I did something I never do these days - hung around after giving a talk to attend a training course - on ‘Creativity’. Surely, I thought, training must have moved on from the days when all you needed was a bowl of Foxes Glacier Mints, an abstract noun and a flipchart?
Guess what? It hadn’t. The trainers that run these sessions remind me of children’s entertainers, rather too eager and bouncy, and a bit creepy. In this case her enthusiasm was frightening rather than infectious, like some crazy clown on speed. I’m sure that in any normal setting she would have been diagnosed as bipolar – or just plain polar!
And then she was off - like a runaway train. Think ‘out of the box’ she demanded, the first of several dozen clichés that rained down on us over the next three hours. It was like being clubbed into submission by platitudes. Why then, I thought, were we were all sitting in a box (classroom) to listen to this from someone who’s clearly off their box? She then leant forward to show her first Powerpoint slide – it was, guess what – a box! But only one side was visible (she was using an early version of Powerpoint, probably the first) and the graphic was mostly invisible. She rolled her eyes, “Technology eh”. Then back to the scripted jokes and, oh no, my heart sank, the dreaded 'breakout groups'. We were all given coloured pens and the predictable flipchart paper.
“Now for our first challenge on creativity, I want you to write down all the possible uses you can think off for a BRICK!”. Ah well, when in Rome. I got to work, “Penis extension (may need string), instrument of torture (crushing fingertips), trap for killing small mammals (held up by twig), missile at demonstrations (against bankers), prank (place in paper bag and put on pavement for kicking on Friday night), pendant (urban look for industrial rappers), head drop (place carefully on top of slightly ajar door), object of philosophical reflection (does brick exist when no one sees it), Christmas present (for someone you hate), slam into the back of the head of people who stop to answer their mobile in front of you in the street, subject of a mathematical problems (volume, trigonometry etc), drop from top of a building to determine its height (time the drop), breaking open walnuts, hot water bottle (heat and place in bed), break in karate chops…. I was on a roll but our time was up.
Apparently most people manage 3-5 ideas and anyone on eight to ten is borderline creative genius. I was ecstatic, as I’m clearly the Leonardo da Vinci of ‘brick’ creativity. I scored 15! However, I suddenly felt sheepish when she started to ask people what they had written. “Paperweight, , building, exercise weight…” My answers suddenly seemed pathological.
We then had to apply our newly discovered creativity to e-learning. How, she wondered, could we make our e-learning better, through creative thinking. Once again we were forced to, you guessed it; ‘Think out of the box’. “Go to places you never thought of going” she shrieked. On the Powerpoint was written in light green text on a white background, ‘What are the barriers to people using e-learning and how can they be overcome?’ My first though was ‘Delivering a course entirely in light green text on a white background’. No, thought I, don’t be flippant, and so suggested, to our group, who had the obligatory piece of flipchart paper on the table, “Sex, drugs, rock and roll, or Nectar Points”. Our trainer came across, and although she said, “That’s it, think out of the box!” it was a rather forced statement delivered behind a sort of dead smile. We weren’t being serious enough.
And then I saw it, the bowl of Fox's Glacier Mints (Does anyone other than training venue managers buy these things?). I popped one into my mouth - it was saccharine sweet, completely transparent and of no nutrition value whatsoever. It was time to leave.