April 18, 2019
THE IDIOT SAVANT'S GUIDE to Becoming a Better Storyteller

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Click here to listen (and view) my November 22nd webinar on storytelling in the workplace. Entertaining, mind opening, and practical. Hosted by the good people at PatSnap.

If you are interested in learning why and how storytelling is the ideal way to increase employee engagement, build community, transmit tacit knowlege, and spark a mindset of innovation, this will be a very good use of 48 minutes.

"He that tells the stories, rules the world." (Hopi Indian saying)

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2019
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 of this blog post and will now cut to the chase:

Your company's "ideation process" is either non-existent, seriously flawed, or not understood by the members of your team.

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 -- the attempt to more dependably structure the process of originating, developing, and executing new ideas. And so the madness continues. Does it always have to be this way? No it doesn't. But someone needs to step up and bell the proverbial cat.

So read on. The following ten "ideation process best practices" are clues for you -- something to adapt to your particular company/team culture/ 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 you and your team increasing the odds of innovation actually happening on-the-job.

1. COMMUNICATE A CLEAR, COMPELLING VISION: Regularly, let the people on your team know what the ultimate goal of their efforts are. 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 month, to remind everyone on your team 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 might you frame the questions you want your team thinking about this week? And when is your next opportunity to communicate these questions to your team?

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 project briefs are vague, incomplete, or non-existent, you have just complicated the situation. Unfortunately, this is all too common. The reasons? Your team doesn't actually know what your customers want, no one is responsible for writing new project briefs, or no one is actually reading/understanding the briefs. The results? Not good. What can you do to ensure that innovation efforts, on the front end, include some kind of clearly written briefs?

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." 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 two 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. That is unfortunate. How can you encourage your team 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. Indeed, that is 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 most compelling 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 lot 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 or project development meetings. 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 approach can actually work, it is often a huge hole in your pipeline -- especially since most of your idea genereating sessions are way too short and have no time baked into them for idea evaluation. Who are the likely suspects on your team to evaluate new ideas 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 big one. 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 with aspiring innovators -- especially in regard to 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?

CAUTION: The above-noted "ideation process" suggestions are not intended to be treated as sacred or followed blindly. They are simply intended to spark some fresh thinking and forward movement on this topic. What works for your team or your organization will not, necessarily work for another team or another organization. Your ideation process will need to be customized for your particular needs. How might you pull together a sub-team, in the next week or so, to come up with a customized ideation process approach that has the best chance of working?

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

April 09, 2019
The Three Keys to Becoming a Masterful Brainstorm Facilitator

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As a former student of the martial arts, I have noticed a curious phenomenon in corporate America that is becoming increasingly troubling to me -- especially among "creatives" who aspire to become masterful brainstorm facilitators. I call it the "Bruce Lee Syndrome" or perhaps more correctly, the "I-Took-a-Karate-Lesson-at-My-Local-Shopping-Mall- and-How-Come-I-Still-Can't-Break-a-Brick-Yet" syndrome?

Well-meaning business movers and shakers expect that learning a new creative thinking technique is all they need to spark brilliance in a roomful of people. Not true. Not even close to being true.

While learning a technique is a good beginning, it is only a beginning. What's needed to leverage the power of any creative thinking technique -- no matter how cool the technique might be -- is practice.

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A Karate Master can explain to you how he breaks a brick with a single punch. He can even demonstrate it to you. But that doesn't mean you will be breaking bricks in the next minute or two. Or even the next year or two. For that to happen, you will need to practice.

Practice is the key. Learning from experience. Trial and error. And, more than occasionally, feeling like you have taken on an impossible task.

What I have noticed in the people I have trained to become skillful brainstorm facilitators is that they fully expect to be getting great results the first time they use a technique. Not a good idea. First of all, it's totally unrealistic. Second of all, it puts too much pressure on the student to perform at a high level too quickly. And third of all, it increases the likelihood that the aspiring brainstorm facilitator will prematurely dismiss the technique as faulty when, in fact, it's not the technique that is faulty, but the application of the technique by the novice student.

All of this, of course, is exacerbated by the fact that everyone in the business world is so time-crunched these days that unless results show up immediately, they're on to the next technique... or next consultant... or next magic pill.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are committed to eliciting brilliance in others and want to master the art of facilitating highly effective brainstorm sessions, you will need to practice. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that's the deal. We're not talking Trump University, folks, or learning how to make a fortune by watching a late night infomercial. We're talking walking the long and often unglamorous path of practice, practice, practice.

