December 26, 2018
The DNA of Idea Champions Workshops and Trainings

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Most people think that the ability to be innovative is a mystical state available only to the chosen few.

The effort, they imagine, takes a lot of time and hard work. And since they don't have time and don't like hard work, they reason that innovation just isn't in the cards for them.

But innovation is not a mystical state. It's a natural state -- a human birthright. The people in your organization, in fact, already are innovative. The only thing is: their natural ability to be innovative is being obscured by their own habits of mind and a variety of bothersome organizational constraints.

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Their challenge is the same one as seeing the "hidden" arrow in the FedEx logo (look between the "E" and the "X").The arrow has always been there, but most people never notice it.

This is the work of Idea Champions. We help people see what they already have, but don't know how to access.

We help people make meaningful adjustments of vision, insight, and perception so they can acknowledge, embrace, and apply their innate ability to be more creative on the job -- and, for those clients who want to reinvent their "innovation process", we help them figure it out.

What follows is a brief summary of how we do this...

1. Know Thy Customer:
Long before we ever get into a room with participants, we do our due diligence -- learning about WHO we are serving, WHAT they expect, and HOW our time with them will be the most significant.

Sometimes this takes the form of phone interviews. Or online polls. Or studying key documents our clients send us in order to understand their current reality, industry, business challenges, organizational constraints, and hoped for outcomes.

2. Customization:
Based on our assessment of our client's needs, we put together a game plan to get the job done. Towards this end, we draw on more than 100 "innovation-sparking" modules we've been developing since 1986.

3. Co-Creation:
Early in the design process, we invite our clients to give us feedback about our approach. Their feedback stirs the creative soup and provides us with the input needed to transform a good session design into a great one.

4. Spacing In:
We make a great deal of effort to ensure that the space in which our sessions take place are as ideal as possible. Form may follow function, but function also follows form.

When participants walk into an Idea Champions session, they begin "mind shifting" even before the session begins. It is both our belief and experience that culture/environment is a huge X factor for creativity and innovation.

5. Drive Fear Out of the Workplace:
W. Edwards Deming, one of America's most revered management consultants, was a big proponent of removing fear from the workplace. So are we. Towards that end, each of our sessions begins with a norm-setting process that makes it easy for participants to establish a dynamic culture of innovation for the day.

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6. Mindset:
Organizations don't innovate, people do. But not just any "people." No. People who are energized, curious, confident, fascinated, creative, focused, adaptive, collaborative, and committed.

People who emerge from our sessions are significantly more in touch with these "innovation qualities" than when they began. Their minds have changed. They see opportunities when, previously, all they saw were problems.

They let go of perfectionism, old paradigms, and habitual ways of thinking. In their place? Open-mindedness, listening, idea generation, original thinking, full engagement, and the kind of commitment that drives meaningful change.

7. Balancing Polarities:
Human beings, by nature, are dualistic, (i.e. "us" vs. "them," "short-term" vs. "long-term," "incremental" vs. "breakthrough," "left brain" vs. "right brain".)

The contradictions that show up in a corporate environment (or workshop) can either be innovation depleters or innovation catalysts. It all depends how these seeming conflicting territories are navigated. Idea Champions is committed to whole-brain thinking -- not just right brain or left brain thinking.

Our work with organizations has shown us that one of the pre-conditions for innovation is a company's ability to strike the balance between these polarities.

Each workshop we lead and each consulting engagement we commit to is guided by our understanding of how to help our clients find the healthy balance between the above-noted polarities.

8. Expert Facilitation: "A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile when someone contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind," wrote St. Exupery.

This, quite simply, is what Idea Champions does. But we do far more than just contemplate. We also architect and build.

Since 1986, we've been facilitating innovation-sparking engagements for a wide variety of industries. We have mastered the art and science of turning lead (or leaders) into gold. And we can train your people to do the same thing we do.

9. Experiential Challenges: "What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand."

So said the great Chinese sage, Confucius. This 14-word quote describes the essence of our work. Simply put, we get people off their "ifs, ands or buts," and into the experience of what's possible.

