Allow More Time to Be Creative!
It doesn't get any simpler than this, folks! You want to be more creative? You want to create the conditions that allow other people you work with to be more creative? Stop rushing them! Go beyond the nanosecond! Allow more time!Want to Upgrade Your Company's Brainstorming Sessions?
"We found Idea Champions in a desparate search for brainstorm facilitation training and haven't looked back. During the past few months, they've helped us harness our naturally innovative spirit and significantly improved the way we execute our ideation process. We now have the tools and process we need to dig deeper into our creativity -- adding a lot more value and power to our company culture."
-- Jody Johnson, Chief People Officer, M Booth & Associates
"Idea Champions came to consult with M Booth just weeks after we were named 'Creative Agency of the Year' and helped us unlock an even greater level of thinking for our clients across the board. The creative shift came almost immediately after our sessions with Idea Champions began and continued to grow exponentially with each session. Now, our thinking is more innovative, more strategic and reached more efficiently."
-- Andrew Rossi, Creative Director, MBooth & Associates
The Innovation Burnout Syndrome
Most newly launched corporate innovation initiatives have a dark side, a not-much-talked-about shadow side -- the metaphorical alcoholic-father-in-the-basement side. And it is this... fascinating new projects are conceived, senior leaders get pumped, game plans are drawn up, but no one gives the "worker bees" any more time to devote to the newly launched projects. They are, in effect, expected to shoehorn their new efforts into their already overloaded schedules.
Bottom line, aspiring innovators' "day jobs" end up colliding with newly launched innovation initiatives and mayhem ensues. People either burn out, get cranky, triangulate to third parties, spend way too much time explaining the newly launched innovation project to their "day job" managers, or else go into martyrdom-mode -- all behaviors that do not bode well for the individual, the company, or its customers. And while every company DOES have a few superstar self-starters who dive in with both feet and a heigh ho silver, this is not a formula for sustainable innovation.
The solution? Either redistribute workloads, offer "innovation project sabbaticals", or provide your front line innovators with enough support services to unclutter their minds, ease their way forward, and allow them the time to focus on the innovation job at hand without frying.
If you don't, expect nothing but a whole lot of chaos, broken promises, unfulfilled expectations, and the kind of innovation backlash you wish you hadn't unleashed.
Three minute video on this phenomenon
COMING SOON! The Woodstock Story Festival: April 30 and May 1
Q. What do Alice B. Toklas, Willie Nelson, and the Woodstock Story Festival have in common?
A. They were all born on April 30th.
Alice was born in 1877. Willie was born in 1933. And the Woodstock Storytelling Festival was born in 2016 -- or should I say will be born in 2016 -- just 33 days from now. It's long awaited birth (April 30th and May 1st) will take place at the Mountainview Studio and you are invited to attend.
No need to bring a gift -- just yourself and your appreciation for the power of story to transform lives.
Billed as a "celebration of story in The Arts, Education, Therapy, Business, Mythology and Medicine", the festival promises to be an extraordinary gathering -- an inspired weekend of storytelling, musical performances, community building, fun, and reflection on our planet's most ancient form of communication.
Presenters come from a wide range of disciplines and include Peter Blum, Goia Timpanelli, Elizabeth Cunningham, David Gonzalez, Mitch Ditkoff, Doug Grunther, Barbara Mainguy, Paul McMahon, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Richard Schwab, and Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas.
Tickets? $150 for both days or $95 for either Saturday or Sunday. Due to the cozy size of the venue, advanced ticket purchase is encouraged.Brainstorming Revisited
Jump Starting a Culture of Innovation
In a recent survey of 246 CEOs from around the world, "having the right culture to foster and support innovation" was rated the most important ingredient to ensure a organization's success. In other words, if innovation is the big fish companies are trying to hook, culture is the ocean in which those fish are swimming.
Changing a company's culture, however, is not an easy thing to do. When you think about how difficult it is for just one person to lose five pounds or stop smoking, imagine the challenge of getting thousands of people to go beyond their old habits and outdated mental models. That being said, it IS possible.
