March 27, 2015
SERVE A YEAR -- the PSA is AOK and LOL: Clinton & Kimmel

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:51 PM | Comments (1)

March 20, 2015
WANT TO RAISE THE BAR FOR FOLLOW UP? Tell This Story

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One of the biggest complaints I hear from my clients, especially clients who have lead or participated in brainstorming sessions, is that follow-up is often underwhelming.

People who attend these kinds of meetings may generate a lot of ideas, but things tend to go south after after people leave the room. Action plans and "next steps" may have been dutifully done, but even so, those kinds of efforts don't always bear fruit.

If you want to raise the odds for real follow-up and completion actually happening, consider telling this story as a prelude to any action planning you do. It will cut through the rhetoric and help people have an emotional, memorable response to your request for meeting participants to actually complete their tasks in a mindful way.

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High Velocity Brainstorming
Our storytelling workshop

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:26 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2015
Winning the Fundraising Game

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If you are a mover and a shaker for a non-profit, arts organization, start up, or other capital-constrained enterprise, chances are good that you spend way too much time thinking about the "F" word -- fundraising. While the mission of your organization may be highly expansive, the money is takes to support that mission is, all too often, highly contracted -- especially these days, with the economy being as sluggish as it is.

Enter Idea Champions' Winning the Fundraising Game, a thought provoking, custom designed, 4 - 8 hour creative thinking session that cuts through the "same old same old" syndrome and catalyzes bold, new possibilities.

Unlike most brainstorming sessions, Winning the Fundraising Game does not just focus on the generation of ideas -- or what some innovation mavens refer to as divergence. It also focuses on convergence -- what it takes to turn those bold, new ideas into measurable results.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:58 PM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2015
How Do You Bring Out Brillance from a Diverse Group of People?

Brainstorm facilitation training
The DNA of our training
What our clients say

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:08 AM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2015
How to Cultivate a Culture of Innovation

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Innovation, the endless effort to find a better way, cannot be achieved by robotically lining up best practices and imitating them. The real catalyzing agent for innovation is the ground from which these best practices spring -- the confluence of purpose, people, and processes better known as culture.

From where will the next wave of groundbreaking innovation come?

Not from organizations mechanically mimicking each other's best practices, but from organizations with the commitment to take their stand on ground that has been cultivated for breakthrough.

If you check the contents of the most popular books on innovation, the same topics show up again and again: strategy, systems, process, leadership, customer focus, risk, speed to market, prototyping, metrics, mass collaboration, market intelligence, technology, and creative thinking.

Yes, all of these topics are important. But none of them can take root in an organization without one fundamental element being in place -- a consciously created culture of innovation.

Is such a culture simple to create? Yes. Is it easy? No. And the reason why it is not easy is because the ground of most organizations is hard, untilled, and in major need of clearing.

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The metaphor that most clearly conveys the effort required is creating a garden.

To experienced gardeners, the steps needed to create a garden are simple. To the inexperienced gardener, it is a tangle of complexity.

Yes, gardening demands sustained and methodical effort. And yes, sweating comes with the territory. But getting a yield -- something to harvest -- is a fundamentally straightforward task.

If your company is clear about the effort required, creating a culture of innovation (lets just call it a garden of innovation) is simply a matter of taking the time to execute each step thoroughly -- in the time honored way gardeners have always practiced their craft.

1. WHET THE APPETITE
If you are serious about being a gardener of innovation, the first thing you will need is hunger -- a real appetite for results.

Growing a garden takes sustained effort. It is hard work -- most of it unglamorous and unappreciated. Hunger for a yield is the serious gardener's real motivator. Yes, the serious gardener likes being outdoors and, yes, the serious gardener likes getting exercise, but the ultimate product of his/her labors -- the harvest -- is what it is all about.

Without this level of commitment, the gardening effort remains only a hobby and does not have the roll up your sleeves and get dirty quality so essential to reaping a result.

If your workforce has no appetite for innovation, you will need to find a way to whet it. If you choose not to, people will sit idly by, waiting for R&D, senior leadership, or the tooth fairy to lead the charge. And while they may talk about growth, shovels, and the need for bulk purchase of mulch, talk will not put food on the table.

