How to Facilitate Breakthrough Brainstorming Sessions for Your Clients in Three Hours or Less
Here's the deal: You are one of the creatives in a high flying PR, Marketing, or Communications company and have been asked by one of your clients to lead an upcoming brainstorming session. That's the good news. The-not-so-good news? Even though you're an idea-generating machine, facilitating sessions that bring out brilliance in others is not your forte. And to raise the stakes even higher, your client wants more than just "ideas". Your client wants remarkable, actionable ideas and wants the session to be highly engaging, energizing, and worth their precious time. Get it? The heat is on, big time.September 16, 2016
14 Ways to Get Breakthrough Ideas
There's a lot of talk these days about the importance of innovation. All CEOs worth their low salt lunch want it. And they want it, of course, now.
What sparks innovation? People. What sparks people? Inspired ideas that meet a need -- whether expressed or unexpressed -- ideas with enough mojo to rally sustained support. Is there anything a person can do -- beyond caffeine, corporate pep talks, or astrology readings -- to quicken the appearance of breakthrough ideas?
Yes, there is. And what follows are 14 catalysts -- simple guidelines, principles, and approaches that will help you on your way.
1. FOLLOW YOUR FASCINATION
If you find yourself fascinated by a new idea, chances are good that there's something meaningful about it for you to consider.
Fascination, quite simply, is nature's way of getting our attention. Well beyond seduction or attraction, it's an indication that we are being called. Out of the thousands of ideas with the power to capture our imagination, the felt fascination for one of them is a clue that there's something worthy of our engagement.
Don't dismiss it as trivial. Give it room. Give it time to breathe. Honor it. If you have any doubt, consider the origins of the word "fascination". It comes from the Latin "fascinus," meaning to be "enchanted or delighted."
What enchants or delights us is sacred -- or could be sacred -- a clue that something significant is knocking on our door. Indeed, if we are willing to let fascination grow inside us -- a kind of immaculate conception can occur -- the illogical, miraculous becoming pregnant with possibility -- the bodily expression of the phenomenon that you are here to birth something extraordinary.
The idea is simply the first "waaaaaaah" to get you to notice.
What new idea is fascinating you? What new possibility has captured your attention? In what ways can you honor this inspiration today?
Breakthrough ideas, like telemarketers or Jehovah's Witnesses, have a curious habit of showing up at odd times.
And because they do, we're not always ready to receive them.
To complicate matters, chances are good that when they do show up, we are multi-tracking our little tushies off -- checking email, microwaving dinner, or looking for our Smart Phone amidst the half-folded laundry. Not exactly the pre-conditions for breakthrough.
The alternative? Immersion -- the act of becoming completely involved or absorbed in something -- engrossed, enthralled, or preoccupied."
If you want to radically increase your odds of originating breakthrough ideas, you will need to immerse. Don't be a chicken, be a hen!
Baby chicks break through the shell separating them from flight not because their mothers are rushing off to meetings on parenting skills, but because their mothers are immersed in the act of hatching. Mommy is sitting in one place for a looooooooong time. And baby chick is also sitting (curled up) in one place for a looooooooong time.
At Google, employees are given 20% of their time to immerse in projects that have nothing seemingly to do with their so-called day job. At 3M, it's 15%. W.L. Gore gives employees a half a day each week to immerse in projects that fascinate them.
Look at your calendar. Block out some time to focus on the development of your most inspired idea or venture. Unplug! Incubate! Hatch! Immerse!
3. TOLERATE AMBIGUITY
Breakthrough ideas are not always the result of a revolutionary Eureka moment. On the contrary, they are often the result of an evolutionary series of approximations or failed experiments.
When Thomas Edison was asked how it felt to fail 800 times before coming up with tungsten as the filament for the light bulb, his answer was a revealing one.
"Fail?" he said. "I didn't fail once. I learned 800 times what didn't work."
Edison had the ability to tolerate ambiguity -- to "not know." Like most breakthrough thinkers, he had the ability to dwell in the grey zone. Confusion was not his enemy.
"Confusion," explained Henry Miller, "is simply a word we have invented for an order that is not yet understood."
If you are attempting to birth a breakthrough idea, get comfortable with discomfort. Give up your addiction to having all your ducks in a row -- at least in the beginning of your discovery process.
