How to Prepare for a Brainstorming Session
Our latest Huffington Post article on how to prepare for a brainstorming session.August 20, 2014
How Many Dancers Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?
to a question
never asked before
to figure out
(or you were at a meeting).
How many dancers
does it take
to screw in
a light bulb?
If you want your brainstorm sessions to be more like dancing than having everyone's feet nailed to the floor, click here.August 07, 2014
I have never been fired from a job. Except once -- a week after the man I wrote 350 speeches for in two years, Donald J. Manes, the Borough President of Queens, committed suicide in his kitchen because he knew he was just about to get busted for stealing more than one million dollars from the City of New York in what is now affectionately known as the Parking Violations Bureau scandal.
I wasn't fired because I had done anything wrong. I hadn't. I was fired because the successor to the Not-So-Honorable Donald J. Manes wanted to clean house in a "B" movie politically correct way to appease the irate public's need for reform. A new leaf. She was turning over a new leaf and a whole bunch of other metaphors being supplied to her by a newly hired PR advisor.
The bottom line? At 37, I was out of a job -- unemployed -- with an insanely exorbitant Upper West Side rent due in less than a month.
Having saved almost nothing from my speech writing gig and with absolutely no desire to write for yet another person with delusions of grandeur, I decided to go the artistic route and earn my living the honest way -- playing my clarinet in the subway.
The first day I made $8.00. There was no second day.
So I did what any, self-respecting, former English Lit major with a little known ability to recite Canterbury Tales in Middle English would do. I wrote. Not a screenplay. Not a suicide note. But a query letter to New York Magazine pitching an investigative journalism article on the beggars of Manhattan -- the real story, I declared, behind the people who panhandled for a living.
And so, for the next 30 days, that's exactly what I did -- walked the streets of the Big Apple, doing my underground reporter best to befriend the people most of us think aren't really beggars at all but con artists trying to fool us for a living, bad actors impersonating beggars so they can buy cheap wine and avoid the rush hour commute.
Thirty days I spent with them. Thirty days walking, talking, buying them lunch, and trying to discover the organizing principal around which my story would authentically take shape.
And I did. Find it, that is. The moment I met Fred.
His spot? 79th and Columbus, just one block from my apartment. His schtick? Pepe, his dog. Or more accurately, his sign for Pepe, his dog -- a portable cardboard sign painstakingly printed with a pen he found three weeks ago that let the world know he wasn't begging for himself, but for his faithful companion, a 10-year old mutt he found on the street and loved too much not to feed every day.
Standing there before this man, tape recorder tucked under my right arm, I couldn't help but smile. This was either the cleverest of panhandler scams or Fred was an uptown saint.
I looked at him and he looked at me. Then, with a crook of his head and a word I didn't understand, he signaled me to sit with him and Pepe on a blanket that had seen, shall we say, better days.
He told me his name, but not much else. We sat there, in silence, side by side, Pepe before us, as hundreds of people walked by, most casting glances, not coins.
Thirty minutes passed, then Fred, with a pained look in his eye, looked at me and asked if I would "mind his dog" while he went looking for a hotel or restaurant to relieve himself.
And so, for the next hour, I sat there on the blanket with Pepe, the sign, and a tin cup.
This being 79th and Columbus, many purposeful, well-dressed people walked by. All of them, of course, assumed I was the beggar.
"NO!" I wanted to scream. "You got it all wrong! I'm not a beggar. I'm a writer doing a story on beggars". But I couldn't find the words. Somehow, the dog and cat both had my tongue. I was speechless.
And then, not a single angel descending from heaven, I got it. I finally got it. I was a beggar. Yes, me. I was a beggar. I was absolutely no different than Fred. I wrote stories. He wrote signs. He was trying to get money. I was trying to get money. And both of us were asking for help.
When Fred finally returned, he had a large wet spot on his pants.
"Dude, what happened?" I asked.
Fred shook his head, attempting to cover the stain with his hand. "No one would let me in," he explained, a single slow tear rolling down his cheek. "I went to 15 restaurants and hotels and no one would let me in."
Excerpted from my forthcoming book: WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of LifeAugust 02, 2014
The Challenge of Virtual Brainstorm Training
For the past six months, Idea Champions has been delivering its Conducting Genius brainstorm facilitation training virtually as well as in person. We've learned a lot along the way and we'd like to take a few minutes, now, to share a little bit of that with you -- just in case YOU are thinking of doing more online training.
First of all, a lot of things you'd assume would be lost in translation by going the virtual route did not turn out to be an issue for us.
