Last Friday I attended Steve Chapman’s ‘Lab’ event – an utterly brilliant, unique and exhilarating experience. A monthly event, it is described as a ‘place to experiment and be experimented on, a place for people to come together to play and challenge the often stale world of human and organisation development”. It is not a conference talk or a lecture. A creative exploration and celebration of human thought and behaviour, it has no pre-agreed tangible outcomes or expectations.

A series of ‘experiments’ took place that veered happily between insightful, hilarious and poignant exploration of the workings of the human mind. There was a fascinating ‘hot seat’ style examination of the influence of group presence within coaching. This ended with the coachee facing their fear of being centre of attention. In another, cards and group discussion were used to talk about work fears and potential ways to minimise them. And those were perhaps the more conventional experiments – others involved props, sounds and movement. It sounds strange – it was. But it was refreshing, thought-provoking and energising, and gave me new perspectives on work and change within organisations.

Whilst at the Lab a number of thoughts struck, and they have continued to strike some time after the event. I was happily mindful of the camaraderie and sense of cohesion in the group. It is within the realms of possibility that this was entirely in my head, and everyone couldn’t wait to leave. But this is extremely doubtful; people were unmistakably free from tension, and were enjoying the opportunity to experiment. Lab Creator and organisational consultant, speaker and all round experimental pioneer Steve Chapman characterises it as “an enquiry into the power of inexpertise and not knowing - the opposite of how we tend to go about learning and the antithesis of most conferences.” Indeed it is.

What is so freeing about an opportunity to brainstorm, improvise and create? Vast streams of research efforts have been dedicated to the study of creativity. However, no one is actually quite sure exactly what it is. Even the exemplary organisational Psychologist Professor Adrian Furnham describes it as a ‘deeply frustrating concept’ with books and literature on creativity often ‘accepted with little or no proof’. Despite the obviously significant difficulties in empirically testing it – after all, what is IT? A process, personality, thinking style? - people have valiantly tried. ‘Creative’ group activities have been linked with positive outcomes, including higher levels of interpersonal trust and communication. Meta-analyses suggest strong links between cohesive working groups and creative ‘outcomes’ (Perry-Smith & Manucci, 2015). This is a complex, frustrating concept with no psychometrically valid measure. Most researchers and practitioners are mindful of this.

Many businesses clearly value creativity. Millions are spent on Research and Development programmes to foster the ‘creative process’, with the aim of innovation and better, cheaper work products and processes. Clearly, such endeavors are not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Openness to top-down approaches to facilitating creativity will not suit all, and it is unhelpful to suggest that all organisations need creativity to thrive. It is not about treating workplaces as playgrounds; the recent trend of ‘google-ising’ workplaces is curious, and possibly detrimental to many employees. Google is known for creating fun and engaging workplaces, aiming to foster innovation and creativity – great. However, simply sticking a ball pit in the staff cafeteria may not be the most effective approach.

It is clear that many organisations are struggling to adapt the rapid changes in our modern world. Technological advances and an increasingly interconnected global community chivvy organisations to take a long hard look at traditional, potentially less effective, ways of working. Steve Chapman has a particular interest in this ‘stuckness’, and ‘finding different, creative, unusual and often counter-intuitive ways of disturbing stuck patterns that individuals, groups and organisations find themselves in’. Disrupting patterns and rigid modes of thinking and behaving is invaluable, for individual and organisational agility and resilience. And it doesn’t have to be arduous. Concepts such as the Lab show that it can be enjoyable too.



Katy Davies Business Psychologist and Decision Profile Consultant Thompson Dunn Ltd.