Why Your Organization Needs to Create a Culture of Storytelling July 26, 2016
FINDING JOE: The Hero's Journey
This is a wonderful movie about the Hero's Journey -- the one we are ALL on. Sets the context beautifully for the 5-day Hero's Journey Retreat I will be co-facilitating with Dr. Beverly Nelson at the LifePath Center in San Miguel de Allende on August 15-19. Feeling THE CALL? email@example.comJuly 25, 2016
Confessions of a Keynote Speaker
Recently, I gave a keynote presentation to 150 people in the health care industry. After being introduced, I decided, as I usually do, to leave the safe confines of the podium ("a platform raised above the surrounding level to give prominence to the person on it"), dismount the stage, and "walk my talk" -- weaving my way in between the 20 round tables in the room, each with their own pitchers of water, tent cards, and little bowls of red and white mints.
For a keynote speaker, however, dismounting the stage and walking into the audience is always a risk -- the same kind of risk a person takes when they decide to get married, instead of just date. Or, why it's often easier to love humanity than just a single human being.
People, in theory, are interested in learning. People, in theory, are interested in listening to an outside speaker, especially when he's flown in from who knows where. But in reality, it's a completely different story. How do I know? By looking. By seeing. And by feeling what is really going on.
To the AV guy in the back of the room, there were 150 health care professionals in attendance, but to me there were 12 different subgroups -- some large, some small. Twelve different mindsets. Twelve different tribes. And while they were all being paid by the same employer, they were all paying a very different kind of attention to what I was saying -- all thinking very different thoughts.
Mind you, I'm not claiming to be psychic or a mind reader, but after 25 years of doing this kind of work, a person develops a curious ability to sense what people are thinking.
GROUP 1: "Thank you! Thank you! Tell it like it is, my brother! Finally, somebody is speaking the truth! Hallelujah!"
GROUP 2: "Please do not come any closer to my table, sir. And, under no circumstances, approach me with a microphone. First of all, I have nothing to say and, second of all, even if I did, nobody in this room would be listening to me."
GROUP 3: "Excuse me. I... don't believe I've ever heard of you. Do you actually know anything about the nuances of our industry?"
GROUP 4: "It all sounds good to me. Makes perfect sense. But... um... er... how much extra work is this going to mean for me?"
GROUP 5: "I wonder what's for lunch. I sure hope it's not that awful chicken they served us last time. That wasn't chicken. That was shoe leather."
GROUP 6: "Flavor of the month alert! Last year it was Excellence. The year before that it was Lean Management. Now, it's Innovation. This too shall pass."
GROUP 7: "Hmm.. How can I seem to be interested when this guy gets close to my table so my boss won't think I don't really care."
GROUP 8: "Innovate! Yes! We totally need to innovate! Absolutely! Wait a minute! Isn't that why they pay our senior leaders the big bucks?"
GROUP 9: "Very cool. Good timing. How can I get my team on board?"
GROUP 10: "Earth to keynote speaker! It's all about priorities. I mean, if I had more time to innovate I would, but all I'm doing these days is running from one meeting to the other."
GROUP 11: "Theoretically speaking, I am with you 100%. Maybe 200%. But when push comes to shove around here, we are not in a business likely to innovate."
GROUP 12: "Innovate, schminnovate! We need more head count."