If you have a solid online platform and everyone can see and hear clearly, without video hiccups or audio delays, most of the concerns about clarity of communication become moot.
And, there's really no problem with maintaining a high level of engagement and immediacy of experience IF you can keep tossing the proverbial ball back to participants in the form of questions, discussions, online polls, and practice sessions.
Indeed, we've found we can keep a high level of engagement for as long as four hours at a time (including breaks, of course.)
Content is also not a problem, as any information you can deliver in person can be delivered virtually.
Powerpoint? We've found it important not to use it too much -- only when absolutely necessary and then get back to directly relating to the participants as soon as possible. Similar to on-site sessions, Powerpoint can put people into a trance and turn them into spectators, not participants.
Additionally, removing the visual presence of the online facilitator and replacing him/her with a Powerpoint slide removes an important aspect of what keeps people engaged -- the human face and the sense that someone can "see" them.
Our challenge, in teaching people, virtually, how to become better brainstorm facilitators is finding ways to replace the modeling we do when we teach onsite.
Alert participants can pick up a lot of nuanced body language and facilitation cues simply by watching someone else facilitate a live brainstorm session. The transmission of tacit knowledge (the kind of knowledge that can only be communicated via apprenticeship or observation) tends to get lost in the virtual sauce.
For example, one of our seven brainstorm ground rules, in a training, is "no side talk." In our live sessions, we promote a fairly strict adherence to the ground rules, but there are several non-verbal ways to remind rule breakers to stay focused -- subtle facilitation methods that become hard to communicate virtually.
Also, if people are having side conversations during a session, all you have to do, as facilitator, to stop this behavior, is walk closer to them physically. This gets their attention and they look up. It is usually enough to extinguish the unwanted behavior. If not, you can then give them the "finger," so to speak -- the index finger indicator for "only one person speaks at a time."
Other peripatetic facilitator moves that are hard to teach virtually are the spontaneous ones that emerge in a session -- the kind where the facilitator chooses to walk around the room, or stand in different places in the room, to give participants a different visual focus -- a move with the potential to literally change the "point of view" for everyone.
Of course, we can TELL our online participants about these subtle facilitation tactics, but it's much more effective, from the learning retention perspective, if they experience them physically and real-time.
Our goal, as brainstorm facilitation teachers, is to create a virtual training experience that is virtually identical to our in-person training. Right now, we figure we're about 90% of the way there.
How long do you think it will be before communicating via holograms becomes the norm?
Thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions Director of Training, for sharing his insights and wisdom on this most important topic.Unleashing Business Brilliance
August 01, 2014
Brainstorm Facilitation Training DNA
Recently, my company (Idea Champions) been getting a lot of requests for our brainstorm facilitation training and are in the process of putting together a simple website about this service. In the meantime, here is an update on what it's all about:
Conducting Genius is an interactive learning experience that provides participants with the skill, experience, and confidence they need to become effective brainstorm facilitators. Knowing that people learn best by doing, we've designed the 1-3 day training to be as interactive as possible -- one that includes the following eight customizable elements:
1. Master Trainer Tutorials: At selected intervals, we deliver two kinds of topic-specific tutorials: 1) The art and science of brainstorm facilitation and; 2) The right use of ideation tools, techniques, and processes.
2. Discussions: Most tutorials are followed by lively discussions in which participants explore ways they might apply the content of the tutorials to their own brainstorm facilitation challenges on the job.
3. Brainstorm Technique Practice: Conducting Genius participants learn and practice 8 - 20 idea generation techniques. Each technique is applied to a specific "How can we?" or "How can I?" question participants will have identified, pre-training.
4. Experiential Challenges: Time allowing, we engage participants in hands-on action learning activities to challenge assumptions, spark new insights, and move them deeper into the learning mode. These challenges renew, refresh, and reveal new topics to explore.
5. In-Training Brainstorm Practice Sessions: Participants get multiple opportunities to lead the group through ideation processes of their own choosing, applying newly learned skills and techniques to business-specific challenges.
6. Intake Interview Greenhouses: In the advanced version of the training, participants take a deeper dive into the pre-brainstorm session prep process, practicing their client intake and needs assessment skills with real clients, real-time.
7. Guest Group Brainstorming Sessions: In the advanced version of the training, participants lead real-time brainstorming sessions, on the third day, with pre-selected in-house teams. Each session is debriefed and guest teams share their feedback.
8. Review of Facilitator Guidebook: Since there is significantly more material included in the 140-page Facilitator Guidebook than can be covered in the training, we review the book at the end of the course, alerting participants to sections most relevant for them to study, on their own, post-training.
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