CONDUCTING GENIUS: Brainstorm Facilitation Training Reinvented
We could tell you how awesome our brainstorm facilitation training is, but we're not sure you would believe us. So here's what one of our favorite clients has to say about it -- the fabulous folks from Mirrorball. And, if you don't believe them (since they are one of our favorite clients), how about these people?
"At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Mitch Ditkoff's ability to quickly and effectively teach my colleagues and me how to facilitate brainstorming sessions changed the future of our business. We went from being viewed by our clients as their agency to being respected as essential teammates that help them arrive at BIG IDEAS. I can't wait to learn more from Idea Champions. So many good things to come!"-- Mandy Kalajian, Vice President
"My coworkers and I spent exactly eight consecutive hours with Mitch Ditkoff of Idea Champions. The learnings from that session instantly changed the way we run our ideation sessions -- both internally and externally with our clients. The techniques and processes we learned from Mitch were beyond enlightening and have already garnered exponential returns. And speaking for a business that's fueled on creative thinking, I can think of no better investment of our time." -- Steve Papageorge, Creative Director
"The skills that Mitch taught our group have been invaluable and have changed the way that we do business both externally and internally. Mitch strengthened our ability to lead brainstorm sessions, ensuring that we are asking the most valuable questions, creating the proper environment, and building an agenda of techniques that will best elicit our clients' insights and ideas. The techniques he taught us have also been built into our internal brainstorms. The LCS technique has single-handedly changed the way that we approach ideas that we may have had an initial negative reaction to. We are true believers in the power of effective brainstorming, and plan to continue investing in these skills as a company!" -- Hillary Daniel, Cultural Programs DirectorSeptember 28, 2016
I Exist As I Am
September 27, 2016
Millennials in the Workplace
While this video is a bit over the top and stereotypical, it does have the potential to spark some useful dialogue about the challenge of fully engaging Millennials in a way that works for everyone. The good news? Idea Champions is in the process of developing a very cool workshop for organizations committed to finding new and better ways of tapping into the brilliance of Millennials. Just leave your name and contact info below if you'd like us to let you know when the workshop is ready for prime time.
14 Ways to Get Breakthrough Ideas
There's a lot of talk these days about the importance of innovation. All CEOs worth their low salt lunch want it. And they want it, of course, now.
What sparks innovation? People. What sparks people? Inspired ideas that meet a need -- whether expressed or unexpressed -- ideas with enough mojo to rally sustained support. Is there anything a person can do -- beyond caffeine, corporate pep talks, or astrology readings -- to quicken the appearance of breakthrough ideas?
Yes, there is. And what follows are 14 catalysts -- simple guidelines, principles, and approaches that will help you on your way.
1. FOLLOW YOUR FASCINATION
If you find yourself fascinated by a new idea, chances are good that there's something meaningful about it for you to consider.
Fascination, quite simply, is nature's way of getting our attention. Well beyond seduction or attraction, it's an indication that we are being called. Out of the thousands of ideas with the power to capture our imagination, the felt fascination for one of them is a clue that there's something worthy of our engagement.
Don't dismiss it as trivial. Give it room. Give it time to breathe. Honor it. If you have any doubt, consider the origins of the word "fascination". It comes from the Latin "fascinus," meaning to be "enchanted or delighted."
What enchants or delights us is sacred -- or could be sacred -- a clue that something significant is knocking on our door. Indeed, if we are willing to let fascination grow inside us -- a kind of immaculate conception can occur -- the illogical, miraculous becoming pregnant with possibility -- the bodily expression of the phenomenon that you are here to birth something extraordinary.
The idea is simply the first "waaaaaaah" to get you to notice.
What new idea is fascinating you? What new possibility has captured your attention? In what ways can you honor this inspiration today?
Breakthrough ideas, like telemarketers or Jehovah's Witnesses, have a curious habit of showing up at odd times.
And because they do, we're not always ready to receive them.
To complicate matters, chances are good that when they do show up, we are multi-tracking our little tushies off -- checking email, microwaving dinner, or looking for our Smart Phone amidst the half-folded laundry. Not exactly the pre-conditions for breakthrough.
