (This could be a new report at work, a new way of making kids' school lunches, a process to disengage from work at the end of the day, a Christmas letter . . . anything.)
Look at those lists. Does your tally match your assessment that you're not creative?
I'm an idea person. Given any situation, I have hundreds of ideas about how to make it better, more fun, more effective, more innovative. Nothing stops me cold like someone who shuts down my idea fountain.
'No, that's a bad idea.'
'That'll never work because . . . '
'We did that before, and it failed.'
It makes me absolutely crazy.
At the same time, I'm not a detail person or a process person. So while I might have a vision of what the end looks like, I'm pretty clueless about how to actually get there. I love, love, love people who'll say to me, 'Yes, cool idea. Help me brainstorm some ideas about how to solve this potential obstacle.'
When it's framed that way, I'll have some more ideas about how to overcome that barrier. The point is to use the energy derived from friction to propel a process forward, rather than having it shut somebody down completely.
If you ever study improvisational comedy, you'll find that one of the basic rules is, 'Never say no.' A comic scene needs to have conflict, but if one of the participants blocks the way, the scene is doomed. For instance, a basic comedy setup might be a person with 12 items going head-to-head with an express- lane cashier. If the shopper says, 'Fine, I'll go somewhere else,' and leaves the store, then obviously the scene is over. If either participant refuses to engage in the developing idea, then there's no point in continuing.
On the other hand, nobody wants to watch a scene in which two people agree about everything. Conflict provides interest; the key is that the conflict mustn't shut the process down.
You can see shades of all the other enemies of innovation here: fear of failure; listening for logic instead of listening for energy; 'that's the way we've always done it'; 'it's not my job.' It's a pervasive way of thinking that is difficult to break out of until you recognize it in its many forms.
In idea-generating meetings, it's important for the most senior person in the room to sincerely ask the participants for their help in creating new solutions to the given business problem or opportunity and to empower them to question the rules (even if she's the one who made them up). If this doesn't happen, the session can turn into nothing more than everyone toadying up to the senior person to see who can score the most points. When it does happen, it keeps the door open, allows friction, and creates the kind of energy that can propel a project forward. Remember, friction is good. Conflict is good. It makes things interesting.
And it provides the energetic fuel to power up new ideas.