Sixteen members of the Numerical Linear Algebra group at the University of Manchester recently attended a two-day creativity workshop in order to generate ideas for our research and other activities. The workshop was facilitated by Dennis Sherwood, who is an expert in creativity and has run many such workshops. Dennis and I have previously collaborated on workshops for the Manchester Numerical Analysis group (2013), the EPSRC NA-HPC Network (2014), and the SIAM leadership (2018).

A creativity workshop brings together a group of people to tackle questions using a structured approach, in which people share what they know about the question, ask “how might this be different” about the aspects identified, and then discuss the resulting possibilities. A key feature of these workshops is that every idea is captured—on flip charts, coloured cards, and post-it notes—and ideas are not evaluated until they have all been generated. This approach contrasts will the all-too-common situation where excellent ideas generated in a discussion are instantly dismissed because of a “that will never work” reaction.

At our workshop a number of topics were addressed, covering strategic plans for the group and plans for future research projects and grant proposals, including “Mixed precision algorithms”, “Being a magnet for talent”, and “Conferences”. Many ideas were generated and assessed and the group is now planning the next steps with the help of the detailed 70-page written report produced by Dennis.

One idea has already been implemented: we have a new logo; see A New Logo for the Numerical Linear Algebra Group.

For more on the creativity process mentioned here, as well as details of creativity workshops, including sample briefs that can be used at them, see the new book by Dennis and me: How to Be Creative: A Practical Guide for the Mathematical Sciences (SIAM, 2022).