The alternative? Immersion -- the act of becoming completely involved or absorbed in something -- engrossed, enthralled, or preoccupied."
If you want to radically increase your odds of originating breakthrough ideas, you will need to immerse. Don't be a chicken, be a hen!
Baby chicks break through the shell separating them from flight not because their mothers are rushing off to meetings on parenting skills, but because their mothers are immersed in the act of hatching. Mommy is sitting in one place for a looooooooong time. And baby chick is also sitting (curled up) in one place for a looooooooong time.
At Google, employees are given 20% of their time to immerse in projects that have nothing seemingly to do with their so-called day job. At 3M, it's 15%. W.L. Gore gives employees a half a day each week to immerse in projects that fascinate them.
Look at your calendar. Block out some time to focus on the development of your most inspired idea or venture. Unplug! Incubate! Hatch! Immerse!
3. TOLERATE AMBIGUITY
Breakthrough ideas are not always the result of a revolutionary Eureka moment. On the contrary, they are often the result of an evolutionary series of approximations or failed experiments.
When Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 800 times before coming up with tungsten as the filament for the light bulb, his answer was a revealing one.
"Fail?" he said. "I didn't fail once. I learned 800 times what didn't work."
Edison had the ability to tolerate ambiguity -- to "not know." Like most breakthrough thinkers, he had the ability to dwell in the grey zone. Confusion was not his enemy.
"Confusion," explained Henry Miller, "is simply a word we have invented for an order that is not yet understood."
If you are attempting to birth a breakthrough idea, get comfortable with discomfort. Give up your addiction to having all your ducks in a row -- at least in the beginning of your discovery process.
People may think you're a quack, but so what? Your chances of birthing a breakthrough idea (and result) exponentially increase the more you are able to tolerate ambiguity.
What new idea of yours is bubbling on the brink of breakthrough? In what ways can you stay with it -- even if something in you is impatient for a breakthrough?
4. MAKE NEW CONNECTIONS
True creativity rarely happens in a vacuum. On the contrary it is the product of two or more variables connecting in a new way.
It happens all of the time in nature. Water, for example, is really just the connection between hydrogen and oxygen.
It happens in the human realm as well. Roller blading is nothing more than the connection between ice skating and roller skating. MTV? Nothing more than the connection between music and television. Drive in banking? Car + banking.
The originators of these breakthrough products didn't pull rabbits out of hats. All they did was see a new, intriguing (and potentially commercial) connection between already existing elements.
Why don't more of us make these kinds of connections?
Because we usually stay within the confines of what we already know. We live in a box of our own creation -- whether that box be defined by our nationality, profession, concepts, cubicle, or astrological sign.
The more we are willing to get out of this box, the more likely it will be that powerful new connections will reveal themselves to us -- uncommon linkages between this, that, and the other thing -- kind of the way it was for Johannes Gutenberg when he noticed a previously undetected connection between the wine press and coin punch.
And so the printing press was born.
Make three parallel lists of ten words. The first list? Nouns. The second list? Verbs. The third list? Adjectives. Then look for intriguing new connections between them.
In 1989, Gary Kasparov, the Soviet Union Grand Chess Master, played a two game match against "Deep Blue," the reigning supercomputer of the time. Kasparov won easily.
When asked by the media what his competitive advantage was, he cited two things: intuition and the ability to fantasize. (And this, from a master strategic thinker!)
Few of us are ever encouraged to fantasize -- a behavior most commonly associated with children or perverts.
And yet, fantasizing is exactly how many breakthrough ideas get their start -- by some maverick, flake, or dreamer entertaining the seemingly impossible.
I find it curious that business leaders want their employees to come up with fantastic ideas or solutions, but they don't want their employees to fantasize. And yet, the words "fantastic" and "fantasy" come from the same linguistic root, meaning to "use the imagination."
Think of a current challenge of yours. What would a fantasy solution to this challenge look like? What clues does this fantasy solution give you?
6. DEFINE THE RIGHT CHALLENGE
"It's not that they can't find the solution," said G.K. Chesterton, the renowned American philosopher and writer, "They can't find the problem!"
