Why Groupthink can limit Creativity

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Andre Walton discussed the issue of individual versus group creativity and how groups to some extent limited the level of creativity. This sparked my interest and prompted me to revisit a phenomenon called Groupthink.

Groupthink is a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive group. It leads to people being unwilling to challenge the group view to the extent that they ignore facts and opinions when these counter the groups’ views. It was originally identified by Irving Janis who studied political decisions  which were taken by cohesive committees in America. These decisions can also lead to the taking of riskier decisions than individuals would take by themselves.

The Symptoms of Groupthink

Janis (1982) identified eight different “symptoms” that indicate groupthink:

  1. Illusions of invulnerabilitylead members of the group to be overly optimistic and engage in risk-taking.
  2. Illusions of moralitylead members to believe that as moral people they are unlikely to make bad decisions.
  3. Collective Rationalization prevents members from reconsidering their beliefs and causes them to ignore warning signs.
  4. Shared Stereotypeslead members of the in-group to ignore or even demonize out-group members who may oppose or challenge the groups’ ideas.
  5. Self-censorshipcauses people who might have doubts to hide their fears or misgivings.
  6. Direct Pressureto others to conform ensures that those who question the group are seen as disloyal or traitorous.
  7. Illusions of unanimitylead members to believe that everyone is in agreement and feels the same way.
  8. Mind-guardsmembers who screen out disconfirming information.

As I wrote these points I could think of so many examples from my own experience as well as public life and it certainly seems to suggest that groupthink stifles creativity. so what can be done to avoid or challenge groupthink?

The most important is to establish ground rules for working creatively and reflecting in advance around the conditions for creativity.

Here are my proposals for working to avoid groupthink:

  • When brainstorming ensure that there is not a powerful leader in the group. Groupthink often arises when leaders are powerful. If you are working with a leader who could influence brainstorming, contract with them in advance to ‘sit back’ and let the group freely come up with ideas, or even step out of the group.
  • Ensure diversity in the group. Stereotyping develops when the group is all of the same background. Invite outsiders in if the group is too similar in nature.
  • Allow space for individual thinking and encourage all to share their idea
  • Establish ground rules of openness and challenge.
  • Encourage the use of creative techniques which encourage seeing something for a different perspective.

What would you add to this list?

Barbara is a change and creativity facilitator and coach who works with organisations and individuals to enable them to change through the use of creative processes.

Going with the Flow v. Setting goals

The start of a New Year always brings out a lot of advice on setting goals and making New Year resolutions, so in this post I am going to discuss some of the issues I see with setting goals and compare the rational, logical approach of setting SMART goals to the more intuitive approach of ‘going with the flow’.waterfall1

On  a personal note I have always been a bit averse to the setting of goals, especially the setting of SMART  goals. However I confess to spending some time at the start of every year reflecting on my future path. As a strong P in MBTI terms, setting actual goals seems to be a constraint too far and I feel much more in tune with the concept of going with the flow!

Goal Setting

So I will start with exploring the setting of goals and with the acronym SMART as mentioned above. Goals which are specific, measurable and time related are generally acknowledged to be motivating as progress can be mapped towards them and successes celebrated along the way. If we are not clear where we were when we started then how do we know where we are now and how do we measure our success without the setting of goals?

Achievable and realistic? Maybe these are terms I have struggled with. Mark Murphy in this Forbes blog post  last year wrote that these do not challenge oneself sufficiently. If we set achievable goals then we are already putting limits on our results. On the other hand, having worked with many managers suffering from stretch or challenging targets set for them by their hierarchy, I have observed that goals which are unachievable are demotivating and at times stressful to live with. Having something we believe we can achieve may be more motivating than facing a challenge we do not feel up to. As I write this I am aware that I have set myself a challenge this year that currently looks a stretch too far, however there is a plan in place which makes it look more attainable. Perhaps it is not that goals are too challenging but that goals need to be broken down into tactical plans which can show the pathway to their achievement.