My point? Every keynote audience is a melting pot of varying perceptions, assumptions, and needs. In order for keynote presenters to be effective, they need to find their "golden mean" -- their own sweet spot between the inevitable extremes that will be represented by the audience. Any attempt to convert the "slackers" or align with the "early adopters" will create nothing but more separation, resistance, and duality. In the end, it all comes down to what Mark Twain said years ago: "When you speak the truth, you don't need to remember a thing."Storytelling is a Great Way to Transmit Tacit Knowledge July 24, 2016
I'm From Woodstock, Yes I Am! July 22, 2016
Five-Day Hero's Journey Retreats in San Miguel de Allende
Mitch Ditkoff, Co-Founder of Idea Champions, is thrilled to announce that he will be co-facilitating a series of 5-day Hero's Journey Retreats in San Miguel del Allende, Mexico with Dr. Beverly Nelson, Founder of LifePath Retreats. The first session is scheduled for the week of August 15th. The second is scheduled for the week of October 30th. Click here for more or email firstname.lastname@example.orgJuly 19, 2016
Why Leaders Shouldn't Lead Brainstorming Sessions
Here's one of the dirty little secrets of corporate brainstorm sessions:
When they are led by upper management, department heads, or project leaders, they usually get manipulated.
Because honchos and honchettes are so heavily invested in the topic being brainstormed, it is common for them to bend the collective genius of the group to their own particular point of view. Not a good idea.
Participants -- out of respect for the expertise (or position or parking space) of the facilitator -- will invariably moderate their input. The results? Same old same old.
That's why brainstorm facilitators need to remain neutral. Not neutral like vague. Neutral like free of any pre-determined concept or outcome.
An open window, not an empty suit.
A facilitator's role is to facilitate (from the Latin word meaning "to make easy") the process whereby brilliance manifests -- not use their platform to foist their ideas on others.
In the best of all worlds, brainstorm facilitators wouldn't be the people who care the most about the topic. They wouldn't be the content expert, team leader, department head, senior officer, or anyone whose job is described by a three-letter acronym.
There's a HUGE difference between facilitating and leading a brainstorming session. Leaders get people to follow them. Facilitators get people to follow the yellow brick road of their own imagination.
Here are four classic ways that some brainstorm facilitators manipulate the ideation process. Any of them familiar to you?
1. They verbally judge ideas as they are presented
2. They scribe only the ideas they approve of
3. They spend more time pitching their own ideas than listening to the ideas of others
4. They develop only ideas consistent with their own assumptions
The 60-Minute Brainstorm Training
We are happy to announce our new strategic alliance with GenieCast, and the launch of our new 60-minute brainstorm facilitation training. Fast. Very fast. No caffeine required. Includes a custom set of self-study videos and articles. Like this.
July 14, 2016
Out of the Box, In the Box
ED NOTE: I just checked the stats/hits on the last eight years of Heart of Innovation blog posts and was surprised to see that the following article about my father's death got the most attention (30% more views than anything else!). I've always assumed I was "supposed" to be writing about innovation and creativity, but maybe there's something else more essential I need to be writing about...
There is a time of life when the time of life is about to end -- the time of last breaths, the time of saying goodbye to everything you have ever known or loved, the time of letting go.
This is the time my father now finds himself in.
He is flat on his back in a hospital bed, but the hospital bed is in his bedroom in West Palm Beach which is where he has chosen to die -- and will.
There will be no more calls to 911, no more paramedics, no more blood transfusions, no needles, no pills, no tests. This is his death bed and we are around it, me, his son -- his daughter, my sister -- my wife, his daughter-in-law -- grandchildren, great grandchildren, and the ever present hospice nurse here to keep him as comfortable as possible.
His mouth is dry. He cannot swallow. Someone swabs his lips as he gathers what's left of his strength to move his tongue toward the precious few drops of water.
The sound track for his last night on Earth is an oxygen machine pumping purified air through transparent tubes clipped to the end of his nose.
On the counter -- creams. Creams for this and creams for that and creams for the other thing, too. I've never seen so many creams.
Those of us around his bed are very still, holding his hand, rubbing his back, looking at him and each other in ways we have never looked before.
There is very little for my father to do but breathe. This lion of a man whose life was defined by ferocity and action is barely moving now. A turn of the head. A flutter of the eye. A twitch.
Though his eyes are closed, I know he can hear, so I bend closer and talk into his good, right ear. I tell him he's done a good job and that all of us will be OK. I tell him I love him and to go to the light. I tell him everything is fine and he can let go.
