The DNA of IDEA CHAMPIONS WORKSHOPS
Here's a simple way to get your arms around WHAT we do and HOW we do it -- the essence of our highly engaging way of helping organizations raise the bar for innovation. WHY we do it? Because we are on a mission to unleash insight, brilliance, and possibility in the world. Intrigued? Call us: 845.679.1066.December 07, 2013
25 Reasons Why Brainstorming Sessions Fail
Whenever I ask my clients to tell me about the quality of their company's brainstorming sessions, they usually roll their eyes and grumble. What follows is a sampling of the stuff I keep hearing over and over again -- various reasons why brainstorming sessions often get a bad rap in most organizations.
As you read through the list, note the ones that are most common in your company. Then get together, this week, with some of your colleagues and see what you can do to change the game.
1. Lame facilitation
2. Wrong (or poorly articulated) problem statement
3. Unmotivated participants
4. No transition from "business as usual"
5. Insufficient diversity of participants
6. Addiction to the status quo
7. Lack of clear ground rules
8. Sterile meeting space
9. Hidden (or competing) agendas
10. Lack of robust participation
11. The extroverts take over
12. Habitual idea killing behavior
13. Attachment to pet ideas
14. Discomfort with ambiguity
15. Hyper-seriousness (not enough fun)
16. Endless interruptions
17. People come late and leave early
18. Premature adoption of the first "right idea"
19. Group think
20. Hierarchy, turfs, and competing sub-groups
21. Imbalance of divergent and convergent thinking
22. No tools or techniques to spark creativity
23. Inadequate idea capture methods
24. Premature evaluation
25. No real closure or next steps
Who can you meet with, this week, to explore new and better ways of improving the quality of your company's brainstorming sessions?December 06, 2013
How to Radically Improve Your Brainstorming Sessions November 24, 2013
Improv to Improve Idea Generation
It can be said that a brainstorm facilitator plays many roles during the course of a session. Conductor, diamond cutter, and traffic cop are three of them. But the most obvious role is that of actor, and not just any kind of actor, because there really isn't a set script... but an improv actor making theater magic out of a specific "situation" or "set-up".
In both brainstorm facilitation and improvisational theater, you're trying to tap the creative imagination of people in order to create something new. In both, you need to loosen up the habitual thinking and behaviors of the "audience" so they become more than just passive observers, but active participants.
And it is the right use of technique that helps with this transformation.
One of the most powerful techniques is Groundrule #1 of Improv Theater -- Say Yes!
Say Yes! means that you immediately accept, without judgment, whatever is being offered to you by a fellow actor.
In Improv Theater, for example, if someone says "Hey! Look at that enormous pink elephant!" your response should be something along the lines of "Wow, that's the biggest pink elephant I've ever seen. Are those real diamonds on that tutu or just rhinestones?" -- a response that takes the basic premise and expands on it.
Conversely, if you're going to be a good improv partner, your response to your fellow actor's opening premise should not be "That's not a pink elephant! You must be drunk."
The first, receptive response opens up many possibilities. The second, dismissive response abruptly ends the scene or turns it into a tug of war between the two actors -- both of whom now become competitors and opponents instead of allies and co-conspirators.
When it comes to idea generation, experimenting with Improv Groundrule #1 can produce excellent results.
For example, a good brainstorming technique that generates a lot of good ideas quickly is a technique called "Yes, and..."
Here's how it works:
Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in a circle of 6-8 people. You call on one person to come up with a new idea in response to a challenge or problem. Then, you ask the person sitting next to the first person to build on the initial idea by saying "Yes, and..." Then, you ask a third person to build on the second idea, beginning with "Yes, and..." -- continuing around the circle for as long as the process generates interesting content and ideas.
Even better, start with what you know is already an intriguing idea, perhaps something generated earlier in the brainstorm session, re-state it for the group, and ask someone to build on it using the "Yes, and..." technique.
You can run several rounds of this technique for the same challenge. Each time the technique will take you in a different conceptual direction.
Try it with many different challenges. Change the direction of the order within the group -- clockwise, counterclockwise, random, etc.
"Yes, and..." is fun, simple, and can quickly spark a lot of intriguing, new ideas. It will also sharpen everyone's improvisational acting skills in the process.
-- Val Vadeboncoeur
One Reason Why Brainstorming Fails
Advertising executive Alex Osborn, frustrated by his employees' inability to come up with novel and creative ideas, invented the concept of brainstorming in the late 1930's. His 1953 book, Applied Imagination, described how to apply the concept in very simple terms. Osborne put forth two basic principles: Defer Judgment and Focus on Quantity.
These days, people attempting to lead ideation sessions are often mindful of the first principle, but they almost never remember the second. And this, quite simply is a big reason why most brainstorm sessions fail to produce even mediocre results.
At first glance, the quantity principle seems counter-intuitive. How can people come up with quality ideas, you might ask, by not striving for quality ideas?