Which brings up an interesting question: how best to practice?

Know this: there is no one right way to practice. There are many ways to practice. The best way is the way that works for you. But to get the party started, here are ten choices for your consideration.

1. Pick some low risk situations for you to try out the new techniques you are learning. At home? With friends? With other students of the technique?

2. Take a few minutes after each time you use a technique to reflect on how it went. Ask yourself what you LIKED about it's application, what CONCERNED you, and what SUGGESTIONS come to mind for how you might improve your use of the technique the next time you do it.

3. Watch other people facilitate the technique and see what you can learn from their approach.

4. Ask the people who participate in your brainstorm sessions to give you feedback. Find out what worked for them and what didn't.

5. If you have a coach, teacher, or mentor (assuming you didn't just google "brainstorm techniques"), check in with him/her from time to time and continue exploring the nuances of the techniques. A single word, phrase, or suggested tweak can make all the difference.

6. Deconstruct the technique. Notice the beginning, the middle, and the end of it and see if there are ways you might improve your execution of any of those.

7. Invent your own techniques -- especially ones that fascinate you. If you are the inventor of the technique, your ownership of it will skyrocket and you will be far more likely to make the effort required to perfect it.

8. Debrief with other brainstorm facilitators in your company. Get together from time to time and share your experiences. Getting a new perspective is one of the simplest ways of developing mastery.

9. Offer your services for free, outside of work, to a non-profit, group of friends, or community organization. They get the benefit of your facilitation. You get the benefit of practice!

10. Make your practice fun! If it feels like drudgery, you will bail out way too soon. Remember the words of hockey great, Wayne Gretzky: "The only way a kid is going to practice is if it's total fun for him... and it was for me."

Oh, wait, I just remembered the name of this blog post was the THREE KEYS to becoming a masterful brainstorm facilitator and I have only given you ONE. My bad. Sorry. Please accept my apologies. Here are the other two:

2. Practice
3. Practice

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:38 AM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2019
77 Provocative Quotes on Uncertainty and Letting Go

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"I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few." - Brene Brown

"The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers." - Erich Fromm

"I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity." - Gilda Radner

"As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity." - Pema Chodron

"Doubt everything. Find your own light." - Buddha

"Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." - Helen Keller

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"I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." - Rainer Maria Rilke

"I'm working on my own life story. I don't mean I'm putting it together; no, I'm taking it apart. It's mostly a question of editing. If you'd wanted the narrative line you should have asked earlier, when I still knew everything and was more than willing to tell." - Margaret Atwood

"It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings." - Wendell Berry

"Let go of certainty. The opposite isn't uncertainty. It's openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow." - Tony Schwartz

"Now that we have met with paradox we have some hope of making progress." - Niels Bohr

"Old Newtonian physics claimed that things have an objective reality separate from our perception of them. Quantum physics, and particularly Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, reveal that, as our perception of an object changes, the object itself literally changes." - Marianne Williamson

"I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100." - Woody Allen

"Everything you've learned in school as 'obvious' becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There's not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines." - Buckminster Fuller

"And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

"There's no such thing as a completely fresh start. Everything new arrives on the heels of something old, and every new beginning comes at the cost of an ending." - Jennifer E. Smith

"I learned that it was in hard times that people usually changed the course of their life; in good times, they frequently only talked about change. Hard times forced them to overcome the doubts that normally gave them pause. It surprised me how often we hold ourselves back until we have no choice." - Po Bronson

"All you have to do is to pay attention; lessons always arrive when you are ready, and if you can read the signs, you will learn everything you need to know in order to take the next step." - Paulo Coelho

"The silence between the notes makes the music. And lest we forget, the longer the silence, the more incredibly beautiful and powerful the music when it finally swells and the symphony goes on." - Brianna West

"There are far, far better things out there than any we leave behind." - C.S. Lewis

"The longing for certainty is in every human mind. But certainty is generally illusion." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

"The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with." - Tony Robbins

"One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." - Andre Gide

"I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing that have have answers which might be wrong." - Richard P. Feynman

"The future is uncertain, but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity." - Ilya Prigogine

