Creativity is a Contact Sport

How to maximize Inquiry over Advocacy Within Workplace Dynamics

I am a bit of a loner. When I think about good practices in support of creativity, what comes to mind for me are things like taking a walk, visiting an art museum, journaling, being in nature, reading, sketching, meditation…generally things I can do alone. Bliss. And they are good things, I recommend them all. But the big drivers of creativity and innovation seem to go directly and repeatedly through other human beings.

Not only do other people bring the wealth of information that exists in their unique lived experience, they bring different lenses, different biases, different interpretations, all of which are valuable in sorting for the new. All of which can also be incredibly frustrating.

I like my ideas. I do. And as much as I know that two heads are better than one, that diverse groups relentlessly outperform individuals in creativity and other ways, I like my ideas. They make sense to me. They are calibrated correctly in tone and cadence and relevance and impact. All of which is obvious. To me. Because they are mine.

Groups of diverse people are (at least in potential) superior to individuals in creativity, but the groups have to be able to interact in the right way. For example, individual contributors need to be able to adopt an orientation of inquiry, rather than advocacy…to prioritize the best outcome for the group (which is often some recombination or synthesis of several contributions) rather than successfully argue their point of view.


Take the image of these birds for example. They are all different in color, shape and size. But it seems as if they have a sense of respect for the perspective that the other might bring. They seem compatible enough to interact on this tree branch, even if for just a moment or two. Their differences brought together add for a more diverse experience between them. There is no fighting about whether or not one of them deserves to be on the same branch or not. They have learned to co-exist.

How do you do that?

Are there things that you do as an individual to distance yourself from your perfect and precious perspective? Are there ways that your team operationalizes that?

I do a lot of work with teams these days, and here are a few practices that seem to help:

  1. Prioritize (and reward) assertive communication, as opposed to aggressive, passive, or passive-aggressive communication.
  2. Have regular conversations about the difference between advocacy and inquiry and why it matters.
  3. Individual commitments to own group solutions and decisions as our own.
  4. Relentlessly anchor conversations in shared objectives.
  5. Solicit written ideas in advance, each to be pitched by a randomly selected pair. (This practice has been both spectacular and disastrous, still experimenting)
  6. Remove the person with the idea from discussion, other than answering questions.

Would love to add some tools to my toolkit if you have any to share!



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