February 27, 2016
If You Want to Create Breakthrough Products, Get Meaningful Feedback Early in the Game

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Most Fortune 500 companies have some kind of corporate strategy in place for ratcheting up their innovation efforts. Consultants are hired. CEOs give pep talks. And internal initiatives are launched.

To the casual observer, it all looks good, but few of these initiatives ever amount to anything In fact, research indicates that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail.

Why such a low percentage? It depends on who you ask. Senior leaders see it as a workforce issue. The workforce sees it as a senior leader issue. Consultants see it as an issue their company is best suited to resolve. And the occasional in-house astrologer sees it as a Gemini in Pluto issue. Bottom line, nobody really knows.

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Here's how I see it: one of the biggest (and least addressed) reasons why most change initiatives fail can be traced back to the cro-magnon way most innovation-seeking people give and receive feedback -- especially when it comes to pitching high concept ideas.

Case in point: Some years ago, Lucent Technologies asked me to facilitate a daylong "Products of the Future" ideation session for 75 of their best and brightest. The pay was good. The challenge was compelling. And I was going to have carte blanche to design the session just the way I wanted.

Or so I thought.

The woman who had contacted me, I quickly found out, reported directly to the CEO. So far, so good. And her concept of the session was spot on -- that the CEO and his Direct Reports (a new rock band?), would make an appearance at the end of the day to listen to five BIG IDEA pitches and then give their feedback, real-time.

Theoretically, this made perfect sense. But theory and reality are two very different things -- kind of like the difference between asking your teenage daughter to clean up her room and her actually doing it.

The harsh reality is this: The vast majority of Senior Leaders are not very skillful when it comes to giving feedback -- especially in response to ideas that challenge the status quo. "Feedback," for them, has become code for "With all due respect, let me tell you why your idea sucks".

As a facilitator of high profile brainstorming sessions, I cannot, in good faith, allow this all-too-predictable dynamic to play itself out. Not only will potentially profound ideas be prematurely dismissed, the hard-working, brilliant people who have spent all day generating and developing these ideas will become royally pissed, disempowered, humiliated, passive/aggressive, and depressed. The result? Very few of them will want to participate in future sessions.

So I told the consultant-seeking woman from Lucent that I, in service to the outcomes she was about to hire me to ensure, needed to meet with her CEO so I could teach him and his team how to give effective, humane feedback to a roomful of 75 future product generating optic fiber geniuses.

Surprised lody.jpg"Impossible!" was her response. "Our CEO is very busy man -- and besides... he doesn't like consultants."

"Got it," I said, quickly assessing my options. "And thank you, so much, for your kind invitation to facilitate the session, but I must respectfully decline" -- and, with that, I began packing up my briefcase.

This, shall we say, caught her slightly off guard. "I... don't understand where you are going with this," she replied.

"Look," I said. "If you want to get meaninful results from an all-day brainstorming session, especially if you are flying people in from who knows where, we've got to be absolutely sure that the feedback at the end of the day is done well. I am not going to walk 75 of your best and brightest people off the plank."

I could tell that my unexpected feedback was registering. "OK, OK...but the best I can do is get you five minutes with him during the coffee break just before the report outs".

"Great," I said. "I'll take it."

Fast forward two months.

From 8:30 am -- 3:00 pm, 75 of Lucent's most brilliant technologists conjured up products that made my head spin. The room was abuzz with glorious possibilities. The sense of accomplishment was palpable. At 2:45 they selected five of their best ideas and summarized them on flipcharts. At 3:00, it was time for coffee and sugar, me craning my head for the CEO and his merry band of direct reports.

I envisioned him to be a tall man, silver-haired, with a large Rolex and a steely look in his eyes -- someone who might be good friends with the Governor and eventually have his portrait hanging in the lobby at headquarters. He was, much to my surprise about 5'6", wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, loafers, and no socks. My kind of guy.

"Rich," I began, extending my hand. "Welcome, Mitch Ditkoff here from Idea Champions, facilitator of today's extraordinary ideation session, "how would you like to learn a simple technique in the next five minutes that will not only take all the dread out of giving feedback, but spark some seriously powerful idea development on the spot?"