But there's a method to this madness -- and it has to do with how our minds work and how we are trained to think.
If you are asked to come up with "good" and "novel" ideas in response to a problem, challenge or opportunity, whether you are working alone or with others, you will tend to aim for the best ideas possible. Makes sense, right?
However, in your striving for the best idea, you will tend to dismiss ideas you consider to be less-than-terrific.
When ideas pop into our minds, we tend to judge them immediately as too small, too big, too pedestrian, too unrealistic, too obvious, too goofy, too ordinary, too expensive, or too whatever.
It's as if the Red Queen is ensconced in our brains, shouting "off with his head!" at every idea that dares to speak up.
That's because human beings are conditioned to see what's wrong with an idea before seeing its possibilities.
It's like seeing a baby bird and judging it to be inadequate because it can't fly yet.
And this process is barely conscious. We dismiss our ideas so quickly that we often don't even notice they were thought of at all. "We've got nothing" becomes our mantra.
If you are generating ideas in a group and everyone is experiencing this phenomenon at the exact same time, the great silence will inevitably head its ugly rear. No one will be willing to share any of the ideas that have popped into their heads because their ideas will be self-censored -- deemed to be inadequate or flawed.
This is why "experts" are, usually, the worst brainstormers imaginable.
Educated, experienced, and cognizant of all the ins and outs of the topic being brainstormed, experts will immediately see the flaws -- not the possibilities -- killing promising new ideas with the effectiveness of a healthy immune system killing off a germ or virus.
This is why many forward thinking focus groups bring in children or non-experts to generate new ideas -- people whose idea immune systems are not yet fully developed.
Think about it for a moment. If "ordinary" ideas can be generated, articulated, announced, and captured then an interesting thing can happen. Other people can improve the ideas. One idea will lead to another and another and another, radically increasing the odds of something truly original manifesting.
This kind of magic, however, cannot happen if Osborn's principle of striving for quantity is ignored.
Think of Osborn's dual principles as two sides of the same coin.
Defer judgment postpones the act of criticizing ideas as they are generated. Focusing on quantity helps us defer our tendency to judge our ideas as they are conceived.
Not unlike the proverbial coin, if you don't have both sides, "you've got nothing."
-- Val Vadeboncoeur
Why Leaders Shouldn't Lead Brainstorming Sessions
Here's one of the dirty little secrets of corporate brainstorm sessions: When they are led by upper management, department heads, or project leaders, they usually get manipulated.
Because honchos and honchettes are so heavily invested in the topic being brainstormed, it is common for them to bend the collective genius of the group to their own particular point of view. Not a good idea.
Participants -- out of respect for the expertise (or position or parking space) of the facilitator -- will invariably moderate their input. The results? Same old same old.
That's why brainstorm facilitators need to remain neutral.
Not neutral like vague. Neutral like free of any pre-determined concept or outcome.
An open window, not an empty suit.
A facilitator's role is to facilitate (from the Latin word meaning "to make easy") the process whereby brilliance manifests -- not use their platform to foist their ideas on others.
In the best of all worlds, brainstorm facilitators wouldn't be the people who care the most about the topic. They wouldn't be the content expert, team leader, department head, senior officer, or anyone whose job is described by a three-letter acronym.
There's a HUGE difference between facilitating and leading a brainstorming session. Leaders get people to follow them. Facilitators get people to follow the yellow brick road of their own imagination.
Here are four classic ways that some brainstorm facilitators manipulate the ideation process. Any of them familiar to you?
1. They verbally judge ideas as they are presented
2. They scribe only the ideas they approve of
3. They spend more time pitching their own ideas than listening to the ideas of others
4. They develop only ideas consistent with their own assumptions
Brainstorming vs. Braincalming
If you work in a big organization, small business, freelance, or eat cheese, there's a good chance you've participated in at least a few brainstorming sessions in your life.
You've noodled, conjured, envisioned, ideated, piggybacked, and endured overly enthusiastic facilitators doing their facilitator thing.
You may have even gotten some results. Hallelujah!
But even the best run brainstorming sessions are based on a questionable assumption -- that the origination of powerful, new ideas depend on the facilitated interaction between people.
You know, the "two heads are better than one" syndrome.
I'd like to propose an alternative for the moment: "two heads are better than one sometimes."
For the moment, I invite you to consider the possibility that the origination of great, new ideas doesn't take place in the storm, but in the calm before the storm... or the calm after the storm... or sometimes, even in the eye of the storm itself.
Every wonder why so many people get their best ideas during "down time" -- the time just before they go to sleep... or just after waking... or in dreams... or in the shower... or in the car on the way home from work?
Those aren't brainstorming sessions, folks. Those are braincalming sessions. Incubation time.
Those are time outs for the hyperactive child genius within us who is always on the go.