The key to success? Beginning. And the key to beginning? Giving people a simple roadmap of what they can do, within their sphere of influence, to make a difference
This is what Mitch Ditkoff's Jump Starting a Culture of Innovation keynote is all about. Each person in the audience exits the keynote not only with fresh insights, inspiration, and ideas about what they can do to move the needle, they craft a personalized game plan for how to actually make it happen.March 26, 2016
How Einstein Would Solve a Problem If He Only Had an Hour
March 23, 2016
Tiny Sparks of Light
EDITOR'S NOTE: A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends to send me a story their father liked to tell. The one that follows, submitted by the appropriately named, Michal Story, touched me deeply and reveals a common humanity we all share, even during times of difficulty. I hope you enjoy it. If YOUR FATHER, like Michal's, had a favorite story he liked to tell, please consider sending it to me for possible publication on this blog.
"My father was a man of many secrets. Not by choice, but by temperament. He rarely spoke of his past. He'd come from a chaotic childhood and left home at 16 to join the Navy. He loved the camaraderie it afforded him and was proud of his service. He was what they called a 'lifer.'
I was a teenager in the 1960s when my father and I bonded through watching football and tuning up the car together on weekends. But it was between his tours of duty in Vietnam, when he invited me out onto our patio in the late Louisiana summer evenings, that I realized just how close we were. He'd sip scotch and smoke cigarettes while we listened to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline on the record player. Most of the time, we'd sing along with Hank and tell corny jokes. And sometimes, he'd comment on the heavy, warm humid air that reminded him of times in Vietnam. It was these times that I knew was in for a good story.
He spared me the horror he must have witnessed and would tell me stories of his friends and how they would pass the time. One particular story still strikes me.
I don't remember where, specifically, he was stationed, but it was on a border between North and South Vietnam. There was a rickety four-foot tall barbed-wire fence which separated the enemies and they could hear distant sporadic gunfire and explosions during the day. The fencing spanned a treeless, grassy field where each side could easily see the other's buildings. There was no movement between them during the day. My Dad's squadron's sole mission was to ensure that no one crossed. And no one ever attempted to cross from either side. It was an "easy tour" as he called it.
Late at night, and every night, a very different scene took place, however -- one my father said haunted him in a way that none of his other war experiences had. It would take place long after the gunfire and bombing had settled down to an almost peaceful calm.
My father and his brothers-in-arms would spot tiny sparks of periodic light emanating from the buildings across the field -- almost like a signal. The handful of American men on the night shift would approach the fence without hesitation, as if they were back home taking a leisurely stroll. As they approached, they'd see their counterparts, equally relaxed, approaching the fence. There they would meet and exchange brief greetings in whatever limited language each could understand -- making hand gestures, offering up cigarettes and, from the dim light of a match, show each other photographs of their families back home. Sometimes they would exchange odd wares unique to their respective cultures.
These men were no longer enemies in this nightly routine. They were just people managing to turn a blind eye to what divided them -- an American on one side, a Viet Cong on the other. No one knew when or how this ritual started. But it was repeated, nonetheless, by each new troop arrival. Was it from boredom? Curiosity? It didn't really seem to matter. Whatever the reason, it was a chance to be human again. The only danger seemed to be in caring."
One of my father's favorite stories
How 13-Year Olds Can End Terrorism
OK. I know this headline seems bold. Even presumptuous. But bear with me. I'm inspired. And even more than that -- on the brink of a breakthrough. But first, some back story...
Five years ago, my awesomely cool, smart, and creative daughter, Mimi (in the orange glasses above), turned 13 and invited 12 of her girlfriends to our house for a celebrational sleepover.
The first 30 minutes were great as each girl, gift in hand, was dropped off by a parent, who, upon surveying the room, offered my wife and I a glance of great compassion as if to say "Better you than me."
The girls? Don't ask...