Going with the flow, on the other hand seems to imply letting things happen, being reactive rather than proactive. This does not seem so good as a motivating force either. If we let things happen we can drift along and very soon we are at the start of the next year with nothing achieved.

In order to explore this concept further I revisited the work of Csikszentmihalyi on flow which he neatly sums up in this TED talk.

In fact his concept defines being ‘in flow’ as being in a state in which we are highly challenged and using high skill levels. He states that being in this state, we experience focus, inner clarity, a sense of ecstasy, we know that it is doable, time disappears, we have a sense of serenity and are intrinsically motivated.

From this distinction we can determine where goal setting is not always so motivating. If we are setting goals for ourselves in areas in which we are highly skilled and where the challenge is therefore seen as doable then we can be in this state of flow. If the goals we set are too challenging or not enough of a challenge or if we are setting goals for areas in which we lack the skills, then this will not be motivating.

As I wrote these words I had an ‘aha’ moment around my interest in photography. I love being out and about taking photographs, however my skill level is not yet that which is up to the challenge I would like to take on and I am not in a state of flow. This is even truer of any post-photography processing. So in order to reach this desired state of flow I need to set goals to develop my skills before I can archieve a sense of being in flow.

So in order to conclude from this excursion through the two concepts: to be intrinsically motivated it would be desirable to be in a state of flow. This means that we need to have a high level of skills and set the challenge at a high but doable level. This does not necessarily contradict goal setting which can mean setting goals which are challenging and doable. If we are not in a state of flow setting goals in order to get there seems to be highly advantageous. However if we are already in a state of flow than setting goals may no longer be necessary!

Barbara is a leadership coach, change and creativity facilitator. She offers facilitated workshops in creative problem solving as well as change through creative techniques and has launched RenewYou Personal Development workshops for women in France. 



Why image based creative tools are better than words

Recently I have facilitated  three creative workshops, 2 which were focused on creative problem solving and one which was a process of personal development. The common denominator in each was not just that they were creative but that I used drawing, images and collage as tools in the process. The results underline the value in using image based work in problem solving and change.collage 2

In a Creative problem solving session it was the drawing of  the problem which caused the shift in seeing the problem from a different perspective and identified the complexity of the problem. Had this not happened then the problem would have found a simple solution which would not have resolved it. We have a tendency when faced with a problem to seek a solution without really exploring the nature of the problem. We often fail to ask if we have identified the right problem or all elements of the problem. When this happens the result is often a solution that does not work. The original problem reasserts itself. By exploring the nature of the problem using images rather than words we bring all elements of our thinking into play. We may start off rationally and logically, however drawing relaxes the logical rational censor and we soon start to explore more widely using our intuition.

In the third workshop I used collage as a starting point for participants to reflect on where they wanted to be in the future. The way I use collage is to provide a random selection of pictures and images from which people select those that resonate in terms of the question being asked. In this case it was about a future state. It can work as well with establishing values of teams or team vision amongst others. This technique invariably leads to some relaxing of the conscious; it takes us back into a more playful mode and starts to release our creativity. It is less stressful than drawing which is another reason for using it in creative workshops.

Using images and drawing as creative tools takes us out of our normal established way of working with words and in doing so creates conditions for our intuition to come into play. We  capture intuitive reactions that cannot yet be put into words and which are not yet consciously realised. These can be thoughts, emotions, values which have often not been expressed consciously. These add a richness to our exploration and can surprise us with their result.

Barbara is an executive coach, change and creativity facilitator. She offers facilitated workshops in creative problem solving as well as change through creative techniques and has launched RenewYou Personal Development workshops for women in France. 

7 reasons to develop your creativity

It may be helpful firstly to define being creative.

One definition from the Collins English dictionary offers ‘ having the ability to create, characterized by originality of thought; having or showing imagination, characterized by sophisticated bending of the rules or conventions ‘

marseille 'mirror'

Everyone has the capacity to be creative, although not all in the same way.  I have written before about ways in which you develop your creativity and you can see these here . Everyone expresses creativity in their own way and so it is important to look for ways in which you can or do display your creativity.