Methinks, in today's over-caffeinated, late-for-a-very-important-date business world, we have become addicted to the storm.
"Look busy," is the mantra, not "look deeply."
We want high winds. We want lightning. We want proof that something is happening, even if the proof turns out to be nothing more than sound and fury.
High winds do not last all morning. Sometimes the storm has to stop.
That's why some of your co-workers like to show up early at the office before anyone else has arrived. For many of us, that's the only time we have to think.
"The best thinking has been done in solitude," said Thomas Edison. "The worst has been done in turmoil."
I'm not suggesting that you stop brainstorming (um... that's 20% of our business). All I'm suggesting is you balance it out with some braincalming. The combination of the two can be very, very powerful.
HERE'S A FEW WAYS TO GET STARTED:
1. In the middle of your next brainstorming, session, restate the challenge -- then ask everyone to sit, in silence, for five minutes, and write down whatever ideas come to mind. (Be ready for the inevitable joking that will immediately follow your request). Then, after five minutes are up, go "round robin" and ask everyone to state their most compelling idea.
2. Ask each member of your team to think about a specific business-related challenge before they go to bed tonight and write down their ideas when they wake up. Then, gather your team together for a morning coffee and see what you've got.
3. Conduct your next brainstorming session in total silence. Begin by having the brainstorming challenge written on a big flip chart before people enter the room. Then, after some initial schmoozing, explain the "silence ground rule" and the process: People will write their ideas on post-its or flip charts. Their co-workers, also in silence, will read what gets posted and piggyback. Nobody talks.
It's your decision, at the end of the idea generating time, if you want the debrief to be spoken -- or if you want people to come back the next day for a verbal debrief.
"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
October 26, 2013
Virtual Brainstorm Facilitation Training
We've done it! We've belled the cat. We've created the perpetual motion machine of facilitator training. We've found the Holy Grail.
More precisely, we've figured out how to virtually train people to become savvy brainstorm facilitators!
And that means great cost savings for you and your company. No more booking hotel rooms, flights, and travel expenses. No more people losing work time by being on the road. No more full days lost to training, either.
We will come to you in a series of highly-engaging virtual online sessions to teach your people how to design and deliver breakthrough brainstorming sessions.
And these sessions will not be "off-the-shelf." They will be customized to fit the needs of your organization. Our simple needs assessment process will give us the information we need to know exactly how tailor our agenda to address the specific needs of your enterprise.
No one size fits all.
We can also adjust our schedule to match the schedules of your people. We can deliver in either one, two, three, or four-hour segments. And, depending on what type of program best suits your needs, we can schedule the training to happen quickly -- over a period of a few days -- or spread it out over six months.
With our extended program (3 - 6 months), participants get a chance to practice and incorporate each session's learnings between sessions -- held two weeks apart. In the intervening weeks, they'll have engaging assignments to do -- done individually or in teams -- to deepen and apply the learning on the job.
By the end of their time with us, they'll be ideation ninjas, ready for any challenge you throw their way.October 25, 2013
When Dogs Spark Big Ideas
During the past 25 years I have facilitated more than 1,000 brainstorming sessions for a wide variety of heavy hitting organizations -- everyone from MTV to GE to government think thanks. I've worked with left-brained people, right-brained people, and reptilian-brained people.
As you might imagine, I've developed quite a few techniques to get people out of their heads and into a more robust realm of possibility. But the biggest breakthroughs I've seen have had less to do with my methods than they did with spontaneous occurrences.
Like the time a Porcelain Hotel Dog became the catalyst for a game changing product idea.
Here's the deal:
I was leading a daylong ideation session for a large telecommunications company when it was time for lunch. Everyone left the room, visions of tuna wraps in their head, when I noticed a peculiar looking porcelain dog, next to a plastic fern, in the corner of the room -- the kind of kitschy piece of Americana you'd walk by at a yard sale, mumbling under your breath that this was absolutely the last time you'd ever attend a yard sale.
Somehow, I found myself drawn to the dog and, being in a particularly playful mood, picked it up and placed it on a folding chair in the middle of the room.
Tickled by its absolute uselessness and lack of beauty, I put my hat on it's weird, little head, and went about my business of getting ready for the afternoon session.
Five minutes later, the head of HR walks into the room, takes off his power tie, and places it, with a chuckle, around the dog's neck.
Then an IT guy enters, removes his "Hello My Name Is" badge and sticks it on the dog's chest. A well-dressed marketing woman removes her necklace and wraps it around the dog's waist.
There, in the middle of the room, unleashed, unbarking, but no longer unloved, sits the perfect brainstorm session mascot -- a 3D embodiment of our collective mind at that moment in time.
The rest of the participants return soon enough and gather around the porcelain dog as if it was the Holy Grail. A Blackberry gets taped to his back, a scarf gets wrapped around his neck. Someone puts a bandaid over his mouth.
