Six months ago, I was persuaded by an American friend and colleague to enrol on a ‘creativity’ course that takes place every April south of Genoa, in Italy: the CREA (Creativity European Association) conference.

It’s aimed at developing and diffusing creativity and creative problem solving in Europe in the fields of education, corporate environments, research, social change and personal development.

The experience has been so rewarding personally and professionally that I would like to share it with you. Having worked in qualitative research for over eighteen years — during which time clients have been extolling the need for ‘traditional’ qualitative research to evolve — CREA, as a place to learn, explore and try things out, has a lot to offer qualitative researchers.

Here’s why you should think about going to one of its future conferences. We arrived in the sun and to a banquet of wholesome Italian culinary delights. The welcome was warm and very inclusive — it was striking to see how many of the leaders and participants seem to know one another personally.

The opening involved the creation — in teams — of kites symbolising our respective creative drives. This was followed by much dancing to Red Zebra’s drums, an international company specialising in the use of music for personal development and team building.

I enrolled in a three and a half day course, run in four languages: English, French, Italian and Spanish. It consisted of a mix of sessions learning and practising the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving process — commonly referred to as ‘CPS’ — in allocated teams.

I was stunned by the variety of backgrounds represented by my co-participants. There was ‘client’ representation from the Royal Mail, Coca-Cola and Apple, among others, as well as researchers and marketing consultants, like myself, with an orientation or inclination towards creative work.

Most importantly, we all came with some kind of international background and specialisation. I met people from all continents and from a wide variety of European countries, all aiming to bring back a more creative approach to their work and life.

The CPS process is based on deliberate creativity and is aimed essentially at helping generate something novel that will be useful, whatever the context. It consists of three main phases within which divergent and convergent thinking is nurtured via different perspectives and techniques. I would spoil it for you if I said any more.

The learning sessions were intermingled with group activities designed to encourage heightened personal awareness — helpful for deferring judgement — and the release of individual creativity. So, we painted our own collective mural with selected pieces of music as the main source of inspiration, played with imaginary balls and practised other energising team exercises.

The outcome was the learning of a powerful method to bring possible answers or solutions to any problem or challenge pertaining to personal or professional lives. For me personally, it was also a great opportunity to look into how to run more engaging and effective workshops with consumers and clients alike.

The course was embedded within a conference setting with speakers and presenters offering further explorations, during each afternoon, of different subject matters relating to business or personal challenges or ‘problems’. I opted for Bill Sturner’s sessions themed as ‘Innovation Theatre’ and ‘Affirmation Time: If We Had But One Year to Celebrate Life’. These mirrored his reputation, the first highlighting the impact of ‘resistance’ in dealing and interacting with clients — among others — and the second aiding positive self-projection.

There was also a particularly stimulating talk given by Kobus and Stephan Neethling from South Africa on ‘Creativity: the Seven Best Practices’. They presented a simple and meaningful model to understand and implement organisational change in companies.

I also made the most of my linguistic skills and attended the session run by Sylvain Rouillard, a French Canadian, who offered a very ‘hands on’ session on practising two De Bono techniques: ‘Back to the concept’ and ‘Moment to moment’.

There were, of course, the usual evening post-creativity course experiences on offer: various types of meditation sessions, relaxation and entertainment. I attended an evening session of ‘Biodance’, a form of self-expression via body movements or dancing, and another session run by Red Zebra which succeeded in getting 50 of us to play a piece of collective music within a couple of hours.

Needless to say, there was also live musical entertainment every night. Yes, you guessed it, I returned tired as well as refreshed and energised but certainly inspired to take creativity a nudge further in my personal and professional life.

You must come with me next time