He looked at me as if I'd just given him the holy grail. "You're on!"

"Great. Here's how it works," I began. "When an idea is pitched, first say what you LIKE about it -- the upside, what's promising. After a few genuine likes, then express your CONCERNS -- the stuff you probably wanted to say in the first place. But for each concern you express, it will be your responsibility to follow it with a SUGGESTION, a way that would resolve your concern and keep the idea alive Got it?"

"Got it."

"Oh... one more thing, Rich. If you forget to use the method, do I have your permission to remind you?"

"Absolutely".

The senior team took their place on stage, sitting behind a table, draped in black, that reminded me of the Nuremberg Trials. The 75 brilliant brainstormers took their seats at round tables -- everyone attentively listening to me describe the feedback process that was just about to unfold.

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The first BIG IDEA pitch was excellent -- a compelling idea for a telecommunications platform of the future that was utterly mind blowing. The audience applauded, I acknowledged the presenter, and then gave the floor to the CEO, reminding him to use the feedback technique I'd taught him just a few minutes ago -- which he proceeded to do for, oh, maybe 30 seconds or so.

After that? It was Apocalyse Now meets The Godfather, with a little Don Rickles in Vegas thrown in for good measure, a scene I'd witnessed countless times before in corporate America -- the kneejerk, reptilian-brained, go-for-the-jugular tendency most senior executives have to focus on what's wrong with a new idea before what's right.

Speaking into the mic in my best baritone imitation of the Wizard of Oz, I quickly intervened.

"Oh Mr. CEO of a very large and profitable telecommunications company. Remember the LCS technique! First your LIKES, then your CONCERNS, then your SUGGESTIONS."

In an optic fiber nanosecond, he sheepishly smiled, thanked me for the reminder, and returned to the technique.

The rest of the session went off without a hitch. Five powerful ideas got pitched. Seven of Lucent's top executives weighed in with insight, honesty, and graciousness. And 75 aspiring innovators experienced something they had probably never experienced before -- that it was possible to spend all day brainstorming "out there" possibilities and get the kind of feedback from senior leadership that was honorable, empowering, easy-to-listen to, and immediately helpful.

SO WHAT? Ever hear the phrase "ideas are a dime a dozen." Of course you have. It's one of the classic truisms we were all brought up to believe. That old saw, however, is less about ideas being inconsequential, than it is about people not knowing how to elicit their value. Granted, not every idea is worth developing, but far too many good ones are lost along the way because the person to whom the idea is pitched is blinded by their own knee jerk reactions.

The literature is filled with examples of great ideas whose value was not immediately recognized. The steam engine. The MacIntosh. FedEx. And the Post-It Note just to name a few. All of them were pitched to the "powers-that-be" and all were victims of knee jerk, naysaying, idea killing behavior. Yes, it's true, many senior leaders beat the drums for "out of the box thinking". But when push comes to shove, as it often does, their drumming is more like fingernails on the edge of an office desk than a conga player with fire in his eyes. So let's give our senior leaders what they need to make the shift from theory to practice -- and that is a simple method for them to respond to new and untested ideas in a way that increases the odds of innovation actually happening.

NOW WHAT? Think about your style of responding to new ideas. Do you listen? Do you pause long enough to see the seed of innovation? Do you give meaningful feedback in a humane way? And what about your organization? Do people know how to give and receive feedback? Do they take the time? Does the process increase the odds of innovation becoming a reality? If not, what can you about it this week to turn things around?

How to prime the feedback pump before your big pitch
Learn how to facilitate brainstorming
One way we get feedback from our clients
Contact us

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2016
Why You Need to Ask Why

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Some years ago, there was a big problem at one of America's most treasured monuments -- the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.

Simply put, birds -- in huge numbers -- were pooping all over it, which made visiting the place a very unpleasant experience.

Attempts to remedy the situation caused even bigger problems, since the harsh cleaning detergents being used were damaging the memorial.

Fortunately, some of the National Parks managers assigned to the case began asking WHY -- as in "Why was the Jefferson Memorial so much more of a target for birds than any of the other memorials?"