They talked. They texted. They talked. They texted. Ate chocolate. Brushed hair. Played music. Painted fingernails. Laughed. Texted. Called friends. Finished not a single sentence, rolling their eyes every time a parent entered the room.
Mindful of my daughter's need for space and my own weird tendency to be a little too present when her friends were around, I retreated to my bedroom like some kind of mid-western chicken farmer looking for a storm shelter.
I tried reading. I tried napping. I tried meditating. Nothing worked. My attention was completely subsumed -- taken over by an invisible vortex of swirling social networking energy being channeled by a roomful of partying 13-year old girls -- the next generation of, like, whatever.
And then, with absolutely no warning, everything became suddenly clear. In a flash, I understood exactly how to end terrorism once and for all.
For starters, the government flies a squadron of 13 year-old girls to Guantanamo -- or wherever high profile terrorists are being interrogated these days.
The girls, impeccably guarded by the highest qualified soldiers available, are walked into a prison waiting room where the shackled terrorists are already sitting.
Immediately, the girls begin texting, eating chocolate, talking, painting fingernails, and exponentially interrupting each other with a steady stream of "OMG's" and other, esoteric internet acronyms none of their parents have a clue about.
The prisoners, at first, find the whole thing amusing -- a delightful break from their dreadful prison routine. They smile. They wink. They remember their youth.
But the girls, wired to the max (sugar and wi-fi), radically pick up the pace of their texting and talking like some kind of futuristic teenage particle accelerator.
After five minutes, the prisoners stop smiling. After ten, they become silent. After twenty, they start twitching. A lot.
They try covering their ears with their shackled hands, but the chains are too short. They start looking madly around the room, hoping to catch the eyes of their jailers -- but their jailers sit motionless, miming the movements of the twelve texting teenagers.
A few of the terrorists start crying. A few go catatonic. And then, the roughest looking of the bunch -- a tall man with a long, jagged scar on his left cheek -- calls out in his native language.
"STOP! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE! I'll TELL YOU EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW."
The guards nod and switch on the nearest tape recorder. But it's totally unnecessary.
The girls, totally tuned into the terrorists' confessions as if watching the finals of American Idol, are texting everything they hear to a roomful of Pentagon heavyweights in an undisclosed location.
The information proves vital to our national defense.
Within three days, a record number of terrorist cells are taken down. Word gets out to the global terrorist community and, in only a matter of weeks, it becomes impossible for the Jihadist movement to recruit.
Yes, of course, the ACLU raises a stink about this "new strain of American torture," but a thorough investigation by a bi-partisan task force of international peacekeepers proves to be inconclusive. No long-term damage to the prisoners can be detected.
On a roll, my daughter and her rock-the-world friends create a Facebook Group that teaches other 13-year old girls how to help the cause. A movement is born.
Soon, hundreds of teenage girl "patriots" are dispatched to war zones around the world -- radically decreasing the incidence of terrorism on all seven continents.
Subsequent interviews with former Jihadists reveal that merely the threat of being in a room with 12 texting 13-year old girls was enough to get them to lay down their homemade bombs and return to farming.
Peace comes to the Middle East. Pakistan and India make up. (Make up, girls!) The Golden Age begins.
As you might guess, HBO and Hollywood come calling.
Big time producers want to do a reality show and a major motion picture, but the girls -- newly inspired by the impact they've had on the world -- refuse to become a commodity as they prepare (OMG!) for summer camp and 8th grade and the September launch of that next, cool cell phone with the incredible keyboard.March 20, 2016
Here Is the Graphic Design Help You Have Been Looking For
See that good looking guy to your left? That is Jesse Ditkoff, my soon-to-graduate-Hampshire-College son -- a Digital Media major who will soon be launching his free lance design career.
His services? Graphic design in the following arenas: websites, brochures, posters, ads, logos, business cards, and photoshop.
This brilliant young man is creative, honest, kind, flexible, funny, persevering, easy to work with, and honors his commitments. Here's his website.