The hospice nurse is monitoring his vital signs. They keep getting lower and lower. I touch my father's cheek and it is cooler than before. His skin looks translucent. Almost like a baby's.
He opens his eyes and shuts them once again. None of us around him know what to do, but that's OK because it's clear there is nothing to do.
Being is the only thing that's happening here.
My father had his last shot of morphine about an hour ago. He had his last bowl of Cheerios yesterday at 10am. Cheerios and half of a sliced banana. That was the last time he could swallow.
It is quiet in the room. Very quiet.
I see my sister, my nieces, my wife, the nurse. All of us are as helpless as my father. The only difference is we are standing.
If only we could pay as much attention to the living as we do to the dying. If only we could stop long enough from whatever occupies our time and truly care for each other, aware of just how precious each breath is, each word, each touch, each glance.
Sitting by my father's side, I am hyper-aware of everyone who enters the room -- the way they approach his bed, what they say, how they say it, the look on their face, their thoughts.
I want to be this conscious all the time, attuned to the impact I have on others in everything I do. It all matters.
Nothing has prepared us for this moment. Not the books on death and dying, not the stories of friends who's fathers have gone before. Not the sage counsel of the Rabbi.
One thing is clear. Each of us will get our turn. Our bodies, like rusty old cars gone beyond their warrantees, will wear out. Friends and family will gather by our side, speak in hushed tones, hold our hands, and ask if we are comfortable.
That's just the way it is. It begins with a breath, the first -- and ends with a breath, the last.
In between? A length of time. A span of years. A hyphen, as my teacher likes to say, between birth and death.
What this hyphenated experience will be is totally up to us.
Will it be filled with kindness? Love? Compassion? Gratitude? Giving? Delight? Will we be there for each other before it's time to fill out the forms and watch the body -- strapped to a stretcher by two men in black suits -- be driven away like something repossessed?
I hope so. I really do. I hope we all choose wisely. I hope beyond a shadow of a doubt before we walk through the shadow in the valley of death that we choose to hold each others' hands NOW, rub each other's backs, bring each other tea, and listen from the heart with the same kind of infinite tenderness we too often reserve only for those about to depart.
My father is very quiet now, breathing only every 20 seconds or so. Or should I say being breathed?
And then...there is nothing. Only silence. No breaths come. No slight changes of expression on his face. No whispered words of love.
We, around his bed, are in his home, but he is somewhere else.
Bye bye Daddy! Travel well! Know that we love you and will keep the flame of who are deeply alive in our hearts. Thank you for everything. We will meet again. Amen!July 11, 2016
ENERGY and FOCUS: Two Keys to Great Brainstorming Sessions
A brainstorm session is a lot like trying to get from one place to another in a lighter-than-air balloon. With both of them, you have a destination, a vehicle, and the need to continuously make course corrections.
Fortunately, brainstorm facilitators have two dependable resources at their disposal to keep their "ideation balloon" aloft: Energy and focus.
Focus is the balloon itself. Energy is the helium that gets pumped into the balloon to provide it's lighter-than-air capability -- the element that gets it off the ground.
These two resources should be zealously maintained throughout any brainstorm session you facilitate. Any leak of energy or focus sets you on a course for premature grounding. In other words, you won't reach your destination if you've got energy or focus leaks.
In order to monitor the energy of any session you facilitate, you will need to pay close attention to three main phenomena: body language, engagement, and interaction. You want positivity. You want active participation. And want inter-connectedness.
Here's 8 ways to ensure that participants stay focused.
1. Ensure that participants know what the brainstorm is going to be about before the session begins. Communicate the specific challenge to be addressed and your hoped-for outcomes of the session.
2. Frame the topic to be brainstormed in the form of a "How can we?" question.
3. Write the question to be brainstormed in big letters on a flip chart so it is always visible to participants.
4. Repeat the "How can we?" question whenever the flow of ideas slows down. In other words, restate the problem being addressed at varying intervals throughout the session
5. Reinforce the ground rules established at the beginning of the session.
6. Make sure participants know what the agenda is and what process you will be using to ensure results. This will decrease doubt, increase trust, and keep minds from wandering.
