The International Day of Compassion + Kindness
As a former political speechwriter and present day observer of the oddball dynamics accompanying the fast approaching U.S. Presidential Inauguration, I have developed an increasing respect for a man who, my fact checkers have assured me, has never watched CNN, FOX News, or Celebrity Apprentice -- Isaac Newton. Yes, Isaac Newton -- the bewigged, 17th century English physicist after whom the Third Law of Physics ("For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction") has been named.
And while I did not take Physics in high school, I am getting a crash course in the Third Law of Physics, every single day.
Equal and opposite reactions are everywhere. Right wing pundits make a point and left wing pundits counterpoint. Trump tweets and Progressives counter-tweet. Breaking News is reported. Then breaking Fake News is reported. It's not just Roe v. Wade that's at play these days. It's CNN v FOX, Hollywood v Rust Belt, and Tit v Tat -- or what the more spiritually minded among us refer to as duality -- the state of mind in which opposition, contrast, and polarity rule the day.
The emergence of the Women's March on Washington is perhaps one of the most visible examples of the Newton's Third Law of Physics these days -- an equal and opposite reaction to the fear and dread so many millions of women are feeling.
2,255 miles away, on the other side of the wall Donald Trump has not yet built, the Law of Physics is also at play at San Miguel de Allende's first annual International Day of Compassion + Kindness. A million people will not be attending the event in San Miguel. It will not be live-streamed. Nor will there be major press coverage. But like so many of these kinds of life-affirming gatherings taking place around the world on Inauguration Day, it is not concerned with ratings, numbers, or news cycles. It's purpose is simply to make a difference -- to take a stand for that which truly brings people together -- and do so in a joyful way.
The brainchild of sacred activist and artist, Joseph Bennett, the International Day of Compassion + Kindness is likely just the tip of the melting iceberg -- an inner-directed indication of what's to come in North America -- small groups of inspired people, from all walks of life, coming together (in ways they wouldn't have just months ago) to celebrate what it is all people share in common: love, the search for meaning, and a healthy dose of respect for diversity.
NOTE: The event will take place at Los Arcos (same plaza as La Finca), 28A Sterling Dickinson. It begins at 11:00 am on Friday, January 20th. There will be music, chanting, meditation, storytelling, and the experience of global community. No charge. It's free. Bring your friends!January 13, 2017
The 10 Personas of an Effective Brainstorm Facilitator
Allow me to make a wild guess. You have participated in more than a few brainstorm sessions in your life. Yes?
And allow me to make another wild guess. Many of those sessions left you feeling underwhelmed, over-caffeinated, disappointed, disengaged, and doubtful that much of ANYTHING was ever going to happen as a result of your participation.
Yes, again? I thought so.
There's a ton of reasons why most brainstorming sessions under-deliver, but the main reason -- the Mount Olympus of reasons (drum roll, please....) is the brainstorm facilitator.
Armed with a short list of ground rules, a flipchart marker, and a muffin, most brainstorm facilitators miss the mark completely.
The reason has less to do with their process, tools, and techniques than it does with their inability to adapt to what's happening, real-time, in the room.
In an all-too-professional attempt to be one-pointed, they end up being one-dimensional, missing out on a host of in-the-moment opportunities to spark the ever-mutating, collective genius of the group.
If only our well-intentioned brainstorm facilitators could abide by the words of Walt Whitman, when he confessed that he "contained multitudes."
Translation? If you or anyone you know is going to lead a diverse group of time-crunched, opinionated, multi-tracking, people through a process of originating breakthrough ideas, DON'T BE A ONE TRICK PONY! Be a multitude -- or, at the very least, be multi-faceted. Let it rip. Hang ten. Pull out the stops.
Use your right brain and your left. Let all the cats out of the proverbial bag -- and by so doing, exponentially increase your chances of sparking brainpower, brilliance, and beyond-the-obvious ideas.
OK. Enough bloggy pep talk. Let's get down to business.
Take a few minutes now to rate yourself, on a scale of 1-10, for how skillful you are at embodying the following personas of a high flying brainstorm facilitator
Then tune into your biggest strength and ask yourself how you can amplify that quality. Then identify your biggest weakness and figure out how you can improve in that arena.
A skilled brainstorm facilitator knows how to orchestrate powerfully creative output from a seemingly dissonant group of people. In the conductor mode, the facilitator includes everyone, evokes even the subtlest contributions from the least experienced participant, and demonstrates their commitment to the whole by offering timely feedback to anyone who "gets lost in their own song."
A good brainstorm facilitator is able to transmute lead into gold -- or in modern terms -- knows how to help people "get the lead out." This talent requires an element of wizardry -- the ability to see without looking, feel without touching, and intuitively know that within each brainstormer lives a hidden genius just waiting to get out.