Fortunately, somewhere, deep inside everyone in your organization is the impulse to create. This impulse is innate. Your task is to awaken this impulse and help people own the effort to innovate. If they do not own the effort, the only thing you will be eating at harvest time will be your own words. (P.S.: Winter is on the way.)

2. STAKE and PREPARE THE GROUND

Amateur gardeners, fueled by visions of ripe tomatoes, have a tendency to plant before they are really ready. Unclear about how large a garden they can sustain, unsure about what is needed to prepare the ground, unable to resist the impulse for a quick yield, they rush in willy nilly.

The result? Lots of wasted effort and the kind of sweating that signifies almost nothing. The same holds true for organizations who claim they want a culture of innovation.

The antidote is a simple, two step process (though the description of the process is much simpler than the execution).

First, an organization needs to get clear about the scope of the effort they want to make. It needs to stake its territory or, more precisely, define the fields in which it wants to innovate. (If it tries to innovate everywhere, all the time, it will only deplete its resources and exhaust its workforce.)

Secondly, it needs to prepare the ground for planting.

This task includes removing obstacles that will interfere with growth, as well as enriching the fertility of the soil. Weekend gardeners cringe at this kind of preparatory effort. It does not feel like fun and there is nothing immediately to show for it. But without this effort there will be no foundation -- no ground -- for future success.

3. FIND THE SEEDS
You can have ample space to plant a garden. You can know exactly where that ample space is. And you can have lots of fertile soil in this ample space. But unless you have healthy seeds to plant, space is all you will ever have.

If you want a garden of innovation, you need seeds. Not just one kind of seed, but many. Indeed, the more varied seeds you have, the greater your chances for an interesting yield.

In the realm of innovation, ideas are the seeds. All innovation from the inside out with an idea. Ideas are the fuzzy front end of the innovation process -- the alpha and omega of new growth. No ideas, no innovation. Its that simple.

The big question, then, is this: Where will your company get its new ideas? Is there an existing process? And if so, is this process working? Can you count on your workforce to deliver high quality, game changing ideas? Or is there something else you need to be doing in order to tap their brilliance?

4. PLANT THE SEEDS
While it is true that some seeds, spontaneously carried by the wind and landing on fertile soil, find a way to plant themselves, most gardens require that seeds be planted in a more dependable way.

If your company is sincere about its intention to create a culture of innovation, it will need to refine its seed planting process. More specifically, it will need to establish a more effective way for the carriers of seeds to increase the odds of those seeds taking root.

Yes, aspiring innovators will need to become more adept at pitching/planting their ideas. But at the same time, the people to whom new ideas are being pitched will need to become more receptive to the possibility that something new is worthy of taking root.

Having a silo of healthy seeds is a good start, but ultimately those seeds need to be planted -- and they need to be planted in a way that will radically increase the odds of them growing into seedlings.

5. FENCE THE GARDEN
If you have ever planted a garden, you have experienced the phenomenon of uninvited predators showing up at all hours to devour your tender, young seedlings. Deer, raccoons, moles, rabbits, and a host of other unidentifiable varmints seem to have no other mission in life but to downsize your dreams of winning the state fair or, at the very least, eliminate all possibility of you having fresh lettuce for dinner. It comes with the territory. And it will continue to come with the territory unless you fence your garden.

Organizations of all shapes and sizes experience the same phenomenon.

Promising new business growth ideas -- the tasty indicators of breakthrough innovation -- are routinely devoured by ravenous corporate naysayers. That is, unless the organization finds a way to protect their aspiring innovators.

Your role, as a gardener of innovation, is to fence your garden and protect your people from the overly acidic scrutiny, doubt, and premature evaluation of predominantly left brained, metric driven, analytical inhibitors of innovation. It can be done. It must be done. And you are the one to champion the process.

6. TEND NEW GROWTH
Conceiving a garden is relatively easy. It requires no special skills, discipline, or education. Anyone can do it. Indeed, anyone does do it every single Spring and Summer. Getting a harvest, however, is an entirely different matter. It is not so easy -- and unlike conception, requires skill, discipline, resources, and the ability to learn on the job.

In the same way, conceiving new ideas is relatively easy. It happens every day of the year to millions of people. Bringing them to fruition is not so easy. Along the way, they get neglected, mishandled, and trampled on. What starts out as a brilliant new possibility, often shrivels on the vine. Most organizations have no conscious process for nurturing the growth of new ideas.

As a result, many powerful, new ideas never mature.