7. Remind participants, from time to time, where they are in the process. Reaffirm that the group is on their way to resolution.
8. Use some simple, structured ideation techniques that allow everyone to participate.
Big thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions' Director of Training for this timely piece of writing. Up, up, and away!July 08, 2016
30 Ways to Know If You Have What It Really Takes to Innovate
Do you have what it takes to innovate? I'm not talking IQ, degree, or job title.
I'm talking the curious confluence of behaviors that come with the territory of being someone who turns top of the line ideas into bottom line realities.
1. You come up with great ideas in the shower and car
2. You like to stay up late... or get up early... or both
3. You're comfortable with ambiguity and chaos
4. While your ducks are rarely in a row, they're happy most of the time
5. You're not worried about failing
6. You've invited at least one friend into your personal think tank
7. You test out your ideas on just about anyone who will listen
8. You know what you don't know, but can't always explain it
9. You like making connections between things that don't go together.
10. You're open to feedback and also don't care what anybody thinks
11. Some of your friends think you're out of your mind
12. You find yourself laughing in the middle of the day for no reason
13. People get inspired around you
14. You've been known to wear two different socks
15. You feel like you're on the brink of a breakthrough a lot of the time
16. Sometimes you figure things out by talking, not thinking
17. You write notes in the margins of books
18. You like to conduct little experiments
19. You have a game plan, but it keeps changing
20. You love to immerse
21. You find ways to "work in the cracks" even when your day job dominates
21. You wish there were more hours in the day
22. Your passion to make a difference exceeds your doubt
23. You find yourself getting clues about your project in odd places
24. You feel like you're having a spiritual experience
25. You are far more organized than anyone thinks
26. You know you need a collaborator, but are picky about who
27. You have a bold vision of what success looks like
28. Your project has little to do with what your college major was
29. You're looking for someone to head up marketing and sales
30. You can think of another ten items that should be on this list
Why Create a Culture of Storytelling?
Unless you've been living in solitary confinement for the past few years, chances are good that you are a member of some kind of organization or community -- a gathering of people who have come together in service to a common goal. Whether it's a Fortune 500 company, a non-profit, or a softball team, we are all, whether we know it or not, involved in the process of creating organizational culture -- "a collective way of thinking, believing, behaving, and working."
How conducive the cultures we create are to the success of our missions is anyone's guess, but what is not a guess is the fact that high-performing organizations exhibit the same kind of mission-enabling qualities: trust, shared vision, collaboration, clear communication, diversity of thought, commitment to learning, freedom of expression, and a sense of belonging.
While there are many ways to enhance these qualities, the most effective and least expensive way is through storytelling -- a culture-building phenomenon that's been going on since language first began. Simply put, in order for a group of people to accomplish extraordinary goals, they need to know each other at a level far beyond title, role, or resume.
When people tell their stories to each other and are heard, magic happens. People bond. Barriers dissolve. Connections are made. Trust increases. Knowledge is transmitted. Wisdom is shared. A common language is birthed. And a deep sense of interdependence is felt. That's why, in days of old, our ancestors stood around the fire and shared their stories with each other. Survival depended on it and so did the emotional well-being of the tribe.
Times have changed since then, as have our methods of communication.
Where once story reigned supreme, now it's technology and all her attention-deficit offspring: texting, Twitter, Instagram, email, Facebook, and drive-by pep talks.
What we've gained in efficiency, we've lost in effectiveness. The spirit of the law has been replaced by the letter. People may be transmitting more, but they are receiving less. We share data, information, and opinions, but not much meaning. And it is meaning that people hunger for. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why employee engagement is down in so many organizations these days. It's because people feel isolated, disconnected, unseen, and unheard.
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