How to make meetings more memorable

Employees regularly complain that meetings serve no useful purpose – they’re dull, badly run and are often unproductive. Luckily, Paul Sloane is on hand with some clever ideas for creative get-togethers

People complain about meetings. There are too many; they are poorly managed; they overrun; there is ‘groupthink’, where people agree too much; there are dominant individuals who rule the conversation; there is little creativity; there are few decisions made. The list of complaints is long and usually justified.

One way of overcoming these difficulties and generating creative ideas is to use the Disney Method. It is so called because supposedly Walt Disney used it with his creative teams and it is particularly effective when developing and reviewing innovative solutions and projects. 

This lateral thinking method involves four different mindsets; everyone adopts the same mindset approach when in one of the four phases of the meeting. After each phase the group leaves the room and then re-enters with a different mindset. The physical act of leaving and coming back helps to reinforce the change in attitude.

You start by assembling a small group of people with diverse experiences and skills. The problem or objective is then clearly described. Initially, the group thinks as outsiders and people review the facts, data and external viewpoints regarding the issue at hand. They might take the roles of consultants, customers, suppliers, or competitors in order to get a more rounded view of the issue. Notes are written up on flip charts or captured on a computer.

The group then leaves the room and re-enters – but this time as dreamers. They strive to imagine an ideal solution without any constraints. They brainstorm all sorts of ideas to resolve the problem using divergent thinking. No criticism or judgment is allowed. Many ideas are generated and written down. There are no limits on the ideas and people are encouraged to imagine wonderful solutions without being concerned about resources or approvals.

The group leaves the room and then returns as realisers. They are now solid realists with a practical, constructive mindset. They review the ideas that the dreamers generated and apply criteria to converge on the best ideas. Once they have selected the best idea, they work it up into a mini project plan. They detail next steps, approvals, estimated costs and timescales.  They also list the risks and benefits.

The group leaves and comes back using the fourth thinking style. Everyone becomes a critic who reviews the plan in order to identify problems, obstacles and risks. They are not negative in a cynical sense, but they are critical and constructive. Their objective is to spot the risks and issues with the plan and to make it better.

You can repeat any phase of the process as might be needed. If you now have a good plan with clearly identified risk and benefits you might consider the process complete. Or you might go back to the outsiders’ phase and consider how the plan will be viewed externally. If the critics liked the plan but came up with serious objections, then you might want to work as realisers on the details of the plan. If the objections cannot be overcome, you can go back to the dreamers’ stage and create entirely new possibilities.

The Disney Method is fun, energetic, and creative. It involves lateral thinking because it forces people to adopt different points of view which might not be their customary style.  It will deliver good ideas and a well-considered project plan.

Paul Sloane is a best-selling author of lateral thinking and innovation books. His new book Lateral Thinking for Every Day is available to purchase now (Kogan Page, £12.99).

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