Something is happening that has absolutely nothing to do with my agenda for the day. A curious kind of creativity portal is opening up right before my eyes.
"OK!" I blurt, as soon as the last person returns from lunch. "What cool, new product ideas come to mind when you look at good ole' Fido here?"
Ideas start flooding the room. Big ideas. Bold ideas. Totally ridiculous ideas.
In just a few minutes, it is clear that a big idea is emerging -- an idea for a niche telecommunications market no one in this room has ever considered before -- animals -- more specifically, dogs who live with blind or disabled people -- the kind of dogs who could easily be trained to push a large red button on a one-button phone any time their Master was unable to -- what soon became known to all of us in that room, as the Paw Phone.
Pet idea conceived, we spend the next ten minutes fleshing it out, adding it to the list of the other big ideas to be presented at the end of the day to an independent focus group.
The funny thing? Of the ten ideas we pitched to the focus group that day, the Paw Phone was the third highest rated. Woof woof.
Good ideas can come from anyone at any time and any place. While it is impossible to predict precisely when and where the good ideas will manifest, it is possible to predict the conditions that will make it more likely for the good ideas to make their appearance.
In the Paw Phone session, one of these conditions was the spirit of playfulness and spontaneity that manifested itself so gloriously during the lunch break.
At that time, I simply followed my hunch that the porcelain dog, was, somehow, part of the creative process. I didn't know how things would unfold. I could only trust my instincts and past experience that, often, seemingly random catalysts are the DNA for breakthrough. That, and the fact, that when we manage to enter the state of not trying we often get the best results.
Carl Jung understood this phenomenon: "The creation of something new," he said, "is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves."
Play! The creative mind plays with the object it loves! Yes!
And yet, in the corporate world, playfulness is often demonized, marginalized, and ignored -- branded "unprofessional" -- as if it was a symptom of the worst kind of anti-business slacker mentality.
Indeed, if you find yourself laughing on the job, many of the people around you will think you aren't taking your job seriously. No wonder 62% of all Americans characterize themselves as being dissatisfied with work.
The roots of this weirdness can be traced all the way back to the Garden of Eden.
What happened to Adam when he took a bite of the forbidden fruit? He was condemned, for life, to earning his living by "the sweat of his brow". The free lunch was over. Adam's spontaneity doomed him to a life of heavy lifting and we are the ones who have gotten the hernia.
It's time to shed the notion that work always has to be so serious -- that grunting and groaning is the preferred response and that laughter, in the workplace, means you're not working. Baloney. Untrue. Bogus. Cro-magnon. Insane.
This just in: Life is supposed to be fun. And since work is a part of life, it too needs to be fun -- especially when you find yourself in the middle of a brainstorming session, trying to originate the kind of ideas that will make a difference in the world.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, how serious is your workplace? The brainstorming sessions you attend?. And if it's 7 or more, what can you do to lighten things up?
BONUS QUESTION: What laughable idea of yours may have more merit in it if you just dig a little deeper into the essence of what that idea is really all about?October 11, 2013
The Musical Dynamics of Brainstorm Facilitation
A well-facilitated brainstorming session is like a symphony -- or, at the very least, a really good performance of any kind of music.
Embedded in its DNA are dynamics (i.e. "variation and contrast in force and intensity") -- the skillful modulation of elements that fully engages a person's attention.
The opposite? Muzak.
Next time you listen to a piece of music, be aware of dynamics -- the various ways in which the composition holds your interest (i.e. rhythm, pauses, crescendos, harmonies, solos, and multiple variations of soft and loud).
As a brainstorm facilitator, you need to do everything in your power to keep the session as dynamic as possible so participants remain fully engaged -- poised and ready to respond.
If the session is boring (or takes a "dip" after a brief period of engagement), your chances of succeeding decline exponentially.
Towards this end, think of yourself as a "conductor" -- the one who guides a group of individual contributors ("soloists") through an artful process that ensures a quality experience and a meaningful outcome.September 19, 2013
10 Ways to Help Left Brainers Tap Into the Best of Their Creativity
If your job requires you to lead meetings, brainstorming sessions, or problem solving gatherings of any kind, chances are good that most of the people you come in contact with are left-brain dominant: analytical, logical, linear folks with a passion for results and a huge fear that the meeting you are about to lead will end with a rousing chorus of kumbaya.
Not exactly the kind of mindset conducive to breakthrough thinking.
Do not lose heart, oh facilitators of the creative process. Even if you find yourself in a room full of 10,000 left brainers, there are tons of ways to work with this mindset in service to bringing out the very best of the group's collective genius:
1. Diffuse the fear of ambiguity by continually clarifying the process
Most left-brain-dominant people hate open-ended processes and anything that smacks of ambiguity.
Next time you find yourself leading a creative thinking session, make it a point to give participants, early is the session, a mental map of the process you'll be using. Explain that the session will consist of two key elements: divergent thinking and convergent thinking.