While we value theory, research, models, data, best practices, business cases, and most of the other flora and fauna of business life, we've come to understand that the challenge of sparking insight, breakthrough, and change, is best accomplished by doing -- not talking.

That's why all of our sessions include experiential challenges that provide participants with visible ways of seeing innovation in action -- what supports it and what obscures it.

10. Emergent Design: Awakening the creativity of an organization's workforce is not a follow-the-dots exercise.

Although all of our interventions begin with carefully crafted project plans and agendas, our facilitators are fluent in the art and science of making the kind of real-time adjustments, refinements, and improvisations that are the difference between a good session and a great session.

Facilitators who attempt to imitate our approach find it difficult to succeed without first learning how to master the art of emergent design. The good news is that it can be learned -- and this is just one of the things we teach in our Train the Trainer programs.

11. Edutainment: Idea Champions sessions are a hybrid of two elements: education and entertainment. We know that when participants are enjoying themselves their chances of learning increase exponentially.

That's why we make all of our sessions a hybrid of education and entertainment. Participants do not get tired. They do not get bored. They do not sneak long looks at their smart phones.

12. Full Engagement:
Idea Champions sessions are highly participatory. Our facilitators are skilled at teasing out the brilliance of participants, regardless of their social style, job title, or astrological sign.

But perhaps more importantly, our facilitators know how to help participants tease out each others' brilliance. Eventually, everyone gets into the act. The shy people take center stage and the power players take a back seat. The collective wisdom in the room gets a much-needed chance to be accessed and expressed.

13. Convergence: Idea Champions is successful because what we do works. And one of the reasons WHY it works is because our sessions help participants translate ideas into action.

Ideas are powerful, but they are still only the fuzzy front end of the innovation process. Ultimately, they need to turn into results. Creativity needs to be commercialized. Our workshops, trainings, and consulting interventions help our clients do exactly that.

14. Tools, Techniques, and Takeaways: Ideas Champions closes the gap between rhetoric and reality. We don't just talk about innovation or teach about it -- we spark the experience of it. And we do that in very practical ways.

One way is by teaching people how to use specific, mind-opening techniques to access their innate creativity. Another way is by providing our clients with a variety of innovation-sparking guidelines, processes, and materials that can be immediately used on the job.

Idea Champions
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Storytelling at Work
Brainstorm Facilitation Training
What our clients say

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:06 PM | Comments (1)

December 21, 2018
The Martial Arts of the Mind

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Ten years ago I was invited to teach a course on "Innovation and Business Growth" at GE's Crotonville Management Development Center for 75 high potential, business superstars of the future.

The GE executive who hired me was a very savvy guy with the unenviable task of orienting new adjunct faculty members to GE's high standards and often harsher reality.

My client's intelligence was exceeded only by his candor as he proceeded to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that GE gave "new instructors" two shots at making the grade -- explaining, with a wry smile, that most outside consultants were intimidated the first time they taught at GE and weren't necessarily at the top of their game.

I'm not sure how you say it in Esperanto, but in English what he said translates as "The heat is on, big time."

I knew I would have to raise my game if I expected to be invited back after my two-session audition was over.

And so I went about my business of getting ready, keeping in mind that I was going to be leading a 6-hour session for 75 of GE's "best and brightest" flown half way around the world -- high flying Type A personalities with a high regard for themselves and a very low threshold for anything they judged to be unworthy of their time.

I had five weeks to prepare, five weeks to get my act together, five weeks to dig in and front load my agenda with everything I needed to wow my audience: case studies, statistics, quotes, factoids, and more best practices than you could shake an iPhone at.

I was ready. Really ready. Like a rookie center fielder on designer steroids, I was ready.

Or so I thought.

The more I spoke, the less they listened. The less they listened, the more I spoke, trotting out "compelling" facts and truckloads of information to make my case as they blankly stared and checked their email under the table.

Psychologists, I believe, would characterize my approach as "compensatory behavior."

