In working with different organizations it is always surprising how creative people can be.  The challenge as a collaborative leader is to draw that out.

Sometimes we think issues are too complex for participants to add some new insight or value.  Or we believe that all the good answers have been provided.  We quit before we get started.

But perhaps we should rethink this.

People are more creative than we know.  Just consider the typical business “grapevine”.

People are more creative than we expect!

By that, I’m referring to the informal information network that exists in every organization.  It is powered by random conversations at lunch, in the break room, where smokers congregate and in casual conversations in the hallways.  While much of the content in the grapevine is speculation or negative interpretation, the fact is that most significant information is transmitted internally through this informal network.  And it travels faster than can be believed.

If this creativity already exists in the people we work with, then we need to harness it in our collaborative sessions! 

But often we don’t because we can focus too much on “getting the right answers”.

We limit by using forms with limited areas to respond within.  Or passing out sheets with closed-questions like “List 3 Barriers to the Project”.  Guess what?  You will get three answers to this question and not one more.

It’s so important to get robust answers from your participants!  You don’t want them to JUST RESPOND.  You want them to CREATE SOLUTIONS!

So consider this option.  It’s a something I call “the power of the Blank Sheet” (B.S.).

On a regular basis, hand out blank sheets and give participants an open canvas for responding.  A blank sheet with no lines or limitations.

Just a place to draw, scribble, diagram or write.

And what I’ve found is that it’s a subconscious invitation for them to respond not just out of logic, but also out of emotion.

For example, take  the lowly flip chart.


We have all used flip charts to capture group work, but rarely consider the opportunity they provide for the individual’s creative work.  But consider this.

Because a flip chart is a larger space than a piece of notebook paper, it has a subliminal effect on the user of pulling them in to fill the space. There are many stories of breakthrough innovations or big ideas being drawn on a napkin. But it’s also true that a big space to write on can enable big thinking.

A blank sheet can be threatening to some, but the key is giving participants the freedom to fill the sheet as they want.  This respects the participants thinking style and releases them from assumed expectations.  Here is what you will often see.

Linear thinkers will make their own bullet points and create lists. But many, when given permission, will draw graphics, or pictures to explain their ideas.   This is a good thing because a picture is truly worth a thousand words.  There is something about a picture or diagram that stimulates areas in the brain that lists can’t.

But there is one more thing to do along with the Blank Sheet.  Consider how you provide instructions to your participants.

I typically ask people to create a “model” of their idea or what they feel should be done. The word model means different things to different people, but it is meant here to be a permission-giving term.  I’m not asking them for a finished artifact, but rather a beginning draft.  This reduces their anxiety about having something “acceptable” to be shared.

Use the power of the Blank Sheet for more creativity!

Using the power of the Blank Sheet offers the best opportunity to create something powerful. 

The irony is that a Blank Sheet is so simple that we are prone to overlook it.  Embrace simplicity and be more effective!