In the divergent segment, you'll be helping people consider non-traditional approaches. In the convergent segment, you'll be helping people analyze, evaluate, and select from the multiplicity of ideas they have generated.
If participants are going to get uneasy, it will happen during the divergent segment. Your task? Periodically remind them of where they are in the process. "Here's our objective," you might say. "Here's where we've been. Here's where we are. And here's we're going. Any questions?"
2. Get people talking about AHAS! they've had
No matter how risk averse or analytical people in your sessions may be, it's likely that all of them -- at some time or another -- have had a really great idea. "Creativity" really isn't all that foreign to them (although they may think it is). All you need to do to get them in touch with that part of themselves is help them recall a moment when they were operating at a high level of creativity.
Get them talking about how it felt, what were the conditions, and what preceded the breakthrough. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll hear and how willing everyone will be, after that, to really stretch out.
3. Identify (and transform) limiting assumptions
One of the biggest obstacles to creativity is the assumption-making part of our brain -- the part that is forever drawing lines in the sand -- the part that is ruled by the past. Most people are not aware of the assumptions they have -- in the same way that most drivers are not aware of the blind spot in their mirror.
If you want people to be optimally creative, it is imperative that you find a way to help them identify their limiting assumptions about the challenge they are brainstorming. "Awareness cures," explains psychologist Fritz Perls. But DON'T get caught in a lengthy discussion about the collective limiting assumptions of the group. This is often just another way that left-brain dominant participants will default to analyzing and debating.
Instead, lead a process that will help participants identify and explore their limiting assumptions. Then, time allowing, help them transform each of these limiting assumptions into open-ended "How can we?" questions for brainstorming.
4. Encourage idea fluency
Dr. Linus Pauling, one of the most influential chemists of the 20th century, was once asked, "How do you get a good idea?" His response? "The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away."
That's why "Go for a quantity of ideas" is the first rule of brainstorming. You want to encourage people, early and often, to go for quantity. This will short circuit participants' perfectionistic, self-censoring tendencies -- two behaviors that are certain death to creativity.
5. Invite humor
The right use of is a great way to help people tap into their right brains. Indeed, "haha" and "aha" are closely related. Both are the result of surprise or discontinuity. You laugh when your expectations are confronted in a delightful way.
Please note, however, that your use of humor must not be demeaning to anyone in the room. Freud explained that every "joke" has a victim and is used by the teller to gain advantage over the victim -- a way to affirm power. And when a group finds itself in the realm of power (and the yielding of power), it will undoubtedly end up in left brain territory.
You don't want to feed that beast.
Instead, set the tone by telling a victimless joke or two, or by your own self-deprecating humor. But even more important than "joke telling" is to allow and encourage a free flowing sense of playfulness.
6. Do the right brain/ left brain two-step
Brainstorming for 3, 4 or 5 hours in a row is unusually exhausting, resulting in the "diminishing returns" syndrome. Creative thinking, like life itself, follows natural laws. Day is followed by night, winter by spring, inbreath by outbreath.
That's why the design of your creative thinking session needs to alternate between the cerebral and the kinesthetic -- between brainstorming and some kind of hands-on, experiential activity. By doing this two-step, participants will stay refreshed and engaged.
7. Periodically mention that chaos precedes creative breakthroughs
Left-brained, logical people are rarely comfortable with ambiguity, chaos and the unknown. It seems messy. Disorganized. Downright unprofessional. Indeed, much of the Six Sigma work being done in corporations these days is to reduce variability and increase predictability.
If you want to get really creative, you will need to increase variability and help participants get more "out of control." Picasso said it best, "The act of creation is first of all an act of destruction." Tom Peters said it second best, "Innovation is a messy business."
So, when you sense that your session is filled with ambiguity-phobic people, remember to mention how it's normal for ambiguity to precede a creative breakthrough. You may even want to mention how you will be purposefully infusing the session with moments of ambiguity, just to prime the creative pump.
8. Establish criteria for evaluation
The reason why ideas are usually considered a dime a dozen is because most people are unclear about their process for identifying the priceless ones. That's why a lot of brainstorming sessions are frustrating. Tons of possibilities are generated, but there is no clear path for winnowing and choosing.
Let's assume, for example, that the session you facilitate generates 100 powerful, new ideas. Do you have a process for helping participants pare the 100 down to a manageable few? If not, you need one. Ideally, the criteria for selecting ideas will be clarified before the session and introduced to participants early in the session.
Please note that there is some debate amongst brainstorm mavens as to when to offer the criteria. Some say this should happen at the beginning of the session (to help assuage the left brain need for logic and boundaries). Others suggest delaying the identification of criteria until just before the idea evaluation process. Either way will work. Your call.
9. Be a referee when you have to
No matter how many ground rules you mention about "suspending judgment" or "delaying evaluation," you are going to have some heavy hitters in the room just waiting for a moment to doubt your approach or "the process."
