#257 from R&D
Innovator Volume 6, Number 1
Spirit of Koinonia
Michalko, from Churchville, New York, is a creativity expert who
provides creative-thinking workshops for organizations and
associations. He is
author of Thinkertoys
(a handbook of business creativity for the 90’s) and ThinkPak
(a brainstorming card deck).
Phone 716-293-2957; email email@example.com.
David Bohm, while researching the lives of Einstein, Heisenberg,
Pauli and Bohr, made a remarkable observation.
Bohm noticed that their incredible breakthroughs took place
through open and honest conversation.
He observed, for instance, that Einstein and his colleagues
spent years freely meeting and conversing with each other.
During these interactions, they exchanged and dialogued
about ideas which later became the foundations for modern physics.
They exchanged ideas without trying to change each
other’s attitude and without bitter argument.
They felt free to propose whatever was on their mind, and
paid attention to each other’s views, thereby establishing an
extraordinary professional fellowship.
This freedom to discuss without risk led to the
breakthroughs that physicists today take for granted.
physicists of the time, in contrast, wasted their careers
bickering over petty nuances of opinion and promoting their own
ideas at the expense of others.
They mistrusted their colleagues, covered up weaknesses and
were reluctant to openly share their work.
Many refused to discuss their thoughts about the problems
because of fear of being labeled controversial by their
were afraid of being called ignorant.
The majority of scientists of the time lived in an
atmosphere of fear and politics.
They produced nothing of significance.
Einstein and his
friends illustrate the staggering potential of collaborative
thinking. The notion
that open and honest collaboration allows thinking to grow as a
collective phenomenon can be traced to Socrates and other thinkers
in ancient Greece. Socrates and his friends so revered the concept of group
dialogue that they bound themselves by principles of discussion
that also maintained a sense of collegiality.
These principles were known as “Koinonia,” which means
“spirit of fellowship.” The
In Greek, dialogue means a “talking through.”
The Greeks believed that the key to establish dialogue is
to exchange ideas without trying to change the other person’s
mind. This isn’t
the same as discussion, which from its Latin root, means to
“dash to pieces.” The
basic rules of dialogue for the Greeks were:
“Don’t argue,” “Don’t interrupt,” and “Listen
Clarify Your Thinking.
You must suspend all untested assumptions. Being aware of
your assumptions and suspending them allows thought to flow
freely. Free thought
is blocked if we are unaware of our assumptions, or unaware that
our thoughts and opinions are based on assumptions. For instance, if you believe that certain people are not
creative, you’re not likely to give their ideas fair
consideration. Try to
maintain an unbiased view.
Say what you think, even if your thoughts are
are easy to understand. What’s
difficult is the willingness of a group to apply the principles
when brainstorming. The
traditional brainstorming method is to have a small group discuss
a problem. Ideas are
offered by participants, one at a time.
One member records ideas and suggestions on a flip chart or
chalk board. All
withhold judgment. After
the brainstorming session, the various ideas and suggestions are
evaluated, and the group agrees on a final resolution.
There are many
problems with traditional brainstorming.
Sessions can be undercut by group uniformity pressures, or
perceived threats from managers and bosses.
Other sessions fail because people find it difficult to
avoid judging ideas as they are offered.
The assumptions people hold drive their biases about ideas.
Personality differences also come into play:
some people are naturally willing to talk, while others
tend to be silent.
The following are
some suggested conditions to help overcome these attitudes.
They enhance Koinonia in your brainstorming sessions.
Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, made it a
standard practice to assemble people from very different domains
of interest for his group sessions. He felt this practice helped him bring out new ideas that
could not arise in the minds of individuals who were from the same
domain. The ideal
brainstorming group should include experts and non-experts,
project participants and others not directly involved in the
All participants must regard one another as equal
colleagues, even if you have nothing in common. This allows thinking to be participative.
Just the willingness to consciously think
of each other as colleagues causes people to interact
as colleagues. We
talk differently and more honestly with friends than we do with
people who aren’t our friends.
Any controlling authority, no matter how carefully
presented, tends to inhibit free play of thought.
If someone is used to having his or her view prevail, then
she must suspend that privilege.
If someone is used to withholding ideas because of junior
status, then he must surrender the security of “keeping
all Assumptions. In
order to give fair value to ideas, everyone should get rid of
their biases. By the
sheer power of his imagination, Einstein suspended many key
assumptions held by other physicists of his time.