I talked faster. I talked louder. I worked harder -- attempting in various pitiful ways to pull imaginary rabbits out of imaginary hats.

Needless to say, GE's best and brightest -- for the entire 45 minutes of my opening act -- were not impressed.

Clearly, I was playing a losing game.

My attempt to out-GE the GE people was a no-win proposition. I didn't need new facts, new statistics, or new quotes. I needed a new approach -- a way to secure the attention of my audience and help them make the shift from left-brained skepticism to right-brained receptivity.

And I needed to do it five minutes, not 45.

The next few days were very uncomfortable for me, replaying in my head -- again and again -- my lame choice of an opening gambit and wondering what, in the world, I could do to get better results in much less time.

And then, like an unexpected IPO from Mars, it hit me. The martial arts!

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As a student of Aikido, I knew how amazing the martial arts were and what a great metaphor they were for life.

Fast forward a few weeks...

My second session, at Crotonville, began exactly like the first -- with the Program Director reading my bio to the group in an heroic attempt to impress everyone. They weren't.

Taking my cue, I walked to center stage, scanned the audience and uttered nine words.

"Raise your hand if you're a bold risk taker."

Not a single hand went up. Not one.

I stood my ground and surveyed the room.

"Really?" I said. "You are GE's best and brightest and not one of you is a bold risk taker? I find that hard to believe."

Ten rows back, a hand went up. Slowly. Halfway. Like a kid in a high school math class, not wanting to offend the teacher.

"Great!" I bellowed, pointing to the semi-bold risk taker. "Stand up and join me in the front of the room!"

You could cut the air with a knife.

I welcomed my assistant to the stage and asked him if had any insurance -- explaining that I had called him forth to attack me from behind and was going to demonstrate a martial arts move shown to me by my first aikido instructor, a 110-pound woman who I once saw throw a 220-pound man through a wall.

Pin drop silence.

I asked our bold risk taker to stand behind me and grab both of my wrists and instructed him to hold on tight as I attempted to get away -- an effort that yielded no results.

I casually mentioned how the scenario being played out on stage is what a typical work day has become for most of us -- lots of tension, resistance, and struggle.

With the audience completely focused on the moment, I noted a few simple principles of Aikido -- and how anyone, with the right application of energy and the right amount of practice, could change the game.

As I demonstrated the move, my "attacker" was quickly neutralized and I was no longer victim, but in total control.

In three minutes, things had shifted. Not only for me and my attacker, but for everyone in the room.

That's when I mentioned that force was not the same thing as power -- and that martial artists know how to get maximum results with a minimum of effort -- and that, indeed, INNOVATION was all about the "martial arts of the mind" -- a way to get extraordinary results in an elegant way.

PS: I was invited back 26 times to deliver the course.

THE COMMENTARY

Every day, no matter what our profession, education, or astrological sign, we are all faced with the same challenge -- how to effectively communicate our message to others.

This challenge is particularly difficult these days, given the glut of information we all must contend with. The amount of information available to us is doubling every ten years! Yearly, more than one million books are published. Daily, we are bombarded with more 6,000 advertising messages and 150 emails. As a result, most of us find ourselves in a defensive posture, protecting ourselves from the onslaught of input.

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What I've discovered in the past 25 years of working with some of the world's most powerful organizations is that if I really want to have get my message across, I've got to deliver it in a what that gets past the "guardians at the gate" -- the default condition of doubt, disengagement, and derision that comes with the territory of life in the 21st century business world.

My rite of passage at GE was a microcosm of this phenomenon.

Indeed, my presumptive effort to "win over my audience" by impressing them with data, case studies, and best practices was a losing game. Not only was I barking up the wrong tree, I was in the wrong forest.

The key to my breaking through the collective skepticism of GE's best and brightest wasn't a matter of information. It was a matter transformation.

They didn't need to analyze, they needed to engage -- and it was my job to make that easy to do. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi so deftly put it, I had to "be the change I wanted to see in the world."