Indeed, one of the favorite (often unconscious) strategies of some left-brainers is to debate and question the facilitator every step of the way. While you want to honor their concerns and right to speak their truth, you also want to hold the bar high for the intention behind the brainstorming session -- and that is to challenge the status quo, entertain the new, and create space for imaginations to roam.
Don't be afraid to be firm with participants who want to control the session. At the very least, ask them to suspend their need for "convergence" (i.e. evaluation, judgment, decision making) to the end of the session when there will be plenty of time to exercise that very important muscle.
10. Consult with the tough people on the breaks
Every once in a while, a really opinionated person shows up in a session -- someone who is probably very smart, competent, experienced, with a big BS detector, and just enough arrogance to make you feel uncomfortable. These people can really affect the group, especially if they hold positions of power in the organization.
In the best of all worlds, these people would always be on your side. They won't be. Be careful about playing to these people in a neurotic attempt to get their approval. You won't get it. But DO seek them out on breaks and engage them. Get them talking. Pay attention. See if you can pick up any useful feedback or clues about revising your agenda or approach.
Even though you wouldn't choose to be trapped on a desert island with them, these folks may turn out to be a huge blessing -- because they are carriers of a particular sensibility that needs to be honored. More than likely, some of the other people in the room are feeling the same thing, but have been too polite to show their true colors. So, don't be afraid of these people. They can be a very valuable resource.May 24, 2013
Why Train People to Be Masterful Brainstorm Facilitators in 2014
May 01, 2013
Want a Brainstorming Breakthrough? Get the Right Question!
There's a simple reason why so many brainstorm sessions are a waste of time. The problem statement being pitched to participants is the wrong one.
This is not surprising -- especially when you consider how little time most facilitators put into preparing for a session.
Here's what happens: The person who calls the session is usually scrambling -- overwhelmed, over-caffeinated, and running from one meeting to the next. Out of breath, they pitch the topic to the group, but the topic is either vague or secondary to a more essential challenge that remains unspoken.
G.K. Chesterton, one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century, distilled the phenomenon down to 13 words. "It's not that they can't see the solution," he said. "They can't see the problem."
Then, of course, there's also the phenomenon of perception bias.
Pitch a challenge to an IT person, and it will be seen as a technology problem. Pitch it to a CFO, and it will be seen as a financial problem. Pitch it to a marketing person and it will be seen as a branding problem.
Or as a wise man once said, "When a pickpocket meets a saint all he sees are pockets."
If you plan on running an ideation session any time soon, don't just stumble into the room and pitch a vague topic to the group. Do your homework. Make the effort to identify the REAL issue before asking for ideas. If it's the WRONG QUESTION you present, no amount of idea generation is going to make a difference.April 20, 2013
Honor Your Unusual Suspects
One thing I've noticed during the past 25 year of leading brainstorming sessions for a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies is the weird tendency many organizations have to under-value their "unusual suspects" -- people who don't show up on the "creative thinking radar screen" but have a ton of value to add.
Here's my story about one such moment at AT&T just published in the Huffington Post.January 26, 2013
Why Train People to Become Masterful Brainstorm Facilitators
January 25, 2013
High Impact Brainstorming
If your organization is looking for some savvy brainstorm facilitators to open the creative floodgates OR wants to learn HOW to lead your own breakthrough brainstorm sessions, Idea Champions can help. Check out the above slide show and read what our clients say about the value we add.September 08, 2012
The Good Thing About Bad Ideas
One of the inevitable things you will hear at a brainstorming session is "there are no bad ideas." Not true. There are plenty of bad ideas. Nazism, for instance. Arena football. Bow ties.
What well-meaning "keep hope alive" brainstorming lovers really mean is this: Even bad ideas can lead to good ideas if the idea originators are committed enough to extract the meaning from the "bad".
Do you think that War and Peace was written in one sitting? No way. There were plenty of earlier drafts that were horrid, but eventually led to the final outcome.
The key? To find the value in what seems to be a "bad idea" and then use that extracted value as a catalyst for further exploration. The following technique, excerpted from Awake at the Wheel, shows you how...
HOW IT WORKS:
1. Bring a challenge, question, or problem to mind.
2. Conjure up a really bad idea in response to it.
3. Tell another person about your bad idea.
4. The other person thinks of something redeemable about your bad idea -- and tells you what it is.
5. Using this redeemable essence as a catalyst, the two of you brainstorm new possibilities.
25 Reasons Why Nothing Happens After a Brainstorming Session
How many times have you participated in a brainstorming session, only to be underwhelmed by the utter lack of follow up?
Unfortunately, in most businesses, this is often the norm.