When someone says, “This is the way it is!” creative
thought becomes stifled. The
group’s agreement and discipline of suspending assumptions is
key to unblocking the creative imagination.
hearing an idea, many of us are tempted to say, “Yes, but....”
To change this mindset, whenever someone offers that block,
require that person to say, “Yes, and....” and continue where
the last person left off. This
simple change from negative to positive will help change the
attitude of the group. All
criticism and judgment must be deferred until after the
Hold your meetings in a risk-free zone, where people can
speak their minds without fear of criticism or ridicule.
Encourage people to say what they’re thinking, even if
their thoughts are radical or controversial.
Once people realize they can speak freely without being
judged or ridiculed, they get comfortable and open.
When they’re concerned with “who said what,” or
“not saying something stupid,” creativity is retarded.
An environment of playfulness and humor is highly conducive
to creativity. This
reduces tension, elevates expectations, and encourages normally
inhibited people to speak freely.
In the absence of a skilled facilitator, habits of
thought will pull the group toward critical, judgmental thinking,
and away from productive, creative thinking.
The facilitator should have strong interpersonal skills and
be able to paraphrase and find analogies in suggestions.
As a group develops skill in brainstorming, the
facilitator’s role becomes less crucial.
the Problem. The
facilitator should post a common problem statement. It’s a good idea at this stage for the facilitator to ask
each participant to come up with his or her own personal
way of seeing the problem and the “ideal” solution.
Engaging people to look at the problem in a personal way is
important since it makes the problem their own, and can resist
being drawn to consensus. This
will take advantage of the group’s diversity.
Also, through wishful thinking, perspectives are broadened.
breeds quality. Imagine
a pearl diver on a South Sea island.
He pushes the canoe from shore, paddles into the lagoon,
dives deep into the water, picks an oyster from the bottom,
surfaces, climbs into his boat, paddles to shore, and opens the
nothing inside, he pushes the canoe off again and begins paddling
into the lagoon.
incredible waste of time. The
reasonable thing is to dive again and again, filling up the canoe
with oysters, and then return to shore.
Pearls are rare; many oysters must be opened to find one
pearl. It’s the
same with producing ideas. Many
times a group will produce few ideas and proceed as if they are
the answer. But
creative ideas, like pearls, occur infrequently.
So the sensible thing is to produce many ideas before we
evaluate. Just as a
good idea may stop a group from going on to discover a great one,
a great idea may stop it from discovering the right one.
To help increase
idea production, when you send an agenda for a meeting, ask
everyone to bring three new ideas, as their ticket to admittance.
Present an idea quota.
For example, an idea quota of 200 forces the group to put
their internal critic on hold, and get all ideas down, including
the obvious and weak ones. The
first third will be the same-old ideas, the second third will be
more interesting, and the last third will show more imagination
If the group has trouble meeting its idea quota, extend the
thinking by elaborating on the existing ideas.
Ask what can be substituted, combined, adapted, magnified,
modified, put to some other use, eliminated, rearranged or
technique helpful for problem solvers involves clarifying the
reasoning through the Thinker-Questioner-Reflector (TQR)
technique. Anyone can
call for a TQR session at any time during the meeting.
The person with the idea is the Thinker.
Someone else is the Questioner, and all others become
Reflectors. For a
specified period (e.g. five minutes), the Thinker thinks out loud,
prompted by questions from the Questioner.
Then the Reflectors offer reflections, ideas or extensions
from the interchange. This
gives the idea a full hearing.
Usually the facilitator lists ideas in a shared display to
create a group memory. These
displays can be more beneficial when they are more structured than
just listing all ideas. Try
using generative graphics such as wall-mounted scrolls. Record ideas with cartoons, diagrams, or printed phrases
using colored markers. The
main thing is to stimulate full and energetic participation.
Try recording by
posting ideas in clusters using Post-it notes.
This makes ideas moveable.
When ideas are grouped by themes or characteristics, a
structure begins to form. More
ideas are then generated as participants see the structure and
fill in the gaps. A sense of priority or dominance is often revealed as one or
more clusters claim the group’s interest.
At the end of the brainstorming session, make three lists:
ideas of immediate utility, areas for further exploration,
and new approaches to the problem.
The facilitator can do this alone, or can have the group
vote on how the ideas should be allocated.
session that reflects Koinonia allows the group to grow a new kind
of collective mind in which people are no longer in opposition.
They become participants in a pool of common ideas, capable
of constant development and change.