I had to do something that invoked the curious, playful, and associative right brain, not the logical, linear, analytical left brain -- tricky business, indeed, especially when you consider that most business people, these days, have a very low threshold for anything they judge to be impractical

Which is why I chose the martial arts as the operational metaphor at GE, my attempt to move them from the Dow to the Tao.

Impractical? Not at all.

Bottom line, whether we know it or not, we have all entered the "experience economy" -- a time when being involved is at least as important as being informed.

Information is no longer sufficient to spark change. Data is no longer king. Thinking only takes us part of the way home. It's feeling that completes the journey -- the kind of feeling that leads to full on curiosity and the kind of engagement that opens the door to exciting new possibilities.

Which is exactly what happened at GE when I made the shift from marshaling my facts, to marshaling my energy -- and by extension, the energy of 75 of GE's best and brightest.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What message have you been trying to deliver (with too little impact) that might be communicated in a totally different way -- a way that more successfully engages people and leads to measurable results?

Excerpted from Storytelling at Work
Idea Champions
Applied Innovation
My Keynotes
It All Began With Balls
Big Blues from the Viagra People

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:58 PM | Comments (3)

December 16, 2018
SPEED TO KNOWLEDGE: The Curious Roots of Micro-Learning

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Being the first to come up with a good idea does not always make the path to success easy. In fact, often, it's quite the opposite.

For example, the idea of micro-learning may be all the rage these days, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, the company that created the first micro learning programs, AthenaOnline, was kicked out of quite a few offices for even proposing the idea.

The idea of micro-learning -- bite-sized bits of knowledge that are easy to digest and understand -- has been around for ages. It encompasses everything from viewing a short video to reading an article to taking a short quiz. Micro-learning, however, was never a form of enterprise learning until the visionaries at AthenaOnline released its MyQuickCoach application in 1999.

Priot to that, in 1994, Athena had released a number of award-winning, computer-based training programs called The New Leader Series -- an idea inspired by popular game Myst, that created a "learning village" allowing users to explore what they wanted to learn at their own pace. Players would meet experts in various areas of the village and, depending on what they accomplished in the game, new areas to explore would open up. It was one of the first examples of gamification to hit the field of organizational learning.

profilepic.jpg As loved as these programs were, however, Jon Peters, AthenaOnline's Founder, soon noticed a surprising phenomenon. "As we began to repurpose the programs for the internet," said Jon, "we saw a huge number of people dropping out. Upon interviewing our customers, we discovered that people much preferred to approach learning in small chunks -- trying to fit what they could into their busy day."

Seeing a trend forming, Jon and his team made the move to create the QuickCoach concept -- short, video-based modules that people could absorb in 5 minutes or less.

Launching their first programs, in 1999, was no easy task. Remember, this was years before YouTube. Most companies were just beginning to think about moving their internal classes to computer-based learning. Indeed, Athena was told by a number of self-claimed OD savants that "video would never take off on the internet" and that "nobody could possibly learn anything in only five minutes."

It took years for Athena's ideas to take hold, but they kept at it.

As a new generation of managers entered the workplace -- a generation used to YouTube and bite-sized interactions of all kinds -- Athena's ideas began to take hold. (And Idea Champions, for one, is glad they did.)

"Sometimes," explains Jon Peters, "you just have to believe in yourself and your vision, even when nobody else does. What I learned, and am still learning, is that while seeking input from others is always good thing, it's not the only compass of success. Sometimes you just need to believe yourself and persevere."

PS: If you want to know the impact that AthenaOnline's micro-learning has had in organizations, click here to download an article about the University of Iowa where elearning usage increased by a whopping 800%.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What "ahead of its time" project of yours, going more slowly than you imagined, do you need to double down on? And what is your next step

Free weekly micro-lessons from AthenaOnline
Yours truly on MyQuickCoach
Illustration: www.gapingvoid.com

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2018
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!

Carl Jung chimes in
Idea Champions
Allow more time for storytelling!
Play time at AT&T

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:07 PM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2018
10 Ways to Improve Your Company's Broken Ideation Process

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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 natureof 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?

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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?

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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?

