Creative destruction

By Keith McCandless

Keith McCandless (biography)

My favorite part of working with groups is helping people notice and stop counterproductive behavior. We all have self-limiting individual and group behaviors. Of course, they are easier to spot in others than in ourselves. So, finding seriously fun ways to help people discover for themselves what they can stop doing is important.

I use an activity called TRIZ from Liberating Structures. The purpose of TRIZ is to:

  • Make it possible to speak the unspeakable and get skeletons out of the closet
  • Make space for innovation
  • Lay the ground for creative destruction by doing the hard work in a fun way
  • TRIZ may be used before or in place of visioning sessions
  • Build trust by acting all together to remove barriers.

TRIZ has five structural elements.

1. Structuring Invitation

In this three-step process, ask:

  1. “Make a list of all you can do to make sure that you achieve the worst result imaginable with respect to your top strategy or objective.”
  2. “Go down this list item by item and ask yourselves, ‘Is there anything that we are currently doing that in any way, shape, or form resembles this item?’ Be brutally honest to make a second list of all your counterproductive activities/programs/procedures.”
  3. “Go through the items on your second list and decide what first steps will help you stop what you know creates undesirable results?”

2. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

  • Unlimited number of small groups of 4 to 7 chairs, with or without small tables
  • Paper for participants to record.

3. How Participation Is Distributed

  • Everybody involved in the work is included
  • Everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute.

4. How Groups Are Configured

  • Groups with 4 to 7 participants
  • Established teams or mixed groups.

5. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation

  • After introduction, three segments, 10 minutes for each segment.
  • Introduce the idea of TRIZ and identify an unwanted result. If needed, have the groups brainstorm and pick the most unwanted result. 5 minutes.
  • Each group uses 1-2-4-All (from Liberating structures) to make a first list of all it can do to make sure that it achieves this most unwanted result. 10 minutes.
  • Each group uses 1-2-4-All to make a second list of all that it is currently doing that resembles items on their first list. 10 minutes.
  • Each group uses 1-2-4-All to determine for each item on its second list what first steps will help it stop this unwanted activity/ program/ procedure. 10 minutes.

Stage 5 is summarized in the following diagram.

Stage 5 in TRIZ, a process for creative destruction (Source:

Tips and Traps

  • Enter into TRIZ with a spirit of serious fun.
  • TRIZ invitations are productive when they are “precisely ambiguous.” The invitation: precisely opens a door in each person’s memory and imagination regarding an important challenge; AND, there are many right answers and local solutions that can be productively discovered. Ambiguity welcomes more than one interpretation and more discovery of distributed local adaptations.
  • Don’t accept ideas for doing something new or additional: be sure suggestions are about stopping activities or behaviors, not about starting new things. It is worth the wait.
  • Begin with a VERY unwanted result, quickly confirm your suggestion with the group.
  • Check in with groups that are laughing hard or look confused.
  • Take time for groups to identify similarities to what they are doing now and explore how this is harmful.
  • Include the people that will be involved in stopping the activities that come out and ask, “Who else needs to be included?”
  • Make real decisions about what will be stopped (number your decisions 1, 2, 3…) in the form of “I will stop” and “we will stop.”


  • For reducing harm to patients experiencing safety lapses (eg., wrong-side surgery, patient falls, medication errors, iatrogenic infections) with cross-functional groups: “How can we make sure we always operate on the wrong side?”
  • For helping institutional leaders notice how it is they inadvertently exclude diverse voices: “How can we devise policies and practices that only work for a select few?”
  • For IT professionals: “How can we make sure we build an IT system that no one will want to use?”
  • For leadership groups: “How can we make sure we keep doing the same things with the same people while asking for different results?”

Making space for innovation

The main aim of creative destruction is to identify and get rid of self-limiting behaviors, making space for innovation. The innovation is generally a better way of achieving the goal. This can work on an individual, organizational or community level. For example, as a facilitator, I have stopped inviting detailed report outs from small group work and replaced them by inviting fabulous insights only (verbal and non-verbal).

