Does deferring judgment REALLY impact creativity? Or does immediate judgment save a lot of time and provide the hard-nosed focus that real-world innovation demands?

In a field experiment, 112 managers in a large international consumer goods corporation learned to apply a process of creative problem solving to their on the job problems. It was discovered that deliberately avoiding premature evaluation was the key to igniting big improvements in both idea creation and evaluation. This research now supports years of real world experience of the practical value of this simple skill in innovative thinking and decision making.

Deferral of judgment simply means avoiding the tendency to think up a possibility then find something wrong with it almost immediately. When we respond “that’s a good idea but…” to someone else’s idea we bring our productivity to a halt and waste time. Would anyone drive a car with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake at the same time? Of course not. Nothing would happen except a lot of noise.

Yet that’s exactly what happens in most organizations. We let rational logic take over and evaluate each item of information the moment it comes up. We stop and start, over and over.

Team members go around in circles continually uttering “yes, but”. The team gets nowhere fast and frustration grows. People fear saying what is on their minds. Mediocrity results and implementation never happens. It seems we don’t know any better.

Creativity demands both divergent and convergent thinking but not at the same time. When thoughts can be expressed without criticism, and given credit, fledgling ideas can be mutually built efficiently and quickly. When it’s time to move forward, this behavior carries forward permitting honest evaluation without negativity with mutual ownership. As a bonus, during the evaluation conversation, ideas usually become further strengthened and sometimes brand new ideas emerge.

This week’s MinSight: Deferring judgment doesn’t have to be so hard to do! You can get good at this leadership skill with practice. At the next meeting, why not try coaching the group members to try the “fifty-fifty” rule? That is, devote half the meeting time to sharing thoughts and possibilities then the other half to discussing, building, evaluating and deciding. They just might find themselves in a relaxed, enjoyable session with progress and consensus to take a next step.

1. Basadur, M.S., Runco, M.A. and Vega, L.A. (2000). Understanding how creative thinking skills, attitudes and behaviors work together: A causal process model. Journal of Creative Behavior, Vol. 34, (2), 77-100.

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