People may think you're a quack, but so what? Your chances of birthing a breakthrough idea (and result) exponentially increase the more you are able to tolerate ambiguity.
What new idea of yours is bubbling on the brink of breakthrough? In what ways can you stay with it -- even if something in you is impatient for a breakthrough?
4. MAKE NEW CONNECTIONS
True creativity rarely happens in a vacuum. On the contrary it is the product of two or more variables connecting in a new way.
It happens all of the time in nature. Water, for example, is really just the connection between hydrogen and oxygen.
It happens in the human realm as well. Roller blading is nothing more than the connection between ice skating and roller skating. MTV? Nothing more than the connection between music and television. Drive in banking? Car + banking.
The originators of these breakthrough products didn't pull rabbits out of hats. All they did was see a new, intriguing (and potentially commercial) connection between already existing elements.
Why don't more of us make these kinds of connections?
Because we usually stay within the confines of what we already know. We live in a box of our own creation -- whether that box be defined by our nationality, profession, concepts, cubicle, or astrological sign.
The more we are willing to get out of this box, the more likely it will be that powerful new connections will reveal themselves to us -- uncommon linkages between this, that, and the other thing -- kind of the way it was for Johannes Gutenberg when he noticed a previously undetected connection between the wine press and coin punch.
And so the printing press was born.
Make three parallel lists of ten words. The first list? Nouns. The second list? Verbs. The third list? Adjectives. Then look for intriguing new connections between them.
In 1989, Gary Kasparov, the Soviet Union Grand Chess Master, played a two game match against "Deep Blue," the reigning supercomputer of the time. Kasparov won easily.
When asked by the media what his competitive advantage was, he cited two things: intuition and the ability to fantasize. (And this, from a master strategic thinker!)
Few of us are ever encouraged to fantasize -- a behavior most commonly associated with children or perverts.
And yet, fantasizing is exactly how many breakthrough ideas get their start -- by some maverick, flake, or dreamer entertaining the seemingly impossible.
I find it curious that business leaders want their employees to come up with fantastic ideas or solutions, but they don't want their employees to fantasize. And yet, the words "fantastic" and "fantasy" come from the same linguistic root, meaning to "use the imagination."
Think of a current challenge of yours. What would a fantasy solution to this challenge look like? What clues does this fantasy solution give you?
6. DEFINE THE RIGHT CHALLENGE
"It's not that they can't find the solution," said G.K. Chesterton, the renowned American philosopher and writer, "They can't find the problem!"
Most people, in their rush to figure things out, rarely spend enough time framing their challenge in a meaningful way. If they owned a GPS, they'd fail to take the time to program in their destination -- because they were so much into the hustle of getting out of town.
Coming up with the right question is at least half of getting the right answer.
If you want a breakthrough idea, begin by coming up with a breakthrough question -- one that communicates the essence of what you're trying to create.
State your most inspired challenge or opportunity as a question beginning with words "How can I?" Then write it five different ways. Which is your real question?
7. LISTEN TO YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS
If you study the lives of people who have had Eureka moments, you'll note that their breakthroughs almost always came after extensive periods of intense, conscious effort.
They worked, they struggled, they noodled, they gave up, they recommitted --and then the breakthrough came. And often at unexpected moments.
They weren't buying lottery tickets at their local deli, hoping to win a breakthrough fortune, they were digging for treasure in their own back yard.
Rene Descartes got the idea for the Scientific Method in a dream. Richard Wagner got the idea for Das Rhinegold while stepping onto a bus after long months of creative despair. Einstein used to conduct "thought experiments" (a fancy name for daydreaming) whenever he got stuck.
In other words, the conscious mind works overtime in an attempt to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
Unable to come up with the breakthrough, the challenge gets turned over to the subconscious mind which then proceeds to figure it out in its own, sweet time.
Of course, all of this assumes that we are listening to the promptings of our subconscious mind.
This week, keep a log of your most inspired ideas, intuitions, and dreams. At the end of the week, review your log. See what insights come to you.
8. TAKE A BREAK
If you want a breakthrough, you will need to take a break. True innovators rarely follow the straight and narrow path. Not only do they march to a different drummer, they're often not even on the same playing field as most people.