1. The output of the session is underwhelming.
2. No one has taken the time, pre-brainstorm, to consider follow-up.
3. No criteria established to evaluate output.
4. No next steps are established at the end of the session.
5. No champions are identified.
6. The champions are not really committed.
7. The champions are committed, but under-estimate the effort.
8. The ideas are too threatening to stakeholders.
9. No one is accountable for results.
10. The project leader doesn't stay in contact with key players and "out of sight, out of mind" takes over.
11. The "steering committee" takes their hands off the wheel.
12. The next brainstorming session is scheduled too quickly.
13. The output of the session is not documented.
14. No sponsors are on board.
15. Participants' managers are not supportive of the effort
16. It takes too long to document the output of the session.
17. The output is not distributed to stakeholders in a timely way.
18. Participants and stakeholders do not read the output.
19. Bureaucracy and company politics rule the day.
20. Somebody, in the session, is disengaged and sabotages the effort.
21. Teamwork is in short supply.
22. Small wins are not celebrated. People lose heart.
23. Participants perceive follow-up as "more work to do" instead of a great opportunity to really make a difference.
24. Unspoken agendas take over.
25. Workloads are unreasonable. Even well-intentioned participants have no time to follow up.
What else should be on this list?
Excerpted from Conducting GeniusSeptember 01, 2012
First Diverge, Then Converge
If you are gearing up for a brainstorm session, allow me to offer you one piece of advice: first diverge, then converge.
Beyond the muffins, coffee, and people arriving fashionably late, brainstorm sessions are composed of the two aforementioned "erges."
Divergence is the act of "getting out there" or what Webster refers to as "an infinite sequence that does not have a limit."
Go, Noah, go!
Divergence, quite simply, is a deviation from the norm -- kind of like your brother-in-law.
Without divergence, brainstorm sessions are flat, boring, one-dimensional, and a roaring waste of time.
But if the only thing you do is "get out there," never coming back to home base, all you will have done is tease participants by temporarily stimulating their imagination.
That's why you need divergence's accountant-like cousin convergence -- the act of "coming together toward one point."
Divergence and convergence -- like day and night, hot and cold, peanut butter and jelly, are both necessary if you want your brainstorm sessions to really hum.
How to spark divergence?
Well, for starters, invite inspired people, define a compelling challenge, establish a sense of urgency, express humor, and give participants permission to take risks.
Convergence can be achieved in many ways, as well, including verbally summarizing session results, restating the most popular ideas, voting, identifying champions, action planning, and clarifying what will happen to new ideas, post-session.July 19, 2012
The AHA Man Makes an Appearance
April 19, 2012
The 8 Dimensions of a Brainstorm Session
Most people think brainstorming sessions are all about ideas -- much in the same way Wall Street bankers think life is all about money.
While ideas are certainly a big part of brainstorming, they are only a part.
People who rush into a brainstorming session starving for new ideas will miss the boat (and the train, car, and unicycle) completely unless they tune into the some other important dynamics that are also at play:
1. INVESTIGATION: If you want your brainstorming sessions to be effective, you'll need to do some investigating before hand. Get curious. Ask questions. Dig deeper. The more you find out what the real issues are, the greater your chances of framing powerful questions to brainstorm and choosing the best techniques to use.
2. IMMERSION: While good ideas can surface at any time, their chances radically increase the more that brainstorm participants are immersed. Translation? No coming and going during a session. No distractions. No interruptions. And don't forget to put a "do not disturb" sign on the door.
3. INTERACTION: Ideas come to people at all times of day and under all kinds of circumstances. But in a brainstorming session, it's the quality of interaction that makes the difference -- how people connect with each other, how they listen, and build on ideas. Your job, as facilitator, is to increase the quality of interaction.
4. INSPIRATION: Creative output is often a function of mindset. Bored, disengaged people rarely originate good ideas. Inspired people do. This is one of your main tasks, as a brainstorm facilitator -- to do everything in your power to keep participants inspired. The more you do, the less techniques you will need.
5. IDEATION: Look around. Everything you see began as an idea in someone's mind. Simply put, ideas are the seeds of innovation -- the first shape a new possibility takes. As a facilitator of the creative process, your job is to foster the conditions that amplify the odds of new ideas being conceived, developed, and articulated.
6. ILLUMINATION: Ideas are great. Ideas are cool. But they are also a dime a dozen unless they lead to an insight or aha. Until then, ideas are only two dimensional. But when the light goes on inside the minds of the people in your session, the ideas are activated and the odds radically increase of them manifesting.
7. INTEGRATION: Well-run brainstorming sessions have a way of intoxicating people. Doors open. Energy soars. Possibilities emerge. But unless participants have a chance to make sense of what they've conceived, the ideas are less likely to manifest. Opening the doors of the imagination is a good thing, but so is closure.
8. IMPLEMENTATION: Perhaps the biggest reason why most brainstorming sessions fail is what happens after -- or, shall I say, what doesn't happen after. Implementation is the name of the game. Before you let people go, clarify next steps, who's doing what (and by when), and what outside support is needed.January 31, 2012
Go Beyond Your Pet Ideas!