What I want to do here is to offer some reasons why you would want to do this.

Re-ignite your passion. There are many ways in which you can develop creativity and by picking one of these and pursuing it you can enter into a new universe and find a new passion. For example I have never written a book and am now following a course on creative writing which is leading to me writing every day and starting to develop a short story or two!

Be creative in problem solving and you will find that your skill at solving problems develops immensely. Creative problem solving enables and encourages you to see the big picture and not to go down the same road each time you encounter a problem.

Open yourself up to new opportunities by developing your creativity. You will start to see the world from different perspectives which will open you up to all sorts of different opportunities

Do things differently.You will start to live your life differently, and enjoying doing things differently will impact on your whole life and create change.

Become more productive and effective at work as you challenge the old order in which you did things and search out new and better ways of doing them.

Creativity leads to innovation and this can open up many possibilities for you if your follow this course.

Finally being more creative will be less boring and you will have fun!

I am sure there are more reasons,  what would you add to this list?

Barbara is an executive coach, change and creativity facilitator. She offers facilitated workshops in creative problem solving as well as change through creative techniques and has launched RenewYou Personal Development workshops for women in France. 

The Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it

What is the Imposter Syndrome?

Do you recognize this feeling? You are about to step into a networking meeting or planning a meeting with a potential client and you have this message popping into your head – ‘these people will realize I am not that good’ or ‘I can’t handle this, I am a fraud.’ Then you are not alone. For example, Liz Bingham, managing partner Ernst & Young , once thought to herself: “What are you dthe jokeroing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to be found out.” Maya Angelou has been reported as saying “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find [me] out now.”

This is something that many people experience at some time and has been labelled the Imposter Syndrome by Clance and Imes (1978)  who believed that it was unique to women. There is some evidence to suggest that it is not unique to women, however it is believed to be less common in men.

Two US sociologists, Jessica Collett and Jade Avelis, researched the trend of women academics who were “downshifting”: ‘setting out towards a high-status tenured post, then switching to something less ambitious.’ The results of their survey of 460 doctoral students suggested that rather than this being about wanting a better work/life balance or having a more “family-friendly” lifestyle, ‘impostorism was to blame’. This was reported as often being exacerbated when these women were being mentored by a more powerful woman.

What causes the Imposter Syndrome?

The research suggests that some of the reasons for the imposter syndrome may be due to childhood influences and parenting. For example parents who repeat messages that you do not deserve this, or that they give praise when you kow it is not deserved.

However an interesting supposition is that those who experience the imposter syndrome tend to attribute their success to external factors rather than internal factors. That success is  somehow due to luck rather than their own ability. It was suggested by Clance and Imes that women have a greater tendency to do this and that this may be one of the reasons why women are more likely to fall into the category of the Imposter syndrome.

Societal pressures only adds to the problem. “In our society there’s a huge pressure to achieve,” Imes says. “There can be a lot of confusion between approval and love, and worthiness. Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving.”

It is also assumed that this syndrome is partially down to a sense of perfectionism which many people carry with them from their early days.

Overcoming the Imposter syndrome

Here are some suggestions for how to overcome the Imposter Syndrome

  • Keep a note of the positive feedback that you receive and re-read this when your confidence starts to diminish
  • Own your success, it is you who achieved this.
  • Talk to a mentor about your feelings; acknowledgement is the start to overcoming this.
  • Mentor less experienced or junior people to help you really feel your competence.
  • If you are mentoring more junior people and you have experienced the imposter syndrome then share this and talk about how to overcome it.
  • Accept that nobody knows everything and you do have a certain knowledge and expertise to offer the world. Make a note of what this is.
  • Stop comparing your self to others, you are unique. Acknowledge this!
  • Realize that no-one is perfect and good enough is already pretty good as an achievement, so celebrate this!

If you have experienced the Imposter Syndrome, and I certainly have, please share your comments.

Barbara is an executive coach, change and creativity facilitator and has launched RenewYou Personal Development workshops for women in France. These programmes are enabling and confidence boosting. For more information take a look here.