And this is the website he created for my company. (NOTE: I've gotten a bunch of new business because of it).March 17, 2016
The Perception of Ideas as Problems
Here's something I've been noticing lately:
Business leaders and managers tend to respond to the introduction of a new idea not as an imminent solution to be nurtured, but as a new problem to deal with. Ideas, one would think, would be welcomed, especially by an organization's movers and shakers talking the talk about innovation. But all too often a company's leaders, time-crunched and overloaded as they are, perceive the introduction of a new idea as simply "more work" for them to do, the early warning sign of too many emails to read, more meetings to attend, more requests for funding, and more conflicting opinions.
Perhaps this is why so many managers respond to the articulation of a new idea with knee jerk naysaying instead of heartfelt open-mindedness. And you wonder why innovation in your organization is so sluggish...March 14, 2016
Moore Is Not Less
It doesn't matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, Tea Partier, Liberal, Birther, Rebirther, Socialist, Social Butterfly, Vegan, Feminist, Nihilist, Atheist, Subversive, Conspiracy Theorist, Media Junkie, Fruitarian, Immigrant, or Bee Gee Fan, if you want your cage rattled, check out Michael Moore's new movie.Time to Upgrade Your Brainstorm Facilitation Skills
YOU are creative. Always have been. Cool, new ideas come to you all the time. In the shower. On the way to work. Even in your dreams. Where others see problems, you see possibilities. You're flexible, funny, and think on your feet. Which is why you were tapped to lead brainstorming sessions in your company.
You said YES of course, and are glad you did, but over time your sessions have become... well... er... uh.. a bit predictable. Same people. Same process. Same creeping sense that you need to try something different.
After all, you're in the business of the new. Right? That's how you've won new business in the past -- and that's how you've kept your clients coming back for more. Yes?
Towards that end, I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions:
"How can I upgrade my brainstorm facilitation skills?"
"How can I learn new ways to tease out brilliance in others?"
"How can I become a catalyst for breakthrough thinking?"
PS: Here's how
More about our approach
How we got started
How to Keep Small Group Brainstorming On Track
If you are planning to lead any kind of ideation or brainstorming session in the near future and will be dividing the group into sub-groups, here's one thing to keep in mind:
No matter how clear the instructions you give or how much you reinforce the ground rules of brainstorming, there is a 95% chance that the small groups will default to any of the following instead of brainstorming: conversation, debate, storytelling, schmoozing, philosophizing, venting, and question-asking. Bet on it.
WHY does this happen? Because there is precious little time, in most organizations, for people to simply get together and TALK about their issues, problems, and concerns in a meaningful way. Too many people work alone and don't have enough opportunities to get input, information, non-threatening feedback, and the perspective of others.
Bottom line, most people are subject to their own version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (i.e. physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization).
In other words, before diving into the "higher octave stuff" (i.e. creative thinking), people need to deal with the basics of their business life -- the stuff that is "on their minds."
If you only have a little while for a brainstorming session, you, as facilitator, of course, want to "cut to the chase" and get people ideating, but THEIR need usually involves something else, something more immediate that needs expression and an audience.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THIS?
1. Create more opportunities, on the job, for people to share their experiences, information, and perspectives with each other.
2. Schedule longer brainstorming sessions, so people have the time to "stretch out."
3. Include some "hierarchy of needs" time early in your session (i.e. small group sharing that had nothing to do with ideation).
4. Before dividing into small groups, be very upfront about this non-ideation phenomenon. Let people know their deliverable is ideas, not conversation, venting, or storytelling.
5. Ask each group to identify a "brainstorm facilitator" to keep things on track. Explain that role clearly.
6. State the brainstorming ground rules very clearly and project them onto a big screen for all people to see.
7. Create a "venting wall" where people can post their gripes and complaints on post-it notes before the brainstorming groups begin.
8. Give people a measurable goal for their small group brainstorming sessions (i.e. each person needs to jot down at least 10 new ideas).
