I wrote a while ago about the importance of consulting a critic to help with creativity. I’ve recently been reading Scott Belsky’s book, Making Ideas Happen, and was fascinated to read how Walt Disney used the principles of Socratic dialogue to encourage creative questioning. (For those of us who don’t have a handy copy of Socrates’ dialogues to hand, the great thinker’s view of wisdom revolved around dialogue and questioning – believing that it is only through questioning and challenge that we truly test the value and depth of our understanding)

I work in an environment in which we want to foster creative and divergent thinking to help design interesting and sustainable solutions to complex problems. Shaping a successful session requires the careful balance of knowing when to encourage variety and ideas, and when to apply critique and validation.

There’s something to learn from Walt Disney’s approach. Belsky explains how he developed a ‘three rooms’ process to balance inspiration and appropriate structure.

How does the ‘three room’ process work?

In the first room, creatives could think as big, bold and daring as they liked; no idea was out of scope. When they moved to room two, the conversation took a more rational turn, and ideas were merged and crafted into storyboards that wrapped a structure, process and frame around them. Finally, in the third room – the ‘sweat box’ – ideas were analysed and pulled apart – and the best part was, because each storyboard combined elements from many individuals, no-one took the criticism personally, but focused on the integrity of the idea itself.

How does this relate to the ASE?

In the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE), we use our own three-part process of Scan, Focus and Act to take teams through a similar journey of exploring the art of the possible, narrowing the options, and formulating a plan behind the strongest combination.

I like the idea of creating three physical spaces to encourage our different mental states for each stage and using a physical change to facilitate a mind shift.

This might seem easier to do in a flexible environment like the ASE, but there is no reason why simple meetings couldn’t be treated with the same approach. We fall in to patterns of adapting to the environment we find ourselves in – honouring the boardroom’s magisterial table and awkwardly having conversations around it, or dutifully filing into lines and facing the projector wall.

What can we all take from Disney’s approach?

Breaking a space into areas takes under 5 minutes but can encourage more productive and collaborative interactions. Dividing a meeting across different spaces – cafes or meeting rooms, standing or seated, outside or inside – can fundamentally change the dynamic of the conversation.

Rather than throwing some beanbags and whiteboards in a room and assuming creativity will be unleashed, what about designing spaces that mirror, and thus facilitate, the shape of the creative process?

What about doing your next brainstorming session in a park?