March 30, 2012
The 10 Personas of a Really Effective Brainstorm Facilitator

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Allow me to make a wild guess. You have participated in more than a few brainstorm sessions in your life. Yes?

And allow me to make another wild guess. Many of those sessions left you feeling underwhelmed, over-caffeinated, disappointed, disengaged, and doubtful that much of ANYTHING was ever going to happen as a result of your participation.

Yes, again? I thought so.

There's a ton of reasons why most brainstorming sessions under-deliver, but the main reason -- the Mount Olympus of reasons (drum roll, please....) is the brainstorm facilitator.

Armed with a short list of ground rules, a flipchart marker, and a muffin, most brainstorm facilitators miss the mark completely.

The reason has less to do with their process, tools, and techniques than it does with their inability to adapt to what's happening, real-time, in the room.

In an all-too-professional attempt to be one-pointed, they end up being one-dimensional, missing out on a host of in-the-moment opportunities to spark the ever-mutating, collective genius of the group.

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If only our well-intentioned brainstorm facilitators could abide by the words of Walt Whitman, when he confessed that he "contained multitudes."

Translation? If you or anyone you know is going to lead a diverse group of time-crunched, opinionated, multi-tracking, people through a process of originating breakthrough ideas, DON'T BE A ONE TRICK PONY! Be a multitude -- or, at the very least, be multi-faceted. Let it rip. Hang ten. Pull out the stops.

Use your right brain and your left. Let all the cats out of the proverbial bag -- and by so doing, exponentially increase your chances of sparking brainpower, brilliance, and beyond-the-obvious ideas.

OK. Enough bloggy pep talk. Let's get down to business.

Take a few minutes now to rate yourself, on a scale of 1-10, for how skillful you are at embodying the following personas of a high flying brainstorm facilitator

Then tune into your biggest strength and ask yourself how you can amplify that quality. Then identify your biggest weakness and figure out how you can improve in that arena.

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1.CONDUCTOR
A skilled brainstorm facilitator knows how to orchestrate powerfully creative output from a seemingly dissonant group of people. In the conductor mode, the facilitator includes everyone, evokes even the subtlest contributions from the least experienced participant, and demonstrates their commitment to the whole by offering timely feedback to anyone who "gets lost in their own song."

2.ALCHEMIST
A good brainstorm facilitator is able to transmute lead into gold -- or in modern terms -- knows how to help people "get the lead out." This talent requires an element of wizardry -- the ability to see without looking, feel without touching, and intuitively know that within each brainstormer lives a hidden genius just waiting to get out.

3.DANCER
Light on their feet, brainstorm facilitators move gracefully through the process of sparking new ideas. Able to go from the cha-cha to the polka to the whirling dervish spinning of a brainstorm group on fire, savvy facilitators take bold steps when necessary, even when there is no visible ground underfoot. "The path is made by walking on it," is their motto.

4. MAD SCIENTIST
Skillful brainstorm facilitators are bold experimenters, often taking on the crazed (but grandfatherly) look of an Einstein in heat. While respecting the realm of logic and the rational (the ground upon which most scientists build their homes), the enlightened facilitator is willing to throw it all out the window in the hope of triggering a "happy accident" or a quantum leap of thought. Indeed, it is often these discontinuous non-linear moments that produce the kind of breakthroughs that logic can only describe, never elicit itself.

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5.DIAMOND CUTTER
Fully recognizing the precious gem of the human imagination (as well as the delicacy required to set it free), the high octave brainstorm facilitator is a craftsman (or craftswoman) par excellence -- focused, precise, and dedicated. Able to get to the heart of the matter in a single stroke without leaving anything or anyone damaged in the process.

6. ACTOR
Brainstorm facilitators are "on stage" whether they like it or not. All eyes are upon them, as well as all the potential critical reviews humanly possible. More often than not, the facilitator's "audience" will only be moved to act (perchance to dream) if they believe the facilitator is completely into his or her role. If the audience does not suspend this kind of disbelief, the play will close early and everyone will be praying for a fire drill or wishing they were back home eating a grilled cheese sandwich.

7.ENVIRONMENTALIST
Brainstorm facilitators are the original recyclers. In their relentless pursuit of possibility, they look for value in places other people see as useless. To the facilitator in full mojo mode, "bad ideas" aren't always bad, only curious indicators that something of untapped value is lurking nearby.

8. OFFICER OF THE LAW
One of the brainstorm facilitator's most important jobs is to enforce "law and order" once the group gets roaring down the open highway of the imagination. This is a fine art -- for in this territory speeding is encouraged, as is running red lights, jaywalking, and occasionally breaking and entering. Just as thieves have their code of honor, however, so too should brainstormers. Indeed, it is the facilitator's task to keep this code intact -- a task made infinitely easier by the ritual declaration of ground rules at the start of a session.''

9.SERVANT
Some brainstorm facilitators, intoxicated by the group energy and their own newly stimulated imagination, use their position as a way to foist their ideas on others -- or worse, manipulate the group into their way of thinking. Oops! Ouch! Aargh! Brainstorm facilitating is a service, not a personal platform. It is supposed to be a selfless act that enables others to arrive at their own solutions -- no matter how different they may be from the facilitator's.