Have you experienced the value of creative destruction? Do you have examples to share?

To find out more:

For more on creative destruction, see McCandless, K. (2018). Creative Destruction. What You Can Stop Doing to Make Space for Innovation. (Online):
For more on TRIZ (including the name), see Making Space with TRIZ. Stop Counterproductive Activities and Behaviors to Make Space for Innovation. (Online):
Much of the material in this i2Insights contribution is taken verbatim from these two sources.

Biography: Keith McCandless is co-developer of Liberating Structures and co-author of the book “The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures – Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation” (2014). Keith operates a global consulting practice focused on strategy development, creative adaptability, and including all voices in shaping next steps. He calls himself a structured improvisationalist.

7 thoughts on “Creative destruction”

  1. Thank you Keith for this hugely interesting blog, I enjoyed reading it very much. What a great way to focus on noticing and helping to stop counterproductive behaviour. Stopping doing something is such a good thing to focus on to encourage innovation. It brings to mind something I did with others in terms of an investment plan, in which I wanted to include which elements of a programme would be supported financially (green light), which elements would be supported, but only sparingly (amber light), and which would no longer be supported unless in exceptional circumstances (red light). This was because investment patterns often continue without question, and new ‘add-ons’ are often easier to contemplate than what can or should be stopped. I love your fun way of doing this, allowing people to talk about (sometimes ingrained) habits of being counterproductive, and also your interesting report-back technique of ‘fabulous insights’.

    Do you find that the ‘first steps’ activity results in feasible change, and that a wider network of appropriate people can be drawn in who need to be involved in this, so that stopping counterproductive behaviour is actually achievable? Or is it generally more than enough to focus on the commitments of those immediately involved in the exercise?

    • Hello Catherine. Great question about first steps. When working with intact groups (e.g., a surgery team that was working to prevent wrong side surgery), you can achieve critical mass for stopping some behaviors in-the-moment. Peer pressure helps. For less cohesive groups, it helps to have some informal coaching from colleagues. Without the coaching, the next step for stopping the behavior can be ineffective. I like to ask, “What triggers the behavior you are trying to stop?” If often takes more than one intervention to shift behavior. TRIZ can be repeated and I like to cycle back to ask, “What has changed since our last meeting?” This is a way from people to report on their progress without it feeling like a manager with a checklist. We are tapping intrinsic motivation to improve… at the individual and group levels simultaneously. Helpful?

      • Yes thank you Keith, very helpful and interesting. Tapping intrinsic motivation to improve at the individual and group levels simultaneously seems to me to be an excellent approach. Thank you for providing this further explanation.

  2. I am a huge fan of TRIZ and have found it to really help with conversations that are truly difficult to have in more direct ways. For example, I used it in my class of Egyptian undergraduate students to discuss ways of addressing sexual harassment. It’s such a sensitive topic in our culture and difficult to talk about directly, but TRIZ allowed us to discuss it and notice things we could “creatively destroy”.

    What’s new to me is what you wrote here about “fabulous report out” rather than a boring full report. This resonates a lot. I’m curious what a non-verbal report out might look like. Could you clarify or give examples?

    • Yes, delicate and entangled challenges can be safely addressed. Per your question: report outs can get boring or tedious when every group gives a detailed list with many similar items. I ask, “what stood out in your conversation… one thing that everyone might benefit from hearing.” If there is a common pattern to be stopped that involves changing up an interaction, I like to invite small groups into Improv Prototyping (e.g., show us what it looks like when you decline to participate in the meeting without a clear purpose that never generates engagement or action… you just bumped into the meeting leader and you choose to share why you are not attending). This brings inventive drama to creative destruction. Drawing Together is another good choice to match with TRIZ. You invite participants to use the five symbols to draw their individual transition that begins with stopping something and ends with a door opening. All serious fun.


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