Change projects are fundamentally about engagement.

‘Engagement’ means people notice your effort, buzz about it, and then come and play. 

So it follows that our tactics can’t be boring and predictable. You and your team will need to escape that awful gravity of those safe and predictable practices you’re familiar with. (For example, no more ‘workshops’!)

So… how be creative?! 

As a team facilitator, you’ll need good tricks to liberate the suppressed creativity of your team, and pump out original, noticeable and buzzworthy engagement tactics.

Here are 6 methods I’ve used (a lot). They always work. They’ll bust your people out of the safe ideas they’re stuck with.

1) Smiles

The biggest block to creativity is the fear of embarrassment! So start by slaying that fear. Here’s a method: anything that puts a smile on your people’s faces. Why does that work? Because it’s impossible for human brains to smile and worry at the same time!

I use party hats a lot (or, in Zoom, the fun Video Filters feature). It’s impossible for people to put on party hats without smiling and feeling like kids again. And, hey, we ALL just embarrassed ourselves – so what’s there to worry about?

Seriously, party hats are amazing creativity boosters.

I’ve also used a round of “What’s the time Mr Wolf”. That worked too. Also, letting people play with toys or Lego made a difference.

2) Matthew Mazzotta

There really should be category of inspirations called “Mazzottas” – stimulations that blow people’s minds with what’s possible. When your people see how other project teams have adventurously “gone beyond the box” they suddenly have a new sense of possibility, hope and permission.

Just watch this and you’ll understand:

3) Sleeping on it

James Webb Young’s 1940 creativity classic, A Technique for Producing Ideas, recommends a 5 step method for producing original ideas:

1) Gather lots of raw material (on topic and off topic). 

2) Digest the material (“feel it all over”) 

3) Sleep on it

4) An idea will come when you don’t expect it

5) The hard work of building and testing begins. 

We humans tend get our best ideas in the shower, out walking, in bed at 3.00 am, cycling or some other time when our brains aren’t trying.

So just stop trying and ideas will come when you don’t expect them! 

BUT… DO consciously jump into Google Images and Pinterest, and immerse you and your team in possibilities! That job should be taken seriously before ANY brainstorm (truly).

Here’s the ‘engaging ideas’ slide show I use to stimulate imaginations in the Changeology workshop. But really, make your own slide show!

4) Mashups

“A (new) idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.” – James Webb Young

It’s true. Innovations are mostly mashups.

So, when trying to engage an audience, why not mash your serious project idea with fun engaging activities that people already love. 

Here are two mashup methods I’ve used a lot.

Mashup 1 – Passion mashing

The facilitator says: 

1) “Write down a genuine passion that you, personally, have, that’s NOT related to your project, for example cooking, gardening, chamber music, kids, pets, cycling etc”

2) “Now, in pairs, help your partner wonder out loud, what would it be like if that passion was mashed into your project?” (10 mins)

3) “Now please share an interesting idea your heard with the group.”

In 10 minutes your people will amaze themselves. This is such a simple and quick trick, yet it always throws up excellent ideas, that often “self inflate”, taking on a life of their own (another James Webb Young idea), with lots of laughter. I often use it as a warm up for the next method.

Mashup 2 – Classic fun activities

Now repeat the same instructions, except this time ask your people to randomly select two numbers between 1 and 33, then refer to the activities in the list below. Once they’ve chosen two activities, ask them to “help your partner wonder out loud what it could look like if one or both was mashed into their project”.

This reliably causes a riot of delightful self-inflating ideas, many of which are seriously useful. 

Then when you hear a good idea announce “That’s a great idea. Do it!”

1. Masked ball
2. Music festival
3. Cook-off
4. Mad Hatters’ Tea Party 
5. Easter egg hunt 
6. Teddy bears picnic 
7. Dance party 
8. Card game
9. Kids birthday party 
10. Music jam 
11. Progressive dinner 
12. Jigsaw puzzle 
13. Olympic games 
14. Food tasting 
15. Queen’s high tea 
16. Treasure hunt
17. Speed dating
18. Sand castle competition 
19. Murder mystery party
20. Singalong
21. Projection festival
22. Circus
23. Musical chairs 
24. Farmers market 
25. Street party
26. Hide and seek
27. Day at the beach 
28. BBQ with friends 
29. Campout
30. Guessing game 
31. Charades
32. Sculpture competition
33. Fancy dress party

5) Ban the standard model

This is a grown-up innovation method used by serious service and product designers. 

Divide your people into teams of 2-5.

Repeat these instructions:

1) “Pretend you’re a boring, conventional, project team: not you!”

2) “In 2 minutes write down the list of 5-6 tactics that the boring team would automatically use for this project. Don’t think too much.”

3) “Now, I’ve received a direction from higher powers: all those tactics are BANNED – you’re forbidden to even talk about them.”

4) “Now, in silence, brainstorm what could you do instead.” (10 minutes)

Then ask your team to prioritise the ideas with dots.

See the example above. Notice how efficiently it ‘breaks the standard model’. (Thanks Waterwatch Victoria folks.)

6) Staring at nature

This is a 15 minute private activity. When you’re blocked, stop thinking. Instead walk to a natural place, get up close to a bit of nature, sit quietly and stare at it. Notice everything you can, and think about its relationships, life processes and transformations. An idea will come.

Here is a podcast that leads you through the method. I’ve done it. It worked.

The Inspiration Walk