Working to our Strengths is energising

Focussing on improving or eliminating our weaknesses is the most important aspect of personal development, right? No wrong! When we focus on our weaknesses the messages we take on unconsciously is that we are not good at things.

This  tendency to focus on our weaknesses  is not helped by the constant corporate insistence on measurement against targets. I have worked with many leaders giving feedback on a 360 degree process and in the main the first focus is  what are their weaknesses and how does this effect their performance?

I wouldn’t want to dismiss weaknesses as having no effect uponIMG_20150902_102740our performance however I would argue that strengths have the greater effect.

Strengths can be defined as “Underlying qualities that energise us, contribute to our personal growth and lead to peak performance.” Brewerton and Brook, 2006

If we are not aware of what these strengths are then we are unable to capitalize on them. If we focus on our weaknesses we are led down a path of negativity. We come to believe that we are not good at our work or have issues that get in the way of good performance. On the other hand if we focus on our strengths then we can rise above the negativity and consider what we are capable of doing and build upon this.

There is a positive aspect for organisations as well as individuals in focussing on strengths, as research by Rath and Conchie (2008) has shown,  that by optimizing strengths there is on average an increase in  engagement in organisations by 73%.  A blogpost
I wrote about employee engagement in 2013 highlighted how important it is to have engaged employees as they are more motivated and committed to the organisation.

James Brooke of the organisation Strengths Partnership, asserts that focusing on strengths :

  • Ensure that employees get clarity on their natural strengths so they can realise their full potential
  • Heightens their positive energy and confidence, which is crucial for performance improvement
  • Provides people with an improved understanding of how to manage their weaker areas

One way in which working to understand ones strengths changes us is that it offers a different perspective. If we have always been focussing on what we can’t do and have built up barriers resulting in a lack of confidence then this is the lens we view our world through. If we could change this, re-frame our world and see things through a positive lens, recognizing what we do well, then the change can be amazing. As Brooke states above, positive energy is heightened when recognizing strengths.

Barbara is accredited in strengths assessment and uses this in her coaching. She is also facilitating Renewyou personal development workshops for women in France which takes  a strengths focussed approach to development.


‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change

‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’IMG_0916

These words had been going around my head for weeks since I heard the Damon Albarn song ‘Mr Tembo’.

Somehow it has particularly resonated as I was facing a not unexpected but nevertheless unsettling change in my career.

Change always has the potential to destabilize whether it is personal or professional. We get comfortable in our habits and our mind sets and any change creates a discomfort and even fear of what the future may hold.

Although Elisabeth Kubler-Ross  wrote about the experiences of the dying, her words have been taken to be a model for any change, and although this was not really intended there is a recognition that people facing change may move through certain stages of emotion.

  1. Shock and denial – what is happening and maybe it won’t happen to me!
  2. Anger and fear – why me and what will I do, how will I cope?
  3. Acceptance – this is where I am, even if it’s not what I planned
  4. Commitment to move forward

Even when change is anticipated, certain of these stages can be experienced as it is not always easy to accept change and move on. It is important to acknowledge that when change is happening a whole set of emotions will follow and this can be a messy and complex time.  We need to make sense of change and to allow ourselves to grieve for what has been before we can move on to what is to come.

Coming back to the lyrics of My Tembo,  what has helped me to move on is that this is where I am now even if it wasn’t what I planned, so it helped me to take a leap into the third stage, accept what is,  and move on to commitment to move forward.

What can help in moving through these stages?

My suggestions:

  • Talk it through with a partner, friend, coach, counselor to make sense of the change and how it impacts you.
  • Develop scenarios of what you can do when the change happens
  • Make positive plans for the future
  • Start to take action – baby steps are good at this stage
  • Have a support network to fall back on when the doubt and negativity arise

What would you add to this?

Barbara is an executive coach, change and creativity facilitator and is launching RenewYou Personal Development workshops for women in France. These programmes are enabling and confidence boosting. For more information take a look here .