A little bit of investigation revealed the following:

The birds were attracted to the Jefferson Memorial because of the abundance of spiders -- a gourmet treat for birds.

The spiders were attracted to the Memorial because of the abundance of midges (insects) that were nesting there.

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And the midges were attracted to the Memorial because of the light.

Midges, it turns out, like to procreate in places were the light is just so -- and because the lights were turned on, at the Jefferson Memorial, one hour before dark, it created the kind of mood lighting that midges went crazy for.

So there you have it: The midges were attracted to the light. The spiders were attracted to the midges. The birds were attracted to the spiders. And the National Parks workers, though not necessarily attracted to the bird poop, were attracted to getting paid -- so they spent a lot of their time (and taxpayer money) cleaning the Memorial.

How did the situation resolve? Very simply.

After reviewing the curious chain of events that led up to the problem, the decision was made to wait until dark before turning the lights on at the Jefferson Memorial.

That one-hour delay was enough to ruin the mood lighting for the midges, who then decided to have midge sex somewhere else.

No midges, no spiders. No spiders, no birds. No birds, no poop. No poop, no need to clean the Jefferson Memorial so often. Case closed.

Now, consider what "solutions" might have been forthcoming if those curious National Parks managers did not stop and ask WHY:

1. Hire more workers to clean the Memorial
2. Ask existing workers to work overtime
3. Experiment with different kinds of cleaning materials
4. Put bird poison all around the memorial
5. Hire hunters to shoot the birds
6. Encase the entire Jefferson Memorial in Plexiglas
7. Move the Memorial to another part of Washington
8. Close the site to the general public

Technically speaking, each of the above "solutions" was a possible approach -- but at great cost, inconvenience, and with questionable results.

They were, shall we say, not exactly elegant solutions.

Now, think about YOUR business... YOUR company... YOUR life.

What problems are you facing that could be approached differently simply by asking WHY.... and then WHY again... and then WHY again.. until you get to the core of the issue?

If you don't, you may just end up solving the wrong problem.

THE FIVE WHYS TECHNIQUE

1. Name a problem you're having
2. Ask WHY it's happening
3. Get an answer
4. Then WHY about that
5. Get an answer
6. Then ask WHY about that -- and so on, five times

Our new, half-day, WHAT'S THE PROBLEM workshop

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:41 PM | Comments (1)

Everyone Is In Transition

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Source: Gaping Void
A book of my transitions
One way to help your workforce transition

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

February 21, 2016
Non-Judgmental Listening as a Catalyst for Innovation

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If there is person in your life who is on the cusp of a breakthrough, big idea, or simply struggling to figure something out, there is one thing you can do that will be supremely helpful. It has nothing to do with your good ideas, insights, or intuitions, of which you probably have many. It has everything to do with your ability to listen non-judgmentally.

Being listened to is what aspiring innovators need the most, but it is often what they get the least. Well-meaning friends, spouses, and colleagues assume that their advice, ideas, and suggestions are what's needed when, in fact, their advice, ideas, and suggestions are either uninvited, poorly timed, or overwhelming.

It's a bit like that old saw: the best way to tame a horse is to give it a big meadow in which to run.

The aspiring innovators in your life need a big meadow, not your big ideas -- and it is your listening that creates the meadow.

Creative thinkers need space to roam, wander, and meander. They need the relaxed state of mind that comes when someone, non-judgmentally, really listens to them -- without attempting to fix, improve, advise, suggest, or resolve.

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Talking, in fact, is how many people think. In other words, they don't know what they think until they have a chance to "talk it out". But if there's no one listening, "talking it out" becomes very difficult.

The paradox? The smarter and more creative you are, the harder it is to really listen to others -- especially if they are frustrated, confused, or stressed. Because you don't want to see others struggling, you take on the role of "fixer", trying to resolve their issues with your insight and wisdom. Not a good idea.

While you may have a lot of insight and wisdom, your insight and wisdom is not what's needed. What's needed is listening. Authentic, non-judgmental, unhurried, no strings attached listening.

Who, in your life, do you need to listen to more deeply? And what can you do, this week, to create the conditions that will encourage them to talk?