Light on their feet, brainstorm facilitators move gracefully through the process of sparking new ideas. Able to go from the cha-cha to the polka to the whirling dervish spinning of a brainstorm group on fire, savvy facilitators take bold steps when necessary, even when there is no visible ground underfoot. "The path is made by walking on it," is their motto.
4. MAD SCIENTIST
Skillful brainstorm facilitators are bold experimenters, often taking on the crazed (but grandfatherly) look of an Einstein in heat. While respecting the realm of logic and the rational (the ground upon which most scientists build their homes), the enlightened facilitator is willing to throw it all out the window in the hope of triggering a "happy accident" or a quantum leap of thought. Indeed, it is often these discontinuous non-linear moments that produce the kind of breakthroughs that logic can only describe, never elicit itself.
Fully recognizing the precious gem of the human imagination (as well as the delicacy required to set it free), the high octave brainstorm facilitator is a craftsman (or craftswoman) par excellence -- focused, precise, and dedicated. Able to get to the heart of the matter in a single stroke without leaving anything or anyone damaged in the process.
Brainstorm facilitators are "on stage" whether they like it or not. All eyes are upon them, as well as all the potential critical reviews humanly possible. More often than not, the facilitator's "audience" will only be moved to act (perchance to dream) if they believe the facilitator is completely into his or her role. If the audience does not suspend this kind of disbelief, the play will close early and everyone will be praying for a fire drill or wishing they were back home eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
Brainstorm facilitators are the original recyclers. In their relentless pursuit of possibility, they look for value in places other people see as useless. To the facilitator in full mojo mode, "bad ideas" aren't always bad, only curious indicators that something of untapped value is lurking nearby.
8. OFFICER OF THE LAW
One of the brainstorm facilitator's most important jobs is to enforce "law and order" once the group gets roaring down the open highway of the imagination. This is a fine art -- for in this territory speeding is encouraged, as is running red lights, jaywalking, and occasionally breaking and entering. Just as thieves have their code of honor, however, so too should brainstormers. Indeed, it is the facilitator's task to keep this code intact -- a task made infinitely easier by the ritual declaration of ground rules at the start of a session.''
Some brainstorm facilitators, intoxicated by the group energy and their own newly stimulated imagination, use their position as a way to foist their ideas on others -- or worse, manipulate the group into their way of thinking. Oops! Ouch! Aargh! Brainstorm facilitating is a service, not a personal platform. It is supposed to be a selfless act that enables others to arrive at their own solutions -- no matter how different they may be from the facilitator's.
10. STAND-UP COMIC
Humor is one of the brainstorm facilitator's most important tools. It dissolves boundaries, activates the right brain, helps participants get unstuck, and shifts perspective just enough to help everyone open their eyes to new ways of seeing. Trained facilitators are always on the lookout for humorous responses. They know that humor often signals some of the most promising ideas, and that giggles, guffaws, and laughable side-talk frequently indicate a rich vein of possibility to explore. Humor also makes the facilitator much more "likable" which makes the group they are facilitating more amenable to their direction. Ever wonder why the words "Aha!" and "Ha-Ha" are so similar?
Our brainstorm facilitation website
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What our brainstorming clients say
VIDEO: The 8 Dimensions of a Brainstorm Session
A Sneak Preview Into the Art and Science of Brainstorming
Brainstorming, in most companies, is broken. Or, if not broken, breaking. Or, if not breaking, highly impaired. Those of us at Idea Champions are dedicated to changing the game -- and have been doing so for 25 years.January 03, 2017
What I Learned from Being Heckled at a Keynote Presentation
Every person who has ever had a job has experienced at least one "moment of truth" in their life -- a time when all the chips were on the table and the decision of whether to go "all in" or not had to be made.
One such moment happened to me a few years ago when I was facilitating a creative thinking session for 110 of Lucent Technology's "best and brightest" -- a room full of brilliant computer scientists with more PhDs than most politicians have excuses.
There I was, on stage, introducing the day with a slide show of quotes from legendary innovators, when a man in the 10th row stands up and screams, "You are totally wrong! I used to work with that guy and he never would have said anything like that! If you can't get your quotes right, why should I believe anything you're about to tell us?"
If this was the Wild West, I had just been challenged to a duel at High Noon, armed only with a remote and a blueberry muffin.
Standing as I was in the epicenter of the optic fiber universe, I had only a nanosecond to assess the situation. There was no time for a strategic plan, no time for deliberation, no time to call my coach. This was Defcon 7, me face-to-face with one very angry man.
"Well..." I began (stalling for as much time as a single word would allow), "it is possible that you're right. The slides I'm showing today were just finalized yesterday and my assistant may have made an incorrect attribution. I will check with her when I get back to the office. That being said, I invite you to focus on the good stuff that's here for you today, not the possible flaws."