Take Seymour Cray, for example, the legendary designer of high-speed computers.
He used to divide his time between building the next generation super computer and digging an underground tunnel below his Chippewa Falls house.
Cray's explanation of his tunnel digging behavior is consistent with the stories of many other creatives -- inner-directed, boundary-pushing people who understand the need to go off-line whenever they get stuck.
Bottom line, whenever they find themselves struggling with a thorny problem, they walk away from it for a while. They know, from years of experience, that more (i.e. obsession, analysis, effort) is often less (i.e. ideas, solutions, results).
Explained Cray, "I work for three hours and then get stumped. So I quit and go to work in the tunnel. It takes me an hour or so to dig four inches and put in the boards. You see, I'm up in the Wisconsin woods, and there are elves in the woods. So when they see me leave, they come back into my office and solve all the problems I'm having. Then I go up (to my lab) and work some more."
Next time you find yourself stuck on a thorny problem or project, walk away from it for a while. Stay conscious of new solutions coming to you during this down time.
9. NOTICE AND CHALLENGE PATTERNS AND TRENDS
There are many people these days who make their living from the pattern recognition business: futurists, meteorologists, air traffic controllers, and stock brokers just to name a few.
And while their success rates may not always be 100%, it is clear that whatever success they enjoy is intimately tied to their ability to notice patterns and then interpret those patterns correctly for the rest of us.
The same holds true for breakthrough thinkers.
The only difference? Breakthrough thinkers often hit the gravy train by challenging old patterns and then reconfiguring them in new ways.
"The act of creation," said Picasso, "is first of all an act of destruction."
"The genius," said American painter, Ben Shahn, "is merely the one able to detect the pattern amidst the confusion of details just a little sooner than the average man."
What trends in the marketplace most intrigues you? In what ways might these trends shift in the coming years -- and how might your most inspired idea be in sync with this imagined shift?
10. HANG OUT WITH A DIVERSE GROUP OF PEOPLE
Years ago Sony used to insist that their engineers spend at least 25% of their work time out of the office and mixing it up with people outside of the four walls of their industry.
Keepers of the innovation flame at Sony understood that diverse inputs were essential to the origination and development of breakthrough ideas.
Unfortunately, most of us tend to stay within the intellectual ghettos of the familiar. We hang out with the same people day and night -- usually people who either agree with us, report to us or, through some indefinable act of karma, are joined to us at the hip.
If you want to increase your chances of getting a breakthrough idea, you will need to break the bonds of the familiar.
Hang out with a different crowd. Go beyond the usual suspects. Seek the input of oddballs, mavericks, outcasts, or, at the very least, people outside your field.
If you can let go of your need for comfort and agreement, you will find yourself catapulted into new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting -- all precursors to breakthrough ideas.
Make a list of ten people outside of your traditional posse that you can spend some time with this month. Whoâ€™s first? When?
Breakthrough thinkers are often rugged individualists. They believe in their inalienable rights to think for themselves. They value their opinions, their perspectives, and their innate creativity. Their biggest fear is group think.
All well and good.
But there is an important distinction to be made between group think and the phenomenon of inspired individuals getting together to spark each other's brilliance.
Indeed, most great breakthroughs are more about inspired collaborations than they are about lone wolf genius.
Think Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft), Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Apple), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google), David Filo and Jerry Yang (Yahoo), Watson and Crick (DNA), Lennon and McCartney (the Beatles), Hewlett & Packard.
All you need to do is frame a meaningful question, invite the right people, and facilitate the process for helping your think tank creatively jam. If you are not the right person to facilitate, you probably know someone who is. Ask them.
What is the topic of your next group brainstorm? Who will you invite? Who will facilitate? When?
12. LOOK FOR HAPPY ACCIDENTS
Breakthrough ideas are often less about the purposeful act of inventing new things that it is the art of noticing new things that happen accidentally -- those surprise moments when the answer is revealed for no particular reason.
The discovery of penicillin, for example, was the result of Alexander Fleming noting the formation of mold on the side of a Petri dish left unattended overnight. Vulcanized rubber was discovered in 1839 when Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a lump of the polymer substance he was experimenting with onto his wife's cook stove.