Alerting, deciphering, and understanding
Barry Gruenberg on listening
Idea Champions

Story listening

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:32 AM | Comments (2)

February 20, 2016
20 Things to Remember If You Love a Highly Creative Person

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Good list of reminders for you if you love a highly creative person

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:40 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2016
What Do LeBron James, Michael Phelps, Mary Lou Retton & Mitch Ditkoff All Have in Common?

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Give up? They are all Bronze Medal winners -- LeBron, Michael, and Mary Lou in various Olympics and Mitch in the just announced 2016 Axiom Business Book Awards competition in the Success/Motivation/Coaching category.

The Bronze Medal, in case you've been in a coma since 1904 (when it was first bestowed at the St. Louis Olympics) is awarded to the third place finisher. I must admit that when I first heard that I was a Bronze Medal winner, I was disappointed, hoping for the Gold or, at least, the Silver medal.

But then I read about some research done by social psychologists, in 1995, that showed that Bronze Medal winners were significantly happier than those who had won the Silver Medal -- comforting, indeed, as I highly value happiness, one of the key themes of my Bronze Medal winning book, STORYTELLING AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.

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Further research revealed that one of my favorite comedians of all time, Jerry Seinfeld, shed light on this topic in 2008. Seinfeld's rant on this little understood phenomena, I am thrilled to say, is more proof that my winning of the Bronze Medal is something to be happy about.

Silver Medalists, you see, are usually depressed about not winning the Gold, but Bronze Medalists are happy they didn't come in fourth and be completely ignored -- not that I am looking to walk through life with an Axiom Book Award medal around my neck, BUT... I am glad that my recently published Storytelling at Work has gotten some recognition because this may translate into more sales which, of course, will lead to more income and the increased possibility of doing keynotes on the power of storytelling OR, if my clients choose a Gold or Silver Medal winner instead of me for their keynote, then my chances of delivering either of my two storytelling workshops: Creating the Innovation Mindset or Storytelling at Work: The Workshop will have increased.

In any case, I tip my hat to the good people of the Axiom Book Awards for their kind recognition of my book. And I also tip my hat to the Gold and Silver Medal winners in my category, as well as the author who tied for the Bronze Medal. I'm sure they are great people with their own increased optimism that their books will have increased visibility.

If you are interested in how this newly crowned Bronze Medal winner (that's me, Mitch Ditkoff, folks) and his company can spark innovation in your company, let me hear from you (mitch@ideachampions.com) or just log onto Amazon and buy my book to see what all the fuss is about.

Below are some links that will give you a better understanding of why Storytelling at Work won an Axiom Book Award, how storytelling, consciously done, can spark innovation, wisdom, and massive amounts of renewed employee engagement.

Three minute video: why storytelling matters
Voice America radio interview
Amazon reviews of the book
Harnessing the Power of Storytelling
Storytelling at Work podcast
Book of the Month selection:
Other articles on storytelling
What my clients say
My new storytelling blog

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:42 AM | Comments (1)

February 16, 2016
An Innovation in Climbing, Art and Helping At-Risk Communities

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Jon Sedor realized, as a high school sophomore, that his passion in life was all about rock climbing and painting. However, in 2007 Jon lost his left (dominant) hand in a serious accident. Two amputations three surgeries, and lots of challenges later, Jon had still not given up his dreams. He could have easily submitted to what seemed to be a limitation, but he didn't. No way.

Since his accident, Jon has relearned to draw as a right-handed person, graduated from the School of Visual Arts with his MFA in 2014, and has become a nationally and internationally ranked rock climber. But Jon has a much grander vision than simply being a world class climber and working artist.

He wants to give back to the various communities that have given him so much meaning and healing in his life. And he wants to do so by helping other athletes with physical differences push their limits and achieve their own seemingly impossible goals.

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Towards that end, Jon and some very committed friends have joined together to create the Pebble Wrestler Collective -- an adventure film and creative apparel company based in Cleveland, Ohio. Their goal is to showcase the unique individuals and opportunities within the athletic and artistic lifestyles they pursue.