Most people, in their rush to figure things out, rarely spend enough time framing their challenge in a meaningful way. If they owned a GPS, they'd fail to take the time to program in their destination -- because they were so much into the hustle of getting out of town.
Coming up with the right question is at least half of getting the right answer.
If you want a breakthrough idea, begin by coming up with a breakthrough question -- one that communicates the essence of what you're trying to create.
State your most inspired challenge or opportunity as a question beginning with words "How can I?" Then write it five different ways. Which is your real question?
7. LISTEN TO YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS
If you study the lives of people who have had Eureka moments, you'll note that their breakthroughs almost always came after extensive periods of intense, conscious effort.
They worked, they struggled, they noodled, they gave up, they recommitted --and then the breakthrough came. And often at unexpected moments.
They weren't buying lottery tickets at their local deli, hoping to win a breakthrough fortune, they were digging for treasure in their own back yard.
Rene Descartes got the idea for the Scientific Method in a dream. Richard Wagner got the idea for Das Rhinegold while stepping onto a bus after long months of creative despair. Einstein used to conduct "thought experiments" (a fancy name for daydreaming) whenever he got stuck.
In other words, the conscious mind works overtime in an attempt to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
Unable to come up with the breakthrough, the challenge gets turned over to the subconscious mind which then proceeds to figure it out in its own, sweet time.
Of course, all of this assumes that we are listening to the promptings of our subconscious mind.
This week, keep a log of your most inspired ideas, intuitions, and dreams. At the end of the week, review your log. See what insights come to you.
8. TAKE A BREAK
If you want a breakthrough, you will need to take a break. True innovators rarely follow the straight and narrow path. Not only do they march to a different drummer, they're often not even on the same playing field as most people.
Take Seymour Cray, for example, the legendary designer of high-speed computers.
He used to divide his time between building the next generation super computer and digging an underground tunnel below his Chippewa Falls house.
Cray's explanation of his tunnel digging behavior is consistent with the stories of many other creatives -- inner-directed, boundary-pushing people who understand the need to go off-line whenever they get stuck.
Bottom line, whenever they find themselves struggling with a thorny problem, they walk away from it for a while. They know, from years of experience, that more (i.e. obsession, analysis, effort) is often less (i.e. ideas, solutions, results).
Explained Cray, "I work for three hours and then get stumped. So I quit and go to work in the tunnel. It takes me an hour or so to dig four inches and put in the boards. You see, I'm up in the Wisconsin woods, and there are elves in the woods. So when they see me leave, they come back into my office and solve all the problems I'm having. Then I go up (to my lab) and work some more."
Next time you find yourself stuck on a thorny problem or project, walk away from it for a while. Stay conscious of new solutions coming to you during this down time.
9. NOTICE AND CHALLENGE PATTERNS AND TRENDS
There are many people these days who make their living from the pattern recognition business: futurists, meteorologists, air traffic controllers, and stock brokers just to name a few.
And while their success rates may not always be 100%, it is clear that whatever success they enjoy is intimately tied to their ability to notice patterns and then interpret those patterns correctly for the rest of us.
The same holds true for breakthrough thinkers.
The only difference? Breakthrough thinkers often hit the gravy train by challenging old patterns and then reconfiguring them in new ways.
"The act of creation," said Picasso, "is first of all an act of destruction."
"The genius," said American painter, Ben Shahn, "is merely the one able to detect the pattern amidst the confusion of details just a little sooner than the average man."
What trends in the marketplace most intrigues you? In what ways might these trends shift in the coming years -- and how might your most inspired idea be in sync with this imagined shift?
10. HANG OUT WITH A DIVERSE GROUP OF PEOPLE
Years ago Sony used to insist that their engineers spend at least 25% of their work time out of the office and mixing it up with people outside of the four walls of their industry.
Keepers of the innovation flame at Sony understood that diverse inputs were essential to the origination and development of breakthrough ideas.
Unfortunately, most of us tend to stay within the intellectual ghettos of the familiar. We hang out with the same people day and night -- usually people who either agree with us, report to us or, through some indefinable act of karma, are joined to us at the hip.