Breakthroughs aren't always about inventions, but about the intervention required to notice something new, unexpected, and intriguing.
For this to happen, you will need to let go of your expectations and assumptions and get curious.
Give up being an expert. Let go of the past. See with new eyes.
What failed experiment or unexpected outcome might be interesting for you to reconsider?
13. USE CREATIVE THINKING TECHNIQUES
I live in the Northeast. In the Winter, it's common for old cars -- especially on very cold mornings -- not to start. When this happens, the best thing you can do is get a jump start. All you need are jumper cables and another car that's got its motor running.
Creative thinking techniques are like jumper cables. They spark ignition. They turn potential into kinetic energy. They get you going when you're stuck.
If you're looking for a breakthrough idea, perhaps all you need is a jump start.
That jump start could take many shapes. It could be a classic, creative thinking technique, of which there are many. It could be a "creative thinking coach" or a favorite book, or a quote.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what medium you choose, just as long as you choose something to get your motor running.
Here's something to get you started:
14. SUSPEND LOGIC
Perhaps Einstein said it best when he declared: "Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted."
He was referring, of course, to the part of the human being that knows intuitively -- the part that is tuned in, connected, and innately creative.
Kids live in this place. The rest of us just visit, preferring the left-brained world of rationality, logic, linearity, and analysis.
On some primal level, we're all from Missouri. We need proof. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with gathering data, the addiction to it subverts our ability to originate breakthrough ideas.
We know this.
That's why we go to the movies, the pub, watch TV, read novels, dial 900 numbers, and daydream.
We seek an altered state -- one that is free of the normal gravity of daily life.
That's why movie makers ask us to suspend disbelief. That's why brainstorm facilitators ask us to suspend judgment. That's why women (innately intuitive as they are) ask the men in their lives to stop being so damn practical for a change and actually feel something.
It is in this state of suspension that our innate creativity is free to percolate to the surface -- over, under and around all of the left brained guardians at the gate.
And so... if you want to really birth a breakthrough idea, you too will need to enter into this state -- at least in the first phases of your new venture. Suspend judgment. Suspend evaluation. Suspend your addiction to the practical.
What exists on the other side is fuel for the fire of your untapped creativity.
What can you do this week to suspend practicality, logic and rationality in service to birthing your big idea?June 30, 2016
BETTER THAN THERAPY: What Stressed Business Partners Can Learn From the Police Reunion Tour
Making great music together isn't always easy, no matter how famous your band is. Nor is it easy being business partners, collaborators, teammates, or "significant others". If you want to make some serious music together, "creative dissonance" is inevitable. Count on it. The question isn't whether or not band mates or business partners will experience breakdowns. They will. The question is how committed are they to breaking through and coming out the other side.June 07, 2016
HOW TO GET PEOPLE OUT OF THE BOX: A 5-Minute Tutorial
Ever heard the expression "get out of the box?" Of course you have. Ever wonder what the six sides of that so-called box actually are? If not, here's your 5-minute tutorial of the day. Once you're clear about what the sides of the box are, you will be significantly more able to help people (and yourself) get out of it.April 04, 2016
The Crowdsourced Birth of a New Book Beyond Business Innovation
Greetings! It's me, Mitch Ditkoff, author of this blog, President of Idea Champions, writer, speaker, husband, father, and dust particle. If you've been enjoying this blog, there is a good chance you will enjoy my forthcoming book. Towards that end, I have just launched a GoFundMe campaign and am inviting you to participate. We're talking crowd-sourced funding -- a way for me to buy the time and resources I need to write, produce, publish, and promote the book before hell freezes over. Hope you can be part of it! It takes a village... and a few village idiots!March 31, 2016
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!March 02, 2016
Sun Tzu on Preparation
"Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought." - Sun Tzu
What challenge or opportunity is coming up for you that will require a higher level of preparation than you usually make? What extra effort are you willing to make in order to prepare? What might prevent you from making the kind of effort you know you need to make? How can you create the support you need to ensure that your preparation efforts succeed?February 27, 2016
If You Want to Create Breakthrough Products, Get Meaningful Feedback Early in the Game
Most Fortune 500 companies have some kind of corporate strategy in place for ratcheting up their innovation efforts. Consultants are hired. CEOs give pep talks. And internal initiatives are launched.