The Collective is comprised of outdoor adventurers -- from climbers and surfers, to skiers and snowboarders. Not only are they athletes, they are artists, film makers, and philanthropists, too. Bottom line, they are using their love of adventure and the visual arts to build awareness of the challenges and accomplishments of adaptive athletes, as well as helping communities by providing at-risk youth with healthy alternatives to street life -- climbing, surfing, and snowboarding.

Jon and the Pebble Wrestler collective have launched a Kickstarter Campaign is to fund their efforts. They are halfway to their goal of raising $18,000 and have until March 2nd to raise the rest.

Which is precisely why the Heart of Innovation has posted this update. We are calling on all our readers to pitch in -- even if it's just $10. It's easy to talk about innovation. It's easy to write about innovation. But in the end, when push comes to shove, action is what's needed -- crowd sourced, inspired, collaborative, dig deep, go-beyond-the-obstacles action. You in?

Thanks, in advance, for any support you can provide. Today is Jon's day to ask the world community for support. Tomorrow might be yours.

Click here to donate
More about the Pebble Wrestler Collective
JonSedor.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2016
On Creating an Innovation Mindset

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If you want to spark innovation in your organization and are looking for the diamond cutters stroke, consider storytelling. Since 1987, I've tried everything under the sun to help my clients raise the bar for innovation. What I've discovered is that innovation begins in the mind and that unless people are in the right mindset, innovation will never be more than a pipe dream. Storytelling, I've learned, is the simplest, fastest, most memorable way to get people into an innovation mindset. Here's how we do it. And if you only have 90 minutes, this is how we do it. Its also boosts employee engagement.

I wrote the book
The back story
In our clients words

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:10 AM | Comments (2)

February 14, 2016
Send Some Love on Valentines Day

DEAR HEART OF INNOVATION READERS: Just in case there is someone you want to send some love to on Valentines Day, here's the love. Go ahead. Be forward. Forward it. Time to express your appreciation! Time is passing. Now's the time to let it rip!

Idea Champions

Infuse your stories with love
Hey, anything's possible!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2016
41 Ways Business Leaders Can Foster a Culture of Innovation

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Yes, we know you want your organization to be more innovative. And yes, we know you want to improve your organization's culture of innovation. The best place to start? With YOU.

1. Give up needing to be the smartest person in the room.

2. Seek out people who think differently than you do.

3. Reward new thinking.

4. When you delegate, delegate.

5. Listen more, tell less.

6. Create an environment where no idea is considered dumb.
7. Be a learner, not a know-it-all.

8. Require that 30% of all budget proposals include innovative
products, processes, strategies, business models, or management
approaches.

9. Celebrate failures and learn from them.

10. Don't rush to resolve differences. Tolerate ambiguity while
gaining a deep understanding of the thought processes underlying
all positions.

11. Surface conflict and support minority positions.
12. Let go of your way of doing things.
13. Explore the territory before seeking a destination.
14. Reward people who disagree with you.

15. Protect the new from the old.

16. Get feedback to test whether what you think you communicated is what people actually heard.

17. Do whatever is necessary to deeply engage employees in the realm of the possible.

18. Do whatever is necessary to create widespread understanding and commitment to a shared vision of the future.

19. Reward teamwork and unselfish effort -- not individual heroics.
20. Accept as much of yourself as you can.
21. Recognize the talents of those around you and leverage them to the max.

22. Pave the way for your subordinate's success.
23. Develop all your reports to be your successor.
24. Provide very specific, timely, behavior-based positive feedback.
25. Begin your feedback with what you like about a new idea.

26. Make the path to considering, evaluating, and deciding on new ideas clear and easy to navigate.

27. Look behind "wild ideas" for potential new directions.

28. Never write anyone off. Try to understand where they are coming from before judging them.

29. Don't forget that everything you do is scrutinized for meaning.

30. Spend at least 20% of your time in two-way communication with people at all levels of your organization -- and spend most of this time listening, not explaining.

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31. Be intentional and deliberate. Be clear about what you are trying to achieve and test whether that is what you are getting.