If you want to increase your chances of getting a breakthrough idea, you will need to break the bonds of the familiar.
Hang out with a different crowd. Go beyond the usual suspects. Seek the input of oddballs, mavericks, outcasts, or, at the very least, people outside your field.
If you can let go of your need for comfort and agreement, you will find yourself catapulted into new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting -- all precursors to breakthrough ideas.
Make a list of ten people outside of your traditional posse that you can spend some time with this month. Whoâ€™s first? When?
Breakthrough thinkers are often rugged individualists. They believe in their inalienable rights to think for themselves. They value their opinions, their perspectives, and their innate creativity. Their biggest fear is group think.
All well and good.
But there is an important distinction to be made between group think and the phenomenon of inspired individuals getting together to spark each other's brilliance.
Indeed, most great breakthroughs are more about inspired collaborations than they are about lone wolf genius.
Think Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google), David Filo and Jerry Yang (Yahoo), Watson and Crick (DNA), Lennon and McCartney (the Beatles), Hewlett & Packard.
All you need to do is frame a meaningful question, invite the right people, and facilitate the process for helping your think tank creatively jam. If you are not the right person to facilitate, you probably know someone who is. Ask them.
What is the topic of your next group brainstorm? Who will you invite? Who will facilitate? When?
12. LOOK FOR HAPPY ACCIDENTS
Breakthrough ideas are often less about the purposeful act of inventing new things that it is the art of noticing new things that happen accidentally -- those surprise moments when the answer is revealed for no particular reason.
The discovery of penicillin, for example, was the result of Alexander Fleming noting the formation of mold on the side of a Petri dish left unattended overnight. Vulcanized rubber was discovered in 1839 when Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a lump of the polymer substance he was experimenting with onto his wife's cook stove.
Breakthroughs aren't always about inventions, but about the intervention required to notice something new, unexpected, and intriguing.
For this to happen, you will need to let go of your expectations and assumptions and get curious.
Give up being an expert. Let go of the past. See with new eyes.
What failed experiment or unexpected outcome might be interesting for you to reconsider?
13. USE CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUES
I live in the Northeast. In the Winter, it's common for old cars -- especially on very cold mornings -- not to start. When this happens, the best thing you can do is get a jump start. All you need are jumper cables and another car that's got its motor running.
Creative thinking techniques are like jumper cables. They spark ignition. They turn potential into kinetic energy. They get you going when you're stuck.
If you're looking for a breakthrough idea, perhaps all you need is a jump start.
That jump start could take many shapes. It could be a classic, creative thinking technique, of which there are many. It could be a "creative thinking coach" or a favorite book, or a quote.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what medium you choose, just as long as you choose something to get your motor running.
Here's something to get you started:
14. SUSPEND LOGIC
Perhaps Einstein said it best when he declared: "Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted."
He was referring, of course, to the part of the human being that knows intuitively -- the part that is tuned in, connected, and innately creative.
Kids live in this place. The rest of us just visit, preferring the left-brained world of rationality, logic, linearity, and analysis.
On some primal level, we're all from Missouri. We need proof. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with gathering data, the addiction to it subverts our ability to originate breakthrough ideas.
We know this.
That's why we go to the movies, the pub, watch TV, read novels, dial 900 numbers, and daydream.
We seek an altered state -- one that is free of the normal gravity of daily life.
That's why movie makers ask us to suspend disbelief. That's why brainstorm facilitators ask us to suspend judgment. That's why women (innately intuitive as they are) ask the men in their lives to stop being so damn practical for a change and actually feel something.
It is in this state of suspension that our innate creativity is free to percolate to the surface -- over, under and around all of the left brained guardians at the gate.
And so... if you want to really birth a breakthrough idea, you too will need to enter into this state -- at least in the first phases of your new venture. Suspend judgment. Suspend evaluation. Suspend your addiction to the practical.
What exists on the other side is fuel for the fire of your untapped creativity.
What can you do this week to suspend practicality, logic and rationality in service to birthing your big idea?September 14, 2016
Kobe Bryant on Storytelling
Why create a culture of storytelling?