9. After the brainstorming begins, wander around the room and observe the groups. If they are getting off track, remind them of the goal. (PS: Before the brainstorming begins, alert people people to the fact that you will be doing this, so they don't feel "singled out.")
10. Train a select group of in-house change agents how to facilitate effective brainstorming sessions.
Big thanks to Brennan Morgan and Ahkesha Murray, of LMI, for the inspiration to bell this cat.March 04, 2016
25 Quotes on the Power of Story
Looking for some inspiring quotes on why storytelling is such a powerful way to communicate your message, cut through the clutter, and awaken people's need for meaning? Here you go...
1. "The world is not made of atoms. It is made of stories." - Muriel Ruykeser
2. "A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way." - Flannery O'Connor
3. "Telling someone about your experience breathes new life into it, moving it out of the inchoate swirl of unconsciousness into reality. It takes on form and allows us to examine it from all angles." - Mandy Aftel
4. "The most important question anyone can ask is: What myth am I living?" - Carl Jung
5. "Those who do not have the power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts." - Salman Rushdie
6. "Inside each of us is a natural born storyteller just waiting to be released." - Robin Moore
7. "A lost coin is found by means of a candle; the deepest truth is found by means of a simple story." - Anthony De Mello
8. "We need to look hard at the stories we create, and wrestle with them. Retell and retell them, and work with them like clay. It is in the retelling and returning that they give us their wisdom." - Marni Gillard
9. "Although setbacks of all kinds may discourage us, the grand, old process of storytelling puts us in touch with strengths we may have forgotten, with wisdom that has faded or disappeared, and with hopes that have fallen into darkness." - Nancy Mellon
10. "In my life, the stories I have heard from my family, my friends, my community, and from willing strangers all over the world have been the true source of my education." - Holly Near
11. "The role of the storyteller is to awaken the storyteller in others." - Jack Zipes
12. "Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward, and we want to sit in their radius. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand." - Karl Menninger
13. "Everybody likes to tell a story. Little children do it effortlessly. Great artists do it with talent and years of practice. Somewhere in between stand you and I." - Sylvia Ziskind
14. "Become aware of what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it, and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart
15. "Every story you tell is your own story." - Joseph Campbell
16. "From my perspective as a depth psychologist, I see that those who have a connection with story are in better shape and have better prognosis than those to whom story must be introduced." - James Hillman
17. "The real difference between telling what happened and telling a story about what happened is that instead of being a victim of our past, we become master of it." - Donald Davis
18. "As a storyteller, as a human being, each one of us is one of a kind. And until we learn to celebrate our own unique style, culture, and gifts, we cannot appreciate the wealth of diversity around us." - Doug Lipman
19. "To believe your own thought, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men -- that is genius.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
20. "A coherent life experience is not simply given. The thing must be made, a story-like production." - Stephen Crites
21. "When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others, too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh
22. "A life becomes meaningful when one sees himself as an actor within the context of story." - George Howard
23. "All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them." - Isak Dinesen
24. "You could say that telling a story is the pretext for getting together in a personal way." - Nancy Rambusch
25. "The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself." - Henry MillerMarch 02, 2016
Sun Tzu on Preparation
"Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought." - Sun Tzu
What challenge or opportunity is coming up for you that will require a higher level of preparation than you usually make? What extra effort are you willing to make in order to prepare? What might prevent you from making the kind of effort you know you need to make? How can you create the support you need to ensure that your preparation efforts succeed?WOOF! Go Beyond Your Pet Ideas!
If your company runs brainstorming sessions, know this: too many of them have become veiled opportunities for people to trot out their pet ideas.
Because everyone is so ridiculously busy these days and real listening is at a premium, people use brainstorming sessions as a way to foist their pre-existing ideas on others.
And while this sometimes leads to results, it doesn't make best use of the opportunity a brainstorm session provides. The way around this phenomenon?
Give people a chance to express their pre-existing ideas at the beginning of a session. Clear the decks. Then use the rest of the time to explore the unknown. Woof! Woof!