To the casual observer, it all looks good, but few of these initiatives ever amount to anything In fact, research indicates that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail.
Why such a low percentage? It depends on who you ask. Senior leaders see it as a workforce issue. The workforce sees it as a senior leader issue. Consultants see it as an issue their company is best suited to resolve. And the occasional in-house astrologer sees it as a Gemini in Pluto issue. Bottom line, nobody really knows.
Here's how I see it: one of the biggest (and least addressed) reasons why most change initiatives fail can be traced back to the cro-magnon way most innovation-seeking people give and receive feedback -- especially when it comes to pitching high concept ideas.
Case in point: Some years ago, Lucent Technologies asked me to facilitate a daylong "Products of the Future" ideation session for 75 of their best and brightest. The pay was good. The challenge was compelling. And I was going to have carte blanche to design the session just the way I wanted.
Or so I thought.
The woman who had contacted me, I quickly found out, reported directly to the CEO. So far, so good. And her concept of the session was spot on -- that the CEO and his Direct Reports (a new rock band?), would make an appearance at the end of the day to listen to five BIG IDEA pitches and then give their feedback, real-time.
Theoretically, this made perfect sense. But theory and reality are two very different things -- kind of like the difference between asking your teenage daughter to clean up her room and her actually doing it.
The harsh reality is this: The vast majority of Senior Leaders are not very skillful when it comes to giving feedback -- especially in response to ideas that challenge the status quo. "Feedback," for them, has become code for "With all due respect, let me tell you why your idea sucks".
As a facilitator of high profile brainstorming sessions, I cannot, in good faith, allow this all-too-predictable dynamic to play itself out. Not only will potentially profound ideas be prematurely dismissed, the hard-working, brilliant people who have spent all day generating and developing these ideas will become royally pissed, disempowered, humiliated, passive/aggressive, and depressed. The result? Very few of them will want to participate in future sessions.
So I told the consultant-seeking woman from Lucent that I, in service to the outcomes she was about to hire me to ensure, needed to meet with her CEO so I could teach him and his team how to give effective, humane feedback to a roomful of 75 future product generating optic fiber geniuses.
"Impossible!" was her response. "Our CEO is very busy man -- and besides... he doesn't like consultants."
"Got it," I said, quickly assessing my options. "And thank you, so much, for your kind invitation to facilitate the session, but I must respectfully decline" -- and, with that, I began packing up my briefcase.
This, shall we say, caught her slightly off guard. "I... don't understand where you are going with this," she replied.
"Look," I said. "If you want to get meaninful results from an all-day brainstorming session, especially if you are flying people in from who knows where, we've got to be absolutely sure that the feedback at the end of the day is done well. I am not going to walk 75 of your best and brightest people off the plank."
I could tell that my unexpected feedback was registering. "OK, OK...but the best I can do is get you five minutes with him during the coffee break just before the report outs".
"Great," I said. "I'll take it."
Fast forward two months.
From 8:30 am -- 3:00 pm, 75 of Lucent's most brilliant technologists conjured up products that made my head spin. The room was abuzz with glorious possibilities. The sense of accomplishment was palpable. At 2:45 they selected five of their best ideas and summarized them on flipcharts. At 3:00, it was time for coffee and sugar, me craning my head for the CEO and his merry band of direct reports.
I envisioned him to be a tall man, silver-haired, with a large Rolex and a steely look in his eyes -- someone who might be good friends with the Governor and eventually have his portrait hanging in the lobby at headquarters. He was, much to my surprise about 5'6", wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, loafers, and no socks. My kind of guy.
"Rich," I began, extending my hand. "Welcome, Mitch Ditkoff here from Idea Champions, facilitator of today's extraordinary ideation session, "how would you like to learn a simple technique in the next five minutes that will not only take all the dread out of giving feedback, but spark some seriously powerful idea development on the spot?"
He looked at me as if I'd just given him the holy grail. "You're on!"
"Great. Here's how it works," I began. "When an idea is pitched, first say what you LIKE about it -- the upside, what's promising. After a few genuine likes, then express your CONCERNS -- the stuff you probably wanted to say in the first place. But for each concern you express, it will be