How to tell a good story
Excerpt from Storytelling at Work
The slam dunk of storytelling books
A story not by Kobe Bryant and not in my book
FAQ about Storytelling at Work
Do You Need a Storytelling Coach?
ED NOTE: This just in from Jeri Dube, a delightful new Oracle client of Idea Champions. Jeri engaged our phone coaching services to help her become a more skillful writer and storyteller -- two ways in which she is helping Oracle's sales force raise the bar for success.
"Working with Mitch was a privilege. As a professional writer, I rarely get the opportunity to have someone guide me on how to improve. Mitch had great insights into storytelling. More importantly, he could apply his knowledge and wisdom to where I needed improvement. Even if I knew something such as "ask open-ended questions" or "read your story out loud", it was useful to have a knowledgeable outsider reinforce the things that slip. And it's a gift to hear ideas that I hadn't considered or thought of before.
We covered a wide array of topics from how to make run-of-the-mill "win" stories for a sales audience more readable and impactful to how I could pull elements that lead to better storytelling out of a 1/2 hour interview with predominantly left-brained, short-on-time, interviewees.
Despite how much I learned, Mitch never made me feel like I wasn't proficient already. The time I spent with him was for sharpening my skills and creating a more enriching read for my audience. It made a difference in my process and in the results of my work."
Other client testimonials
Mitch's award-winning book on storytelling
What Kind of Story Will You Tell? September 09, 2016
Finished, Not Perfect September 07, 2016
Step Over the Imaginary Line September 06, 2016
10 Ways to Improve Your Company's Broken Ideation Process
OK. You're busy. I get it. Which is why I just deleted the first four compelling, context-setting paragraphs to this blog post and will now simply cut to the chase:
Your company's "ideation process" is either non-existent, seriously flawed, or a joke.
You know it. I know it. And 99% of the people you work with know it -- a longstanding phenomenon that spawns nothing but frustration, wheel spinning, and resignation. Few people want to deal with the Rube Goldberg-like nature of the beast. And so it continues. Does it always have to be this way? No it doesn't. But someone needs to step up and bell the proverbial cat. Like YOU, for example. So read on. The following ten "ideation process best practices" are clues for you. It's not like you have to implement ALL ten of them. But even one or two, applied on the job, will make a huge difference. That is IF you want to increase the odds of new ideas actually making it out the door...
1. COMMUNICATE A CLEAR, COMPELLING VISION: Regularly, let the people in your company know what the ultimate goal of their effort is. When people, swamped by the day-to-day, forget the inspired vision that attracted them to your company in the first place, your hose has sprung its first leak. What can you do, this week, to remind everyone in your organization of what the big, hairy, audacious goal is -- the "gold at the end of the rainbow" aspiration that gets everyone out of the bed in the morning?
2. FRAME POWERFUL QUESTIONS: While it's great to have an inspiring goal to aim for, unless you can translate that goal into the kind of meaningful challenges that people can get their arms around, all you are doing is hyping people up. The more skillful you are at framing your business opportunities as questions that begin with words "How can we?", the more likely it will be that your innovation garden will grow. That's why British author G.K. Chesterton once said, "It's not that they can't see the solution. They can't see the problem." How would you frame the question you want your creative team noodling on this week?
3. WRITE CRYSTAL CLEAR BRIEFS: I'm sure you've heard the phrase "garbage in, garbage out". Yes? Well, this phenomenon also applies to a company's ideation process. If your Account Services department (or whoever writes project briefs) delivers vague, incomplete, or hard-to-read briefs to your "creatives", you got trouble in River City. Unfortunately, this is all too common. The reasons? Your client doesn't actually know what they want, or your Brief Writers don't know how help your client figure it out. The result? Goofy, incomplete briefs that send your creatives off on a wild goose chase. What can you do to ensure that the people who write briefs in your company are totally on top of their game?
4. READ, UNDERSTAND, AND SIGN OFF ON THE BRIEFS: Even if your Brief Writers write crystal clear briefs, there is a big likelihood that the briefs they write will just hover in the air like Goodyear Blimps. Either key people won't read them, won't understand them, won't be inspired by them, won't check in with each other to make sure that everyone is on the same page, or won't have the time and energy needed to push back and ensure that another, better version of the brief is written to get the party started. How can you include a "Brief Reality Check" in your company's ideation process -- a way to ensure that all key internal stakeholders are on the same (clearly communicated) page before cranking out new ideas and concepts?
