Creative Discussion using Plain Pair Groups

Creative Discussion – a key to insight and change

William Plain
Emeritus Professor, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies

Plain Pair Group Teaching (Plain PGT)
- for universities and schools
Plain Pair Group Discussion (Plain PGD)
- for decision making and staff development
- for informal or community creative discussion

A flash of insight is the spark of cosmic intelligence.
Small group sharing of insight can change the pattern of human intelligence.

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Bringing Wisdom into Planetary Leadership

Creativity in Collective Deliberation: brief guidelines for innovative decision-making through “Creative Discussion”.


A process of ‘creative discussion’ has been developed which facilitates natural creativity and frees us of the way we think and the way we are taught or required to think: established knowledge, education, and social, corporate or political group-think.

Individual capacity for creativity and insight is essential, and just as necessary is the creative interaction of multiple individuals involved in decision making, independent of the interests of groups and organisations. In one way or another, we are all in thrall to overarching systems of profit and group self-interest, which often act against the interests of all – and ultimately even of those profiting most directly.

This discussion process does not impose an idea, a philosophy or a system. The alternation of small ‘insight group’ and ‘pair group’ presentation with attentive listening is a very simple and easily applied process which allows each person to be fully attentive to insight that emerges in group interaction and helps those insights to flow from group to group and across the decision-making community.

If a meeting is to be more than a series of position statements and competition for pre-eminence, a new format is needed for group decision-making.

Meeting format for creativity:

  • Avoid exclusive use of standard meeting format, the ‘round table’ with everyone presenting ‘publicly’ to the meeting – change is very difficult as people are obliged to defend their official position, even if deep down they may think otherwise
  • Use Creative Discussion – divide members into small ‘insight groups’, then reorganise into ‘pair groups’, after which ideas can be fed into the combined large meeting

Do not have more than 5 people around each table:

  • A small group of 3-5 people gives time for each person to present and explore his/her own ideas

A search for a creative response has no place for competitive point scoring:

  • Each person to have equal time for presentation, with discussion after conclusion of presentations
  • Listen respectfully to each speaker, not to agree or disagree, but ‘listening’ for one’s own ‘insights’

Avoid subjection to group pressure by participating in two different groups:

  • (1) Initial presentations around the group and ‘listening for insight’ in the ‘Insight Group’ (arranged with preferably heterogeneous membership)
  • (2) Then join a ‘Plain Pair Group’, composed of one person from each Insight Group (if total more than 25 people - 5x5 - divide into 2 or more sections)
  • Each person in turn presents ‘best ideas’ from their Insight Group; listen and collect new ideas

Follow-up, decision-making or exploration:

  • (3) Return to Insight Group to collate ideas from all other groups and perhaps reach initial consensus
  • (4/5) This can then be presented to the formal large meeting for consensus or further action
  • (4/5) Further round(s) of Creative Discussion (Insight Group/Plain Pair Group presentations and discussion) may be needed to open up and explore new paradigms or facilitate overall consensus


  • The human brain tends to be conditioned by established knowledge and by group allegiance
  • Decisions are being made at all levels that ignore the urgent needs of populations and planet
  • Creativity is inherent in the individual, rarely in the group
  • Each individual can access new ideas through insight, and share these through creative discussion.

A destructive species:

  • our planet is already several decades into the 6th major extinction in the history of large life forms, due to overall human occupation of ecological space
  • as a result of industrially generated global warming, it is possible that, even in the life of our children, this will become the greatest extinction event in the history of Gaia (upper limit temperature predictions - with permafrost methane release - are higher than temperatures accompanying the Permian extinction of ±90% of species)
  • this event is being caused by human groups/organisations/societies that in general seem to be unable to act for purposes other than group self-interest
  • at the origin of the impact of the most destructive species in the history of life is the inability of human organisations to automatically recognise error.

Recognition of error:

  • all life forms have acquired the capacity to automatically recognise and correct error in movement (‘proprioception’)
  • with the recent evolutionary development of a ‘mental sphere’, the human individual has not yet acquired the ability to recognise error in judgement (i.e. ‘mental proprioception’) as an automatic process
  • the human group is generally incapable of recognising error in collective purposes and processes other than in terms of group survival and self-interest
  • mental proprioception in the individual (but rarely the group) most effectively occurs through the action of ‘insight’, which is the one experience capable of providing a totally new vision of the internal or external world, and tends to occur naturally and spontaneously.


  • the experience of insight, the ‘flash of light’ of a sudden new understanding, is common to all people, but rarely given the recognition it deserves
  • insight comes as it were from outside the sphere of memory and established knowledge, already whole and instantaneous; in that moment, it is free of conditioning and preformed judgement
  • attentive perception with a silent mind facilitates the irruption of insight, which is the breaking of conditioned thought and the presence of new ways of seeing, of alternative paradigms
  • while insight arises within the individual mind, organisations can only reach transformative awareness through the combined creativity of multiple individuals.

Creative Discussion:

  • while the individual can correct judgemental error through insight (although not automatically), he/she also needs a means of retaining the capacity for insight and creativity when functioning in a group/organisation/society, which tends to constrain the individual to group goals
  • as an alternative to traditional means of group information exchange and decision making, a specific form of ‘creative discussion’ has been designed to facilitate insight and limit the conditioning effect of established knowledge and forms of interaction
  • creativity is generated in a small discussion group, with a focus on a critical awareness of the limitations of one’s own ‘knowledge’, equal time to present exploratory ideas, respect for each presenter and a conscious search for insight through attentive listening and a silent mind
  • this process is furthered when each member separately joins another small discussion group, presents the most interesting insights derived from speakers and one’s own presentation in the first group, and listens to other members presenting in turn the best ideas from their respective groups
  • in this process of group and ‘pair group’ in an open discussion community, the group one is in at the moment is the ‘Insight Group’ (the ‘centre’ of creativity is always ‘here’, ‘now’), and the ‘other group’ is the ‘Plain Pair Group’
  • through the Creative Discussion process and Plain Pair Group interaction, individual creativity is multiplied around the group and carried, by individuals, from group to group, thus ‘rippling’ creative ideas from multiple ‘centres’ out across the discussion community.


  • The round-table meeting format reinforces entrenched attitudes
  • Statements are public so speakers can rarely do other than support their party line
  • Individual talk-time is very limited
  • It is difficult to listen to others with an open mind
  • Many people may be privately exploring new ideas but cannot share them
  • Decisions are imposed by authority or majority but rarely reached through full participation

An alternative meeting format, called Creative Discussion, has been developed which resolves most of these limitations:

  • Working in small groups (‘insight group’) so that each individual can explore new ideas
  • Alternation of speaking time and attentive listening means respect for the views of others
  • Forming a second small group (‘pair group’) with each member coming from a different initial group means accessing a wider range of ideas
  • There is considerable time for exploring new ideas
  • Influence of group (corporation, interest group, political party, etc) is significantly reduced
  • Decisions emerge from each group and can be collated through group interaction and in the collective forum


  • this approach to creativity has been extensively trialled and developed in Japanese universities with extended research funding
  • the underlying principles can be applied as: Campus Creative Discussion, Community or Corporate Creative Discussion, and for planetary decision makers: ‘Planetary Creative Discussion’ – they can also be applied in education
  • the background of the principal researcher includes 20 years as full professor in leading Japanese universities
  • more detailed discussion and information is available for setting up a Creative Discussion group.

Recognition and remuneration


© William Plain  1990-2016 (print) 2005 - 2016 (website)