Creativity: The Power of Off Sites


Creativity generally occurs when two disparate ideas link together to form a new concept or way of performing. Walter Isaacson, in his biography of Leonardo Da Vinci comments, “Innovation is a team sport, creativity is a collaborative endeavor.”  Over the course of my military career I have found this observation be generally true. However, I would add on an addendum, that innovation, or creativity in our day-to-day work occurs outside the office and not inside of a conference room or between

At an individual level, some of the best ideas come to light while having off-hand discussions with other service members somewhere between the hours of 1100 – 1300. Open and candid discussion between peers over Mexican food on Taco Tuesday or in the food court on a random Thursday tend to enable new ideas at almost every level. This may mean squad leaders sharing ideas on the best counseling techniques, or company commanders discussing new ways to run their company command post. Having commanded for 22 months in 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, I can attest that the best ideas I followed through with never came sitting in my office, or walking through the motorpool, they came through discussions with soldiers in the dining facility, and in discussion with my fellow commanders over

At the collective level, the best opportunities to generate creativity come from off-site events. These events can range from a staff-ride at a local Civil War Battlefield, or a staff visit to a local war museum to name just a couple. More than just the educational aspect, the ability of staff rides to build teams can shape future discussions. Members of a unit who spend time with each other at a staff ride, will then grab a coffee, or a meal together during times of intense planning, or other high stress environments. Those follow-on discussions can change the trajectory of a plan or course of action under

To quote Isaacson again, “Ideas are often generated in physical gathering places where people with diverse interests encounter one another serendipitously.” As a U.S. Army Strategist, I spend most of my hours working in a SCIF, surrounded by planners from various J-Code directorates (J2, J3, J4, etc..). While working long strenuous hours either participating in or leading operational planning teams, I have discovered the necessity of team members having discussions away from the computer screen, away from the planning cell, and away from leaders who will instantly critique their ideas. Officers who lead planning teams should keep this aspect in mind when planning during times of

A key part of running any operational planning team is time management. Operational Planning Team leaders must acknowledge that their team requires time outside of the planning cell to think and reflect on their work. OPT leaders must recognize, indeed enforce upon their planners time outside of the planning cell with other members of the OPT. This may include lunch breaks, or even breaks to grab a coffee at the post Starbucks. Rather then view this as wasted time; it is paramount to think of it as a productive endeavor. Moreover, ideas developed during a break may not come to fruition until further in the planning process. The seeds of an idea planed during a coffee break in mission analysis may grow and mature in course of action development, or be tested during wargaming. As Lost’s John Locke can attest, we often accomplish most when we work the least.