If your company runs brainstorming sessions, know this: too many of them have become veiled opportunities for people to trot out their pet ideas.
Because everyone is so ridiculously busy these days and real listening is at a premium, people use brainstorming sessions as a way to foist their pre-existing ideas on others.
And while this sometimes leads to results, it doesn't make best use of the opportunity a brainstorm session provides. The way around this phenomenon?
Give people a chance to express their pre-existing ideas at the beginning of a session. Clear the decks. Then use the rest of the time to explore the unknown. Woof! Woof!December 16, 2011
The Atlassian FedEx Day Goes Global
Atlassian is a very successful Australia-based software company founded in 2002. It has 400+ employees, with 125 of them in San Francisco.
It also has more than 17,000 satisfied clients including Google, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn, Pixar, Adobe, Hulu, Salesforce, UPS, Nike, and Coca-Cola.
Atlassian's software helps companies organize their data, track it, collaborate about it, and detect/fix bugs in their software.
Yeah, I know... I had never heard of them before either.
But those days may soon be over. Atlassian is fast becoming famous not only for their popular software development tools, but also for their rapidly-spreading innovation creation playfully named "FedEx Day".
Very simply, FedEx Day is a 24-hour innovation immersion event that enables employees to brainstorm, prototype, and pitch their emerging innovations.
Why is it called "FedEx Day"? Because the goal of the 24-hour blitz is for participants to originate, develop, and deliver new products, new services, or business process improvements overnight.
FedEx Days typically begin on a Thursday afternoon at 2:00 pm and end with a spirited round of presentations delivered exactly 24 hours later.
The experience is energizing, empowering, and exciting -- with the company supplying pizza and beer (this DID originate in Australia, after all) for everyone on Thursday night.
The end result? Lots of useful and successful innovations that would not have materialized had employees been required to stick with their "day jobs."
Atlassian has been, internally, conducting FedEx Days (now done quarterly) since 2005. But this program is now spreading like a Charlie Sheen Twitter meme. Many other organizations, like Yahoo, Symantec, Flickr, Hasbro Toy, and the Mayo Clinic have all begun conducting their own versions of FedEx Day.
And, NOW, for the first time ever, Atlassian is offering to send their own FedExperts to one deserving company in order to help them conduct their own FedEx Day.
Explains Jonathan Nolen, one of Atlassian's FedExperts, "It's so exciting. The possibilities are endless. Everyone has great ideas and this gives them a way to unleash the power of those ideas. And it happens all over the organization. It's incredibly inspiring to see this happen in real time."
Atlassian's Annelise Reynolds agrees. "This is part of a new trend in business where companies are understanding the importance of engaging and energizing their employees. It works wonders for both the companies and their employees. The employees have fun and the companies get some great innovations."
Entering is simple. All you need to do is fill out this entry form and make a convincing case for why YOUR company or department could use a 24-hour innovation blitz.
Deadline is December 21st, 10:00 PM Pacific Time! Good luck! And good on ya, mate!
- Val Vadeboncoeur
Virtual Brainstorm Facilitation Training
Let me take a wild guess:
The brainstorming sessions you attend (or lead) leave something to be desired. You keep hoping they'll get better, but they don't. There's too much idea killing. Too much wheel spinning. Too much sound and fury, but not enough results.
You've thought about bringing in an outside training company, but they all seem a bit odd -- not to mention the fact that you can't find the budget -- or the time.
Not to worry. That's why we've created a new, flexible, virtual training program that makes it profoundly easy for you (and others) to learn the art and science of facilitating brainstorm sessions that work.
WHY HIRE US?
1. We've been facilitating brainstorming sessions since 1986.
2. We've worked with just about every industry (and mindset) on Planet Earth.
3. Our clients get tons of value.
4. We know how to bring out the best in aspiring facilitators.
5. We can customize the training for your specific needs.
6. We love what we do and are really good at it.
7. Our training materials are top-of-the-line.
8. We've created really cool online tools you can use in your sessions (live or virtual).
9. The co-designer of the training is the author of an award-winning book on the creative process.
Intrigued? Contact us today. Or if not today, tomorrow. Or if not tomorrow, the day after.December 03, 2010
What You Can Learn from the Bloody Mary
In 1939, a Russian immigrant owned the rights to distribute vodka in the U.S. His efforts bombed, big time. Americans weren't interested in a colorless, odorless alcohol.
Depressed, he sold the rights to Heublein, who asked themselves: "What can we combine with Vodka to give it a distinctive taste and color?"
They came up with tomato juice and, voila, the Bloody Mary was born. Sales? Through the roof.
What most of us think of as an "innovation" is really just the elegant combination of two (or more) pre-existing elements resulting in the creation of a new, value-added product or service.
Want to try it for yourself? Click here for a cool, interactive technique.