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2018
The Best Executive

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Al Siraat College
34 Quotes on Leadership
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2018
Why Leaders Shouldn't Lead Brainstorming Sessions

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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

High Velocity Brainstorming
Brainstorm facilitation training
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2018
Give the Gift of Creativity, Collaboration, and Storytelling

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As you enter into the holiday season, perhaps you are wondering what to give your boss, direct reports, teammates, co-workers, clients, customers, or mother-in-law. Look no further! Especially if you are looking for a way to shop online. Idea Champions' online store is now open for business -- offering a variety of mind-opening books, card decks, and innovation-sparking tools. Prices range from $9.95 -- $129.

Idea Champions

Our clients

Photo: unsplash-logoAnderson W Rangel

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2018
If You Call a Meeting, Please Call It By the Right Name

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Maybe it's just me. Or maybe it's the business I'm in, but I can't help but notice how often people with a pressing need to call a meeting find a way to work the "Let's get together and brainstorm" phrase into their invitation even when their meeting has absolutely nothing to do with brainstorming.

In effect, these kinds of invitations are nothing more than a kind of "bait and switch" in which unwary invitees assume they've been invited to help conjure up new possibilities, when, in fact, their creativity is neither needed, wanted, or recognized. The result? "Brainstorming" gets a bad name, meeting goers get pissed, and the person who called the meeting loses major points. Simply put, not all fruits are bananas.

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And so, if YOU have a tendency to misrepresent the kind of meetings you call, the following list of "non-brainstorm meetings" should help clarify matters. I beseech you -- please do not use the "B" word to describe the meeting you're inviting people to if it has nothing to do with ideation and if any of the five descriptors below more accurately describe the purpose of your meeting.

1. INFORMATION SHARING MEETING: This is probably the most common kind of meeting -- a chance for people to update each other, share research, and reflect on changes impacting whatever projects they are working on together. New ideas are not the goal of this kind of meeting -- just the facts, m'am. (BTW, before calling this kind of meeting, ask yourself if the information to be shared can be shared in any other way).

2. DISCUSS IMPORTANT TOPICS MEETING:
Some meetings require nothing more than a talking head session -- a bunch of people sitting around a table and talking about this, that, and the other thing. This kind of meeting gives people a healthy chance to air out opinions, share concerns, listen, debate, and eat muffins. There's nothing wrong with this kind of meeting, but it does not require brainstorming for it to be effective.

3. TEAM ALIGNMENT MEETING: Sometimes teams simply need to get together to get on the same page. Or, if not on the same page, then in the same book. While this kind of gathering may include the sharing of information (see #1), it may also be a time for team mates to connect, clarify their vision, and reinforce commitments. While this kind of meeting may seem "soft" to some people, it's not. Unless your team is connected and aligned, it's highly unlikely it will be effective. PS: Getting your ducks in a row requires discussion, not brainstorming.

4. FEEDBACK MEETING: Sometimes it's useful for team members to get together for no other reason than to give and receive feedback. This kind of gathering can be as simple as a few "report outs" and a previously agreed upon process for people sharing their perspectives with each other. Ideas may spontaneously emerge from this kind of pow wow, but a feedback meeting is not the same thing as a brainstorm session.

5. DECISION MAKING MEETING: Sometimes the only reason for a team to get together is to make decisions, as in "who's doing what?" or whether it's time to get new bowling shirts. Decision making comes from the left brain. Brainstorming comes from the right. By the way, if your team has no agreement about how it makes decisions, this kind of meeting won't go very well --unless, of course, it's already been decided that the "boss" is the one who will be making decisions on behalf of the team.

So there you have it. Five kinds of meetings that are not brainstorm sessions. Neither are they vacations, coconuts, of the latest viral YouTube video of a cat playing the piano with a tongue depressor.

If you value the time, energy, and expectations of the people you work with, please take the time to clarify what kind of meeting you are inviting them to and declare it, as such, instead of misrepresenting it as a brainstorming session (which it probably isn't).