32. Stick your neck out for what you believe in and value.

33. Acknowledge when you don't know -- and rely on others to help you figure it out.

34. Give the work back. Your job is to get the best that everyone has to give -- not come up with all the answers yourself.

35. Eliminate fear from the workplace. Foster excitement and commitment.

36. Acknowledge when you are wrong. Don't defend yourself. Just learn from your mistakes.

37. Engage others in the exploration of what is possible. (Don't create unnecessary limits).

38. Keep your organization in the zone of "productive disequilibrium." Resist efforts to revert to the "tried and true."

39. Increase freedom and accountability. Let employees experiment with whatever approaches they think are worth exploring while remaining accountable for results. Let them own the "how." You own the "what".

40. Provide timely feedback and data to everyone so they can identify what is working and what needs fixing.

41. Remember that the only person you can change is yourself.

-- Barry Gruenberg

Idea Champions
Brainstorm Champions
Storytelling as a way to change culture

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2016
The Art of Evelyne Pouget

Idea Champions is proud to preview the fabulous art of Evelyne Pouget which will be premiering in San Miguel de Allende on February 20-21. If you are interested in purchasing any of Evelyne's oil pastels or oil paintings, either leave a comment below or send an email to mitch@ideachampions.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 12:36 AM | Comments (1)

February 01, 2016
10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into Their Creativity

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If your job requires you to lead meetings, brainstorming sessions, or problem solving gatherings of any kind, chances are good that most of the people you come in contact with are left-brain dominant: analytical, logical, linear folks with a passion for results and a huge fear that the meeting you are about to lead will end with a rousing chorus of kumbaya.

Not exactly the kind of mindset conducive to breakthrough thinking.

Do not lose heart, oh facilitators of the creative process. Even if you find yourself in a room full of 10,000 left brainers, there are tons of ways to work with this mindset in service to bringing out the very best of the group's collective genius:

1. Diffuse the fear of ambiguity by continually clarifying the process
Most left-brain-dominant people hate open-ended processes and anything that smacks of ambiguity.

Next time you find yourself leading a creative thinking session, make it a point to give participants, early is the session, a mental map of the process you'll be using. Explain that the session will consist of two key elements: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

In the divergent segment, you'll be helping people consider non-traditional approaches. In the convergent segment, you'll be helping people analyze, evaluate, and select from the multiplicity of ideas they have generated.

If participants are going to get uneasy, it will happen during the divergent segment. Your task? Periodically remind them of where they are in the process. "Here's our objective," you might say. "Here's where we've been. Here's where we are. And here's we're going. Any questions?"

2. Get people talking about AHAS! they've had
No matter how risk averse or analytical people in your sessions may be, it's likely that all of them -- at some time or another -- have had a really great idea. genie2 .jpg"Creativity" really isn't all that foreign to them (although they may think it is). All you need to do to get them in touch with that part of themselves is help them recall a moment when they were operating at a high level of creativity.

Get them talking about how it felt, what were the conditions, and what preceded the breakthrough. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll hear and how willing everyone will be, after that, to really stretch out.

3. Transform limiting assumptions
One of the biggest obstacles to creativity is the assumption-making part of our brain -- the part that is forever drawing lines in the sand -- the part that is ruled by the past. Most people are not aware of the assumptions they have -- in the same way that most drivers are not aware of the blind spot in their mirror.

If you want people to be optimally creative, it is imperative that you find a way to help them identify their limiting assumptions about the challenge they are brainstorming. "Awareness cures," explains psychologist Fritz Perls. But DON'T get caught in a lengthy discussion about the collective limiting assumptions of the group. This is often just another way that left-brain dominant participants will default to analyzing and debating.

Instead, lead a process that will help participants identify and explore their limiting assumptions. Then, time allowing, help them transform each of these limiting assumptions into open-ended "How can we?" questions for brainstorming.

4. Encourage idea fluency
Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists of the 20th century, was once asked, "How do you get a good idea?" His response? "The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away."

That's why "Go for a quantity of ideas" is the first rule of brainstorming. You want to encourage people, early and often, to go for quantity. This will short circuit participants' perfectionistic, self-censoring tendencies -- two behaviors that are certain death to creativity.