They may break new ground, but they do not necessarily flower and bear fruit. The good news? It does not have to be this way. With the right kind of sustained effort, gardeners of innovation can dramatically increase the odds of exciting new ideas becoming part of the harvest and making it to market.

7. THIN and TRANSPLANT
Inexperienced gardeners, intoxicated by their need for a big harvest and overcompensating for their fear of having nothing to show for their efforts, tend to plant too many seeds too close together. Their fear usually dissipates in a few weeks when the first sprouts emerge, but then another challenge surfaces -- what to do with the apparent bounty of new growth?

While the profusion of greenery certainly looks good to the untrained eye, the reality is different. New seedlings start competing with each other for water and nutrients. Roots entangle. Left unaddressed, the results are disappointing -- row after row of stunted, scraggly plants.

Savvy gardeners respond quickly, thinning out new growth to make room for a select number of the healthiest plants to flourish.

Really savvy gardeners go one step further -- transplanting the healthiest of the thinned out plants to new, roomier locations.

Organizations trying to raise the bar for innovation face the same challenge. Intoxicated by their need for impressive growth (and wanting to involve as many employees as possible in the process), they get overwhelmed by a profusion of ideas and initiate too many projects -- ideas and projects that end up competing for the same, finite resources.

The result? Scraggly, stunted, and undeveloped ventures.

The antidote? A clear strategy for how their organization will evaluate, select, and fund new initiatives -- along with a process for identifying promising new growth to be transplanted for future development.

8. CELEBRATE THE HARVEST
All cultures around the world have a holiday, ritual, or ceremony dedicated to expressing gratitude for the bounty of the harvest. In their bones, they understand the purpose, power, and privilege of giving thanks. Their recent harvest may have fed the body, but the collective acknowledgment of the harvest feeds the soul, strengthening everyones resolve to begin the growing process again the next season.

Corporate cultures could learn a lesson or two from this age old practice.

Historically, organizations have been severely lacking when the time comes to acknowledge the harvest and the people whose efforts were essential to manifesting that harvest. The endless demand for output drives most business leaders to conclude that acknowledging successes is a waste of time -- a luxury no bottom line watching organization could afford. Somehow, deep within the collective psyche of senior leaders, lurks the fear that celebrating successes will invariably lead to a fat and lazy workforce.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

People flourish when their efforts are acknowledged -- not only individually, but as an entire workforce. If you are serious about establishing a sustainable culture of innovation, remember to take the time to acknowledge your gardeners. For their effort. For their resilience. For their collaboration. And for whatever harvest they are able to manifest.

A good place to start: our workshop
My keynote on the subject
Idea Champions
What our clients say

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:10 PM | Comments (10)

You Can Grow a Business, But Can You Grow a Tomato?

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Mostly everyone in business these days, from a Fortune 500 CEO to a 10-year old lemonade stand entrepreneur is interested in the same thing: growth. No matter what their title, education, or tax bracket, business types want to see their enterprise grow. It's how they measure success.

But there is another kind of growth that is also an indicator of success -- the kind of growth more related to seasons than quarters. And it is this kind of growth that the iconic Smithsonian Institute is now beginning to track via it's ground breaking (pun intended) Community of Gardens initiative -- a user-friendly digital home for stories about the history and meaning of gardens and the gardeners who make them grow.

If you are a gardener and want to share your stories about your experience -- going all the way back to your grandparents, you now have a wonderful forum on the Smithsonian website to do so. Click here for 56 stories already posted on the site. The seed it planted. Now it's your turn.

FAQ about the project
Cultivate a garden of innovation in the workplace
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:09 PM | Comments (1)

March 04, 2015
Turn Your Ideas Into Digital Art!

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This just in from my 20-year old son, Jesse, a third year digital media student at Hampshire College:

Just recently, I was prompted by one of my art classes to create a social art project. No definition of "social" was provided. We were meant to interpret this as we wished and create art that involves society in some way.

I believe that art is viewed, by many people, as unapproachable. In other words, if you haven't declared yourself as an 'artist', how will you ever create a piece of art? This is the misconception I am working to dispel.

Art is not solely an act of creation. It is also a thought process, often manifesting in visual form, but it is no less valid if it exists only in your head. So... I have decided to launch a project that offers people an outlet to have their ideas brought to life by an aspiring visual artist -- in this case, me.