Logical? Yes. Effective? No. My comments only made him angrier, his face growing redder by the moment.
I now had a choice to make -- whether to further engage my corporate heckler in a heroic attempt to win him over or continue with the reason why I'd been hired in the first place -- to help seriously left-brained scientists tap into their lesser-used right brain.
Choosing the latter, I proceeded to teach a powerful mind-opening technique based on the thinking styles of Albert Einstein and Garry Kasparov (a former Soviet Union Grand Chess Master).
Technique taught, I walked to the side of the stage and observed.
For the next five minutes, everything went smoothly. Everyone in the audience was focused and doing the work.
Then, without warning, Mr. You-Got-Your-Slides-All-Wrong stood up and, with great velocity, began approaching the stage. On a scale of 1-10, with "1" being walking and "10" being storming, he was a 9.8.
The faster he walked, the quieter the room got as I took my stance and readied myself for whatever was next.
Two feet from me, my fast approaching inquisitor stopped dead in his tracks, looked at me fiercely, eyes on fire, and exclaimed, "This is amazing!"
"What is amazing?" I replied.
"The technique you taught," he said. "I just had an incredible breakthrough about a problem I've been struggling with for years."
Happy for him and greatly relieved, I asked if he'd like to share his breakthrough with the group -- a task that would require the two of us to change roles for a few minutes, him taking center stage as teacher, me taking his seat, as student.
Which is exactly what we did.
The man was on a roll, inspired, lucid, and highly expressive. I couldn't have asked for a better spokesperson to convey the message I was trying to communicate that day -- a message about the innate ability all people have to go beyond their limiting assumptions and tap into a realm where breakthrough insights abide.
The dramatic and very visible shift my "heckler" had made from left-brained naysayer to right-brained savant was the embodiment of a teaching I couldn't have scripted in a hundred years. This had never been about me putting this man in his place or him putting me in mine. It was about changing places and seeing the world and ourselves through new eyes.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
None of us know when the moment of truth will come. None of us know what it will look like and how we will respond.
But we do know this: If we are awake and engaged in our work, it will come. There is no escape. The more we are already "all in", the easier it will be for us to respond to whatever comes our way. The more we are able to flex to the moment and make wise choices that serve the greater good, the more powerful the outcomes will be.
My moment of confrontation, at Lucent, did not allow me the luxury of deep deliberation. I had to trust myself, be in the moment, and go with the flow. But even more than that, I had to be willing to reframe what seemed to be a problem into an opportunity. I had to make lemonade out of lemons, on the spot, and not squirt anything in the eyes of the people I was there to serve.
My task was not to find fault with the fault finder (an easy thing to do), but to transform the moment into deeper understanding.
On the front lines of business, it is extremely easy to find fault in others. Even on a good day, most of us are woefully imperfect -- filled with a lifetime's worth of quirks, projections, fears, habits, and routines -- the kind of stuff that bugs even our closest friends. Throw in the X factor of stress, heavy workloads, and constantly changing priorities and you have a formula for... well... major heckling.
Your mission, should you choose to accept this assignment, is not to take it personally.
The person who is heckling you (at work, on the street, or in your home) is most likely having a bad day, week, month, quarter, year, or life. If Jesus, himself, was to make a sudden appearance, your heckler would probably find fault with his hair, clothes, or accent.
If you react with the same negativity that is coming your way, all you'll end up doing is throwing fuel on the fire. If you hate being judged, but then judge the judgers for judging, you will only end up in a fun house hall of mirrors with no exit.
PS: At lunch, after the high drama Lucent session, my client informed me of three things: 1) The man who heckled me does the same thing to every outside speaker no matter how much coaching he's received; 2) The exchange between the heckler and me was the perfect embodiment of one of Lucent's core values at the time -- allowing creative dissonance -- a value they had been trying, unsuccessfully, to embed it their culture for years and; 3) As a result of the positive impact my session had, Lucent was going to license my company's creative thinking training. Lemons hadn't just turned into lemonade, they turned into some major cash flow, too.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Think of a moment of truth you've had in the past year -- a surprise encounter that demanded an intuitive, in-the-moment response from you. What was that like for you? What did you do? What did you learn from the experience? And if, perchance, you did not respond in a way that worked, what might you do differently next time?
January 02, 2017
The story above is excerpted from my forthcoming book: WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life
Have Pluma, Will Travel
I will be on a 10 week writer's retreat in San Miguel de Allende working on my next book, Storytelling for the Revolution. During that time I will have about 7 hours each week for free lance writing and editing projects. Contact me if you have the need: firstname.lastname@example.org