5. Invite humor

The right use of is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, "haha" and "aha" are closely related. Both are the result of surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way.

Please note, however, that your use of humor must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every "joke" has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim -- a way to affirm power. And when a group finds itself in the realm of power (and the yielding of power), it will undoubtedly end up in left brain territory.

You don't want to feed that beast.

Instead, set the tone by telling a victimless joke or two, or by your own self-deprecating humor. But even more important than "joke telling" is to allow and encourage a free flowing sense of playfulness.

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6. Do the right brain/ left brain two-step
Brainstorming for 3, 4 or 5 hours in a row is unusually exhausting, resulting in the "diminishing returns" syndrome. Creative thinking, like life itself, follows natural laws. Day is followed by night, winter by spring, inbreath by outbreath.

That's why the design of your creative thinking session needs to alternate between the cerebral and the kinesthetic -- between brainstorming and some kind of hands-on, experiential activity. By doing this two-step, participants will stay refreshed and engaged.

7. Periodically mention that chaos precedes creative breakthroughs

Left-brained, logical people are rarely comfortable with ambiguity, chaos and the unknown. It seems messy. Disorganized. Downright unprofessional. Indeed, much of the Six Sigma work being done in corporations these days is to reduce variability and increase predictability.

Paradox alert!

If you want to get really creative, you will need to increase variability and help participants get more "out of control." Picasso said it best, "The act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Tom Peters said it second best, "Innovation is a messy business."

So, when you sense that your session is filled with ambiguity-phobic people, remember to mention how it's normal for ambiguity to precede a creative breakthrough. You may even want to mention how you will be purposefully infusing the session with moments of ambiguity, just to prime the creative pump.

8. Establish criteria for evaluation
The reason why ideas are usually considered a dime a dozen is because most people are unclear about their process for identifying the priceless ones. That's why a lot of brainstorming sessions are frustrating. Tons of possibilities are generated, but there is no clear path for winnowing and choosing.

Let's assume, for example, that the session you facilitate generates 100 powerful, new ideas. Do you have a process for helping participants pare the 100 down to a manageable few? If not, you need one. Ideally, the criteria for selecting ideas will be clarified before the session and introduced to participants early in the session.

Please note that there is some debate amongst brainstorm mavens as to when to offer the criteria. Some say this should happen at the beginning of the session (to help assuage the left brain need for logic and boundaries). Others suggest delaying the identification of criteria until just before the idea evaluation process. Either way will work. Your call.

9. Be a referee when you have to
No matter how many ground rules you mention about "suspending judgment" or "delaying evaluation," you are going to have some heavy hitters in the room just waiting for a moment to doubt your approach or "the process."

Indeed, one of the favorite (often unconscious) strategies of some left-brainers is to debate and question the facilitator every step of the way. While you want to honor their concerns and right to speak their truth, you also want to hold the bar high for the intention behind the brainstorming session -- and that is to challenge the status quo, entertain the new, and create space for imaginations to roam.

Don't be afraid to be firm with participants who want to control the session. At the very least, ask them to suspend their need for "convergence" (i.e. evaluation, judgment, decision making) to the end of the session when there will be plenty of time to exercise that very important muscle.

10. Consult with the tough people on the breaks
Every once in a while, a really opinionated person shows up in a session -- someone who is probably very smart, competent, experienced, with a big BS detector, and just enough arrogance to make you feel uncomfortable. These people can really affect the group, especially if they hold positions of power in the organization.

In the best of all worlds, these people would always be on your side. They won't be. Be careful about playing to these people in a neurotic attempt to get their approval. You won't get it. But DO seek them out on breaks and engage them. Get them talking. Pay attention. See if you can pick up any useful feedback or clues about revising your agenda or approach.

Even though you wouldn't choose to be trapped on a desert island with them, these folks may turn out to be a huge blessing -- because they are carriers of a particular sensibility that needs to be honored. More than likely, some of the other people in the room are feeling the same thing, but have been too polite to show their true colors. So, don't be afraid of these people. They can be a very valuable resource.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:43 PM | Comments (3)

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