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2018
SOME THINGS TAKE A WHILE

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At last count, there were 7.6 billion people on planet Earth. The odds of any two people meeting, I believe, is something like 7.6 billion to one. And the odds of any two of those 7.6 billion people deciding to collaborate on a complicated, culture-changing project -- especially if one of them is an Australian Muslim born in Pakistan and the other is an American Jew born in New York -- is in the slim-to none-zone. But that's exactly what happened to me last year, a collaboration that took seven years to manifest, a classic span of years noted 700 times in the Bible and God knows how many times in the Quran.

Like any story, the one I am about to tell has a very juicy back story which, technically speaking, is part of the story, depending, of course, on how far back I decide to rewind the karmic tape -- the seemingly invisible, below-the-surface prelude to what I would only later discover to be one of the most fascinating collaborations of my life.

Ready? Here goes:

Seven years ago, Fazeel Arain, the Co-Founder and Principal of Al Siraat College, a K-12 Australian School in the Islamic tradition, located on the outskirts of Melbourne, found his way to my Heart of Innovation blog. Unbeknownst to me, he had become a big fan of my writing, point of view, and sense of humor. After two years of tuning in to my various articles, stories, videos, tools, techniques, and quotes, Fazeel decided to contact me, curious to know if my organization might be available to be of service to his.

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While I was tickled to be contacted by the very forthright Fazeel (a name, in Urdu, that translates as "knowledgeable"), I was also skeptical that anything much would come of it -- not because I didn't want anything to come of it, but because, historically speaking, educational institutions had proven to be highly unlikely clients of mine. Their budgets were low. Their risk aversion was high. And when you considered the fact that Fazeel's K-12 school was 10,000 miles away and was Islamic, to boot, the odds of anything real coming of this seemed microscopically small. So when, after our first conversation, Fazeel asked me to submit a proposal, my first reaction was to raise my metaphorical eyebrows and think "no way."

Having trained myself, however, for the past 28 years, to go beyond the knee-jerk, nay saying negativity that often accompanies the appearance of a seemingly long-shot possibility, I made my way over to my favorite cafe, ordered a cappuccino, and started to noodle. Four hours later, proposal done, I emailed it, fingers crossed, to the aforementioned Mr. Fazeel -- a man I had come to learn was a former Oracle IT consultant, father of five, and the husband of a brilliant woman named Rahat, a former civil engineer.

The plot thickens.

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Fazeel loved absolutely everything about my proposal except the fee, which, he explained, was "too rich for his blood" or whatever the equivalent Australian/Islamic phrase was for "Ouch, our budget just can't handle it." Unwilling to discount my already discounted fees any more, it was obvious we had come to an impasse. And so Fazeel went his way and I went mine.

Two years passed.

Then, very much out of the blue, in the midst of attempting to guide Al Siraat through yet another "change process," Fazeel contacted me again. The more I listened to him wax on about the school's many challenges, the dizzier I got. Although I was quite familiar with the phenomenon of "change management" (a second cousin to getting your teenage daughter to clean up her room), it was not, shall we say, my cup of tea. Three decades of consulting with a wide variety of forward thinking organizations had taught me that "change management" was often a euphemism for "How would you like to spend the next few years banging your head against a wall?" And besides, I had several other clients to serve, a marriage to nurture, two kids, and a huge need to write my next book in whatever spare time I didn't have.

And so, I asked the very dedicated Fazeel Arain if he would be open to two of my colleagues taking on the project. He was. And so began an inspired, four-month, dialogue between Lynnea, Michael, and Fazeel.

Other than me recognizing my own weird tendency to consider projects that had very little chance of materializing, nothing came of it. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Another year passed. (We are now six years into the process.)

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And then, one morning, while showering, I was hit upside the head with what I considered to be a brilliant idea. You see, Fazeel's school wasn't the only organization going through changes. Mine was, too. With the American economy in the toilet and my company's sales distressed, I decided to launch an online raffle -- a clever way, I thought, to drum up interest in our online, Conducting Genius training.