5. IMPROVE YOUR BRAINSTORMING SESSIONS: Most company's brainstorming sessions are hugely ineffective, a kind of hyper-caffeinated Rube Goldberg machine where the same, usual suspects go through the same tired process of trotting out their pet ideas, jousting with each other, and calling it "ideation." If your next brainstorm session was Spring Training for a baseball team, the field would be tilted, people would be wearing mittens, and various inebriated fans would be streaking across the field. Ouch! How can you upgrade the quality and impact of your in-house brainstorming sessions?
6. LEVERAGE THE SPONTANEOUS BRILLIANCE OF YOUR WORKFORCE: During the past 25 years, I have asked more than 10,000 people where and when they get their best ideas. Less than 2 percent tell me they get their best ideas at work. The most common times and places? In the shower. Late at night. Early in the morning. Exercising. Commuting. Or doing something completely unrelated to the task at hand. Curiously, most companies do not have any kind of dependable process in place for leveraging this naturally occurring idea generation phenomenon. And because they don't, many awesome ideas never get planted in your garden. Bummer. How can you encourage your people to honor, capture, and communicate the cool ideas they are conceiving away from the workplace?
7. COMMUNICATE CLEAR CRITERIA FOR IDEA EVALUATION: Generating ideas is not all that difficult -- just one of the reasons why the phrase "ideas are a dime a dozen" is so common. What is less common is letting your in-house "idea people" know what the criteria will be used to assess the ideas they conceive. Identifying and communicating clear criteria before engaging a mass of people in a "creative process" is another way to plug one of the big holes in your ideation hose. In other words, if you are the boss, department head, or team leader, be very clear with your people about how you will be evaluating the ideas they will be generating. Take a shot at it now. For the hottest project now on the table, what are five criteria you will use to assess the viability of ideas presented to you?
8. CAPTURE AND DOCUMENT IDEAS: Most brainstorm sessions or any kind of intentional ideation processes, usually spark a ton of ideas -- some good, some bad, some ugly -- but very few of these ideas are captured. And even the ones that are captured don't often make it out of the room. A post-it on the wall or a line on a flip chart is a good start, but unless those ideas, like a baton in a relay race, get passed on to the next runner, nothing much happens. What is your current process for capturing and documenting ideas generated in brainstorming sessions. Is it working? If not, what can you do to improve it?
9. ENSURE MORE DEPENDABLE IDEA EVALUATION: Because most people in your organization are running from one meeting to another, they rarely take the time to slow down, reflect, and evaluate promising new ideas that emerge. Instead, some kind of voo doo science is applied -- an odd cocktail of mood-driven opinion-making, idea jousting, half-baked conclusions, and whoever-stays-latest-at-the-office-decides. And while, sometimes, this stuff actually works, it is often a huge hole in your garden hose -- especially since most of your brainstorming sessions are way too short and have no time baked into them for idea evaluation. Who are the likely suspects within your sphere of influence to evaluate ideas, post-brainstorm session, and how can you ensure that they make the time to do so?
10. CREATE A WAY FOR SENIOR LEADERS TO GIVE FEEDBACK: This is a biggie. Ignore this step at your own risk. At the end of the day, your company's senior leaders need a chance to share their feedback -- especially on ideas that are going to require funding or company resources. This does not need to be an "uh oh" moment, like some kind of surprise IRS audit. Done well, it can be supremely helpful. Your creative team will get a much-needed reality check. Viable ideas will be refined. And you will radically diminish the odds of the "11th hour squashing of good ideas" syndrome, because your key stakeholders will have had an opportunity -- earlier in the game than usual -- to weigh in and be part of the creative thinking process. Of course, how these idea feedback sessions are structured and facilitated make all the difference. What is your concept for how these idea feedback sessions might be structured?
Dedicated to the super-creative, very cool, and forward thinking people of Mirrorball.
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We are Idea Champions