10. STAND-UP COMIC
Humor is one of the brainstorm facilitator's most important tools. It dissolves boundaries, activates the right brain, helps participants get unstuck, and shifts perspective just enough to help everyone open their eyes to new ways of seeing. Trained facilitators are always on the lookout for humorous responses. They know that humor often signals some of the most promising ideas, and that giggles, guffaws, and laughable side-talk frequently indicate a rich vein of possibility to explore. Humor also makes the facilitator much more "likable" which makes the group they are facilitating more amenable to their direction. Ever wonder why the words "Aha!" and "Ha-Ha" are so similar?

Excerpted from Conducting Genius
High Velocity Brainstorming
What our brainstorming clients say
VIDEO: The 8 Dimensions of a Brainstorm Session

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at March 30, 2012 12:11 AM

Comments

Good post. While I agree the facilitator plays a major role in the ultimate success of a brainstorming session, I think the process itself is usually so flawed that even a great facilitator can't save it. All too often, it seems brainstorming meetings expect brilliance to come from a group of people who have failed to even agree on what the problem to be solved is. Over the years, I've developed a process I call the Monkey Cage Sessions that has been really effective in thoroughly defining the problem from all angles before delving into solutions. If you're interested, I described it in this blog post: http://www.retailshakennotstirred.com/retail-shaken-not-stirred/2010/07/the-monkey-cage-sessions.html

Posted by: Kevin Ertell [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 5, 2012 09:47 AM

I agree with Kevin Ertell about the flaws of the brainstorming process. And so, apparently, do a growing number of researchers who study the neuroscience of creativity. The New Yorker recently published an article called "Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth." (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer) Author Jonah Lehrer traces the history of brainstorming and all the scientific evidence against its effectiveness.

In an interview with Krista Tippett of On Being (http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2012/creativity-and-the-everyday-brain/), neuroscientist Rex Jung says this about brainstorming:

"[For creativity, brainstorming]... is the worst thing you can do. The main reason why is because of this process of trying out strange new ideas versus when you put people together in a room, almost invariably they will try to conform socially. So you will get creative ideas, but you won't get as creative when people are trying to please each other than when they're trying to push the envelope. And so the studies invariably show that the quality of the creative ideas that people put out individually are invariably higher in quality than those done in a group format. So another myth bites the dust. And again, I mean, there's always what about the writers of Seinfeld or Saturday Night Live or something like that? They work in group formats. Yeah, but it's different. I mean, where you have collaboration like that, there's often an element of antagonism involved and critical interplay as opposed to cooperativeness."

As if that message weren't deflating enough to all the proponents of pop-psych creativity methods, Jung goes on to say that the pop-psych emphasis on the creativity of right-brain functions is a gross oversimplification:

"...in our neuroscientific studies, you'll often find correlates in the right hemisphere that are related to creative cognition, divergent thinking or personality variables, but that doesn't mean that creativity somehow resides in your right brain. It takes lots of parts of your brain working in tandem to do creative things. If you didn't have your left hemisphere, I guarantee you wouldn't be creative."

He says a much more important neurological function of creativity is what another scientist has called "transient hypofrontality," which is a trait that, essentially, enables an individual to opportunisitically "down-regulate the frontal lobes" of the brain, which are responsible for executive functions and critical thinking.

In contrast to thought processes that are highly correlated to intelligence, Jung says, creativity is "a slower, more meandering process where you want to take the side roads and even the dirt roads to get there, to put the ideas together. So the down regulation of frontal lobes, in particular, is important to allow those ideas to link together in unexpected ways."

Posted by: Dave Vranicar [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 7, 2012 08:04 AM

I agree with Kevin Ertell about the flaws of the brainstorming process. And so, apparently, do a growing number of researchers who study the neuroscience of creativity. The New Yorker recently published an article called "Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth." (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer) Author Jonah Lehrer traces the history of brainstorming and all the scientific evidence against its effectiveness.

In an interview with Krista Tippett of On Being (http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2012/creativity-and-the-everyday-brain/), neuroscientist Rex Jung says this about brainstorming:

"[For creativity, brainstorming]... is the worst thing you can do. The main reason why is because of this process of trying out strange new ideas versus when you put people together in a room, almost invariably they will try to conform socially. So you will get creative ideas, but you won't get as creative when people are trying to please each other than when they're trying to push the envelope. And so the studies invariably show that the quality of the creative ideas that people put out individually are invariably higher in quality than those done in a group format. So another myth bites the dust. And again, I mean, there's always what about the writers of Seinfeld or Saturday Night Live or something like that? They work in group formats. Yeah, but it's different. I mean, where you have collaboration like that, there's often an element of antagonism involved and critical interplay as opposed to cooperativeness."

As if that message weren't deflating enough to all the proponents of pop-psych creativity methods, Jung goes on to say that the pop-psych emphasis on the creativity of right-brain functions is a gross oversimplification:

"...in our neuroscientific studies, you'll often find correlates in the right hemisphere that are related to creative cognition, divergent thinking or personality variables, but that doesn't mean that creativity somehow resides in your right brain. It takes lots of parts of your brain working in tandem to do creative things. If you didn't have your left hemisphere, I guarantee you wouldn't be creative."

He says a much more important neurological function of creativity is what another scientist has called "transient hypofrontality," which is a trait that, essentially, enables an individual to opportunisitically "down-regulate the frontal lobes" of the brain, which are responsible for executive functions and critical thinking.

In contrast to thought processes that are highly correlated to intelligence, Jung says, creativity is "a slower, more meandering process where you want to take the side roads and even the dirt roads to get there, to put the ideas together. So the down regulation of frontal lobes, in particular, is important to allow those ideas to link together in unexpected ways."

Posted by: Dave Vranicar [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 7, 2012 08:04 AM

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