The offer was a simple one. Raffle tickets would be absolutely free. All a company had to do to was send us an email with "Conducting Genius" written in the subject line. That was it. And then, on index cards, we would write the names of the companies who had entered and randomly select three winners. The prize? A 75% discount on our training. Street value? $6,500. "Such a deal!" I could hear my grandfather saying from the Great Beyond.

One person entered. Guess who? That's right. The very bearded, tenacious, Allah-is-in-Control, Mr. Fazeel Arain.

Thrilled to learn he had won, Fazeel, understandably, assumed that I would be the one to deliver the training. I wasn't. Maxed with other responsibilities at the time, I handed the project over to one of my long-time colleagues, the very accomplished brainstorm facilitator, Valmore Joseph Vadeboncoeur.

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The first three sessions went quite well. After Session #3, Fazeel asked if I would lead the fourth.

My first response? Ummm... I'm not sure how to translate it into Arabic, but in Yiddish, it was "Oy vey," an abbreviation of the slightly longer phase, Oy vey ist mir, a well-known expression of dismay or exasperation whose English equivalent was "woe is me."

My second response? "Sure, why not?"

Session #4 turned out to be an AHA moment for me -- the difference, as Mark Twain once put it, between lightning and a lightning bug. Until then, my relationship with Fazeel and Al Siraat had been mostly theoretical -- the concept of working together, but not the reality itself. In just 60 minutes all of that changed, me having the real-time experience of teaching five Islamic school Directors how to begin unlocking the creative genius of their workforce. These were not "Muslims halfway around the world." These were living, breathing, soulful human beings, each with a name, a face, a personality, and a sincere desire to expand their horizons -- Andrew, Shahzad, Esra, Rahat, and Fazeel

"Hey Mitch, how would you like to visit the school?" Fazeel asked me two weeks later.

A single image came to mind. Rocky. Fazeel, like Sylvester Stallone's iconic, street smart dreamer, was totally relentless -- a man on fire with purpose and possibility. He knew what he wanted and was going for it, against all odds. No matter how many times I ducked, dodged, or deflected, his invitations kept coming.

"Fazeel," I replied, "thank you so much for your kind invitation, but Melbourne... you see... is... uh.. a 22-hour flight away for me. We're talking two days of travel, three days on-site, and probably another three days to recuperate. I just don't have the time. Maybe next year."

Three months passed.

And then, as fate would have it (or was it Allah or Jehovah?), I was invited to attend a five-day conference, with my teacher, outside of Brisbane -- just a two hour flight from Melbourne. This news made Fazeel happy. He paid for my Brisbane to Melbourne flight, picked me up at the airport, took me to lunch, introduced me to his wife and children, made me chai tea (often), fed me chocolate, toured me around the school, asked me to teach a few classes, invited me to speak at the prayer hall, and proceeded to enter into an off-the-grid, non-stop, three-day dialogue about what our future collaboration might look like. He even offered me a full time position.

To quote Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore."

Bottom line, my three-day introduction to Al Siraat was a total delight -- mind opening, heart opening, door opening, intriguing, inspiring, fun, soulful, endearing, encouraging, heartwarming, provocative, unforgettable, and very educational. Until then, I had never had a single conversation with a Muslim. Though I had many friends from a wide variety of religions and spiritual paths, I didn't know a single soul from the Islamic world. My only exposure to Islam had been the late night news.

For want of a better phrase, let's just say a Red Sea parted for me. I got to experience, first hand, during my three-day visit, what Fazeel, Rahat, their Directors, Teachers, and Staff were trying to do, against all odds -- to create a model for what Islamic education could be in the future -- a heart-centered, values-driven, learning community that built character and prepared the next generation of movers and shakers to make a real difference in the world.

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Beyond their hopes and aspirations, it was clear to me that Al Siraat had more than its share of problems, challenges, and disappointments. But so what? Life is not always easy. Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years. Noah had to build an ark. Muhammed lost all six of his children. And Jesus was crucified. Even baby chicks have to peck their way out of the shell.

