Creative (generative) dialogue – inquiry (1)


“The most important work in the new economy is creating conversations.”

Alan Webber
Fast Company magazine


…Creative dialogue is a modern, holistic, co-creative platform for the support, development and transformation of people and organizations.
This inclusive platform is based on, and uses as a driving force, the creative power of the collective intelligence which is naturally nested within the system.

I will spare readers by not inventing a new name, and simply use the term creative dialogue, although this activity/intervention can also be simply named generative dialogue. Authors like Edgar H. Schein use the term “humble inquiry” when referring to similar processes[1]

The final results of the processes of creative dialogue/inquiry are the release of creative energy, innovation, increased alignment, and a sense of flow in the system. Participants and authors who have had experience with this kind of process often describe this feeling as a collective breakthrough.

Throughout history, one of the most interesting examples of creative dialogue is the tribal circle beside the fire, practiced by many tribes in America and Africa. Here, the life of the community would openly be discussed among the elders, women and children. 

“We talk and talk, until the talk starts.”

 Old American Indian saying

But, creative dialogue is not the same as the dialogue we know. MIT professor and a world leader in this field, William (Bill) Isaacs, in his book “Dialogue – the art of thinking together” [2] says:

“Dialogue is a conversation with a center.”

According to him, in order to design and lead a dialogue that will create collective insights and breakthroughs, we need to create so-called containers (safe conditions) where the people in the system, and the system as a whole, can and will relax and enter the natural flow. Then, out of this pool of collective wisdom, creativity and innovation will emerge and transform the people and the system. New strategies are born, new products and services emerge, and new co-creative relationships are formed.

In this context, leadership is the capacity to create and maintain a container of safety, support and cooperation, in which there is a room for a lot of different transformational ideas. 

This container presents a safety zone in which various pressures and crises can occur during the dialogue, and can metabolize and transform through the prolonged withstanding of the creative tensions.

From this point of view, leadership creates containers that support major cultural transformations.

The collective breakthrough, liberated creativity, and innovation emerge as a result of the shared experience of the relaxed system that has entered the natural state of flow – oneness.

…When I use the word “creative dialogue” I need to make a very precise distinction between the creative dialogue that will be described in the following pages, and the dialogues and debates that dominate in our classrooms, schools, workplaces, and the parliaments of many democracies. Although in all these institutions there is a dialogue, which sometimes could be creative, it is usually dominated by the awareness, values ​​and language – the monologue – of the professor, the boss, the director or the politician. In these cases, there is no equal involvement of others in the dialogue. The flow of collective intelligence and energy can’t be accessed, and therefore the creativity and the innovation of the system are put on stand-by.

Ego functioning Eco functioning
Who is included? Me, I or “We” as a particular group of “special ones”. The others are excluded. “We” as a whole ECO unit.
Communication style Linear. One person or an “important few” dominate space and time. Command and control. Debate, monologue. Systemic. Co–creation, in which the whole system participates. Creative dialogue.
Energy in the container Fear, anxiety, lack of support, blame, attack, not safe to voice differences. System is tensed, and breakthrough and flow is impossible. Support, allowing differences, safety, presence. System relaxes with time, and breakthrough and flow naturally emerge.


The themes I’ve been writing about in this blog are expanded in my latest book Diamond Leadership available on Kindle.

RELATED post on this blog: Creative Dialogue 2 – What makes creative dialogue innovative and inspirational?


[1] Humble Inquiry, by Edgar H Schein, Paperback 2013

[2] Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together – A Pioneering Approach to Communicating in Business and in Life, by William Isaacs, Doubleday 1999

3. Riding the creative rollercoaster – How leaders evoke creativity, productivity and innovation, by Nick Udal, Kogan Page 2014


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10 replies

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