"Where the fog is thickest, begin." - Marty Rubin

"Madness is the result not of uncertainty, but of certainty." - Friedrich Nietzsche

"Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security there is." - John Allen Paulos

"For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars, makes me dream." - Vincent Van Gogh

"Sometimes you just have to try, even if you know it won't work." - Junot Diaz

"All of life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Uncertainty will always be part of the taking charge process." - Harold Geneen

"All great changes are preceded by chaos." - Deepak Chopra

"Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don't get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It's a very tender, non-aggressive, open-ended state of affairs." - Pema Chodron

"To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous." - Chinese proverb

"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty, not knowing what comes next." - Ursula Le Guin

"Faith means living with uncertainty, feeling your way through life, letting your heart guide you like a lantern in the dark." - Dan Millman

"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are so confident while the intelligent are full of doubt." - Bertrand Russell

"It's a dark place, not knowing. It's difficult to surrender to. But I guess it's where we live most of the time. I guess it's where we all live, so maybe it doesn't have to be so lonely. Maybe I can settle into it, cozy up to it, make a home inside uncertainty." - Nina LaCour

"Give your heart permission to let go of the need for certainty and leave space for the unknown." - Amber Cantorna

"So what do we do? Anything. Something. So long as we just don't sit there. If we screw it up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we've satisfied all the uncertainties, it may be too late." - Lee Iacocca

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." - Albert Einstein

"A truth which comes to us from outside always bears the stamp of uncertainty. We can believe only what appears to each one of us in our own hearts as truth." - Rudolf Steiner

"If you aren't in the moment, you are either looking forward to uncertainty, or back to pain and regret." - Jim Carrey

"I think if a poet wanted to lead, he or she would want the message to be unequivocally clear and free of ambiguity. Whereas poetry is actually the home of ambiguity, ambivalence and uncertainty." - Billy Collins

"There will be very few occasions when you are absolutely certain about anything. You will consistently be called upon to make decisions with limited information. That being the case, your goal should not be to eliminate uncertainty. Instead, you must develop the art of being clear in the face of uncertainty." - Andy Stanley

"The thing about aging is all your old lovers, pretty much if they were really friends, become your family. It's great. You have those terrible feelings of possessiveness and uncertainty go out the window. You have what you shared. You know you would help each other in times of trouble no matter what." - Gloria Steinem

"In conditions of uncertainty, humans, like other animals, herd together for protection." - James Surowiecki

"Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the acceptance of not knowing." - Mark Danielewski

"Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don't." - Steve Maraboli

"What's right is what's left if you do everything else wrong." - Robin Williams

"Not everything needs to be fixed." - Randy Pausch

"It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have." - Cheryl Strayed

"Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'." - Viktor E. Frankl

"Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go." - Hermann Hesse

"When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." - Alexander Graham Bell

"To let go is to release the images and emotions, the grudges and fears, the clingings and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit."
- Jack Kornfield

"When you follow your bliss... doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors; and where there wouldn't be a door for anyone else." - Joseph Campbell

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need." - Lao Tzu

"This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet." - Rumi

"We must be willing to let go of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." - Joseph Campbell

"Stop acting as if life is a rehearsal. Live this day as if it were your last. The past is over and gone. The future is not guaranteed." - Wayne Dyer

"Don't dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energy moving forward together towards an answer." - Denis Waitley

"You've got to make a conscious choice every day to shed the old - whatever 'the old' means for you." - Sarah Ban Breathnach

"Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go." - Anais Nin

"When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can't make them change if they don't want to, just like when they do want to, you can't stop them." - Andy Warhol

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." - Alan W. Watts

"Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." - Rumi

"Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." - George Bernard Shaw

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like." - Lao Tzu

"All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride." - Sophocles

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." - T. S. Eliot

"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive and express what we really are." - Miguel Angel Ruiz

"You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself." - Alan Alda

"Things do not grow better; they remain as they are. It is we who grow better, by the changes we make in ourselves." - Swami Vivekananda

"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending." - C.S. Lewis

"It's not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It's because we dare not venture that they are difficult." - Seneca

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Woodstock Wisdom Circles
A funny story about not knowing
A story about trust against all odds

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:26 PM | Comments (0)

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Idea Champions is a consulting and training company dedicated to awakening and nurturing the spirit of innovation. We help individuals, teams and entire organizations tap into their innate ability to create, develop and implement ideas that make a difference.

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"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
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