Knowing my own process, everything I have created has been influenced, in some way, by the opinions and advice of my peers and community. I want to take this phenomenon one step further.

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No later than March 20th, I will be choosing from anonymous submissions and creating a series of art/photography pieces comprised entirely of other people's ideas. Nothing is off limits, because what's not physically possible can be created digitally. My hope is that this project lends itself to making your most interesting, powerful, embarrassing, and bizarre ideas a visual reality in a way you hadn't previously considered feasible.

The ideas you submit can be as simple as one word, a complex list of specific instructions, or even an existing photograph you would like to see recreated.

The "social art" I will create, based on the ideas I receive, will be posted, by April 1, on this page The more submissions I receive, the more interesting the results will be, so don't be shy.

Please share this link with your friends, and stay tuned for some interesting pictures! Thank you for you time and interest!"

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Got an idea for a cool piece of art? Submit it here by March 20th.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:42 AM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2015
If You Call a Meeting, Please Call It By the Right Name

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Maybe it's just me. Or maybe it's the business I'm in, but I can't help but notice how often people with a pressing need to call a meeting find a way to work the "Let's get together and brainstorm" phrase into their invitation even when their meeting has absolutely nothing to do with brainstorming.

In effect, these kinds of invitations are nothing more than a kind of "bait and switch" in which unwary invitees assume they've been invited to help conjure up new possibilities, when, in fact, their creativity is neither needed, wanted, or recognized. The result? "Brainstorming" gets a bad name, meeting goers get pissed, and the person who called the meeting loses major points.

Simply put, not all fruits are bananas.

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And so... if YOU, oh savvy Heart of Innovation reader, have a tendency to misrepresent the kind of meetings you call, the following list of "non-brainstorm meetings" should help clarify matters. I beseech you -- please do not use the "B" word to describe the meeting you're inviting people to if it has nothing to do with ideation and if any of the five descriptors below more accurately describe the purpose of your meeting.

1. INFORMATION SHARING MEETING: This is probably the most common kind of meeting -- a chance for people to update each other, share research, and reflect on changes impacting whatever projects they are working on together. New ideas are not the goal of this kind of meeting -- just the facts, m'am. (BTW, before calling this kind of meeting, ask yourself if the information to be shared can be shared in any other way).

2. DISCUSS IMPORTANT TOPICS MEETING:
Some meetings require nothing more than a talking head session -- a bunch of people sitting around a table and talking about this, that, and the other thing. This kind of meeting gives people a healthy chance to air out opinions, share concerns, listen, debate, and eat muffins. There's nothing wrong with this kind of meeting, but it does not require brainstorming for it to be effective.

3. TEAM ALIGNMENT MEETING: Sometimes teams simply need to get together to get on the same page. Or, if not on the same page, then in the same book. While this kind of gathering may include the sharing of information (see #1), it may also be a time for team mates to connect, clarify their vision, and reinforce commitments. While this kind of meeting may seem "soft" to some people, it's not. Unless your team is connected and aligned, it's highly unlikely it will be effective. PS: Getting your ducks in a row requires discussion, not brainstorming.

4. FEEDBACK MEETING: Sometimes it's useful for team members to get together for no other reason than to give and receive feedback. This kind of gathering can be as simple as a few "report outs" and a previously agreed upon process for people sharing their perspectives with each other. Ideas may spontaneously emerge from this kind of pow wow, but a feedback meeting is not the same thing as a brainstorm session.

5. DECISION MAKING MEETING: Sometimes the only reason for a team to get together is to make decisions, as in "who's doing what?" or whether it's time to get new bowling shirts. Decision making comes from the left brain. Brainstorming comes from the right. By the way, if your team has no agreement about how it makes decisions, this kind of meeting won't go very well --unless, of course, it's already been decided that the "boss" is the one who will be making decisions on behalf of the team.

So there you have it. Five kinds of meetings that are not brainstorm sessions. Neither are they vacations, coconuts, of the latest viral YouTube video of a cat playing the piano with a tongue depressor.

If you value the time, energy, and expectations of the people you work with, please take the time to clarify what kind of meeting you are inviting them to and declare it, as such, instead of misrepresenting it as a brainstorming session (which it probably isn't).

Description of a brainstorming session
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If you are a brainstorming skeptic

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

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