What I found so compelling about Fazeel and many of his colleagues -- the mojo that moved me to spend three months of my life, last year, working at the school -- was the recognition of just how powerful an experience it is to be called. Clearly, Fazeel was being called. And so was Rahat, his wife. And Mufti Aasim, the school's Spiritual Director. And Esra, Shahzad, Sheikh Wasseem, Gulhan, Leah, Najma, Vis, Evla, Noori, Javed, Bilal, Naveed, Maqsood, Zev and so many others on staff who had come to a point in their life when it was time to take a stand.

The name of the force that calls a human being? It has many. And it was calling me, too, a Jewish man from Woodstock (with an Indian Guru) -- someone who didn't speak a word of Arabic and has never read the Quran. But peel away the superficial differences that seemed to be separating us and we were all on the exact same page -- the page of life -- no matter what language or tradition the words on that page originated from.

To be continued...

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2018
50 Awesome Quotes on Possibility

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1. "Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." - St. Francis of Assisi

2. "Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." - Lewis Carroll

3. "I'm grateful for always this moment, the now, no matter what form it takes." - Eckart Tolle

4. "In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd." - Miguel de Cervantes

5. "The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do." - Henry Moore

6. "It's kind of fun to do the impossible!" - Walt Disney

7. "I am where I am because I believe in all possibilities." - Whoopi Goldberg

8. "What is now proved, was once only imagined." - William Blake

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9. "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't." - Mark Twain

10. "The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible." - Arthur C. Clarke

11. "Never tell a young person that anything cannot be done. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing." - John Andrew Holmes

12. "God created a number of possibilities in case some of his prototypes failed. That is the meaning of evolution." - Graham Greene

13. "Whether you believe you can or not, you're right." - Henry Ford

14. "Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision." - V.S. Naipaul

15. "I don't regret a single excess of my responsive youth. I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions and possibilities I didn't embrace." - Henry James

16. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki

17. "The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious." - John Sculley

18. "One's only rival is one's own potentialities. One's only failure is failing to live up to one's own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king." - Abraham Maslow

19. "The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react." - George Bernard Shaw

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20. "We all have possibilities we don't know about. We can do things we don't even dream we can do." - Dale Carnegie

21. "An optimist expects his dreams to come true; a pessimist expects his nightmares to." - Laurence J. Peter

22. "When nothing is sure, everything is possible." - Margaret Drabble

23. "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." - Albert Einstein

24. "I am neither an optimist nor pessimist, but a possibilist." - Max Lerner

25. "If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!" - Soren Kierkegaard

26. "All things are possible until they are proved impossible. Even the impossible may only be so, as of now." - Pearl S. Buck

27. "Until you're ready to look foolish, you'll never have the possibility of being great." - Cher

28. "This has always been a motto of mine: Attempt the impossible in order to improve your work." - Bette Davis

29. "You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. In every moment of our existence, we are in that field of all possibilities where we have access to an infinity of choices." - Deepak Chopra

30. "Some people see things as they are and say 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and say 'Why not?'" - George Bernard Shaw

31. "The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility." - John Lennon

32. "I love those who yearn for the impossible." - Goethe

33. "Every man is an impossibility until he is born." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

34. "If you can't, you must. If you must, you can." - Tony Robbins

35. "A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility." - Aristotle

36. "If someone says can't, that shows you what to do." - John Cage

37. "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt

38. "Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today." - Mark Twain

39. "Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done." - Louis D. Brandeis

40. "The possible's slow fuse is lit by the imagination." - Emily Dickinson

41. "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." - Pablo Picasso

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42. "If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves." - Thomas Edison

43. "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." - Les Brown

44. If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." - Henry David Thoreau

45. "Everything you can imagine in real." - Picasso

46. "Everything that is done in the world is done by hope." - Martin Luther

47. "Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today." - James Dean

48. "I don't dream at night, I dream all day. I dream for a living."
- Steven Spielberg

49. "The shell must break before the bird can fly." - Alfred Tennyson

50. "If not you, who? If not now, when?" - Rabbi Hillel

Illustration: Jesse Ditkoff

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

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