Four Ways to Make Boring Meetings Better with the Torrance Incubation Model

Four Ways to Make Boring Meetings Better with the Torrance Incubation Model

Four Ways to Make Boring Meetings Better with the Torrance Incubation Model

Executives feel that a full 67 percent of meetings are a waste. Seventy-three percent of people do other work during meetings. But you can make boring meetings more engaging by employing best practices from the science of creativity.

Meetings are boring and unproductive by definition. That’s not just my opinion. Executives feel that a full 67 percent of meetings are a waste.  Seventy-three percent of people do other work during meetings. But you can make boring meetings more engaging by employing best practices from the science of creativity.

Hook Your Team

This isn’t said often, but business leaders can learn a lot from the best teachers. What do the best teachers do? They get their students excited about the particular topic at hand. Managers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who runs meetings can do the same. There is science and process behind this principle. Knowing both will make it easier for you to implement.

E. Paul Torrance, the “Father of Creativity,” developed the Torrance Incubation Model to drive the highest levels of engagement and learning. He knew that to get people to truly think, they had to apply the knowledge or concept in meaningful ways. To do so, they had to keep “incubating” on the topic after it was introduced. This incubation, or time of loosely thinking about the topic, facilitates new connections and innovative ideas. Torrance realized that there were actually two steps before you could even hope to reach incubation.

Three Stages of the Torrance Incubation Model: 

1.  Heighten Anticipation

2.  Deepen Expectations

3.  Extend the Learning

Torrance understood that the first step in effective leading is motivating people to find a meaningful connection between the topic at hand and their own lives.

How might you spark your employees, fellow team members, or clients to connect meaningfully to the content of your meeting? 

In what ways might you get them to arrive with a sense of anticipation?

One of the surest ways is to engage their creative thinking. You may think I’m asking you to be kitschy, like making finger paintings of your budget strategy or giving everybody striped socks. Not at all! What I’m talking about is deep and productive and will help your team come up with better, more innovative ideas.

Torrance pinpointed 18 cognitive skills that are part of the creative thinking process. They include humor, imagination, originality, and synthesizing. For the sake of simplicity, let’s take humor as an example.

Four Ways to Use Humor as a Hook

Ask yourself this:

In what ways might I incorporate humor to heighten my team’s anticipation about our upcoming strategic planning meeting? 

Let’s assume that the data are correct and you are starting from square one, having hosted or been in one too many unproductive meetings.

1. One way to incorporate humor is by sending a funny video in your meeting email confirmation:

“Hi All, I look forward to seeing you tomorrow at 10 am at our strategic planning session. In preparation for the meeting, please watch this quick, three-minute YouTube video. Cheers!”

Your team members will quickly realize that the video is Tripp and Tyler’s parody of “Every Meeting Ever,” hilariously accurate with all the usual suspect personalities. You’ll have them surprised and laughing, and at the meeting tomorrow you can open with a confession and that you are turning over a new leaf on boring, unproductive meetings.

Videos are effective to stoke humor but there are so many other possibilities.

2. Another way to use humor is to draw on your own strengths. For example, I can imagine my punster father writing this email to his banking colleagues:

“A wealth manager, an operations technician, and the CEO walked into a bar. Come to tomorrow’s meeting at 10 am and I will reveal the punchline!”

This is setting the tone. It’s what teacher Emily Hyland likes to call “making a pitch.”

3. Another possibility to engage humor and originality is to pose a question:

“As you prepare for tomorrow’s strategy meeting at 10 am, think about the following question: In what ways might we incorporate productive humor into this and future meetings? The funnier your response, the better. See you there!”

Take just 3 minutes at the start of the meeting to share and have a laugh.

4. When you connect humor to the very topic of your meeting, you will get right to the next stage of Torrance's model and dive deeper into the topic.

If you are discussing the development of an online financial portal, your email might look like this:

“In preparation for tomorrow’s development meeting at 10 am, please consider the following question: What tweaks might we make to the product so that customers experience a smile or a laugh during their user experience? The wackier the ideas the better, as crazy ideas can help us break out of the current predictability of our thinking.”

This is a twofer! You will drive employee engagement and work to deepen the customer experience as well. 

As mentioned, Torrance identified 18 creativity skills. Humor is a good place to start, but each of these can be leveraged to up the level of engagement and new thinking in business meetings. If you want to know the other 17 skills and get a step-by-step guide to implementing the ideas in this article, grab our free workbook here. Once you sign up, you’ll have access to all of Sparkitivity’s free resources!


Torrance, E. Paul and Tammy Safter. Making the creative leap beyond. 1999. Creative Education Foundation, 2009.

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