February 24, 2011
One Frequently Ignored Secret of Facilitating Brainstorm Sessions

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Here's one of the dirty little secrets of corporate brainstorm sessions:

When they are led by upper management, department heads, or project leaders, they usually get manipulated.

Because honchos and honchettes are heavily invested in the topic being brainstormed, it is common for them to bend the collective genius of the group to their own particular point of view.

Not a good idea.

Participants -- out of respect for the expertise (or position or parking space) of the facilitator -- will invariably moderate their input. And while this can sometimes lead to good results, the results are usually disappointing.

That's why brainstorm facilitators need to remain neutral.

Not neutral like vague. No. Neutral like free of any pre-determined concept or outcome.

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An empty window, not an empty suit.

A facilitator's role is to facilitate (from the Latin word meaning "to make easy") the process whereby brilliance manifests -- not use their platform to foist their ideas on others.

In the best of all worlds, brainstorm facilitators wouldn't be the people who care the most about the topic. They wouldn't be the content expert, team leader, department head, senior officer, or anyone whose job is described by a three-letter acronym.

There's a HUGE difference between facilitating and leading a brainstorming session. Leaders get people to follow them. Facilitators get people to follow the yellow brick road of the imagination.

Here are four classic ways that some brainstorm facilitators manipulate the ideation process. Any of them familiar to you?

1. They verbally judge ideas as they are being presented
2. They scribe only the ideas they approve of
3. They spend more time pitching their own ideas than listening to the ideas of others
4. They develop only ideas consistent with their own assumptions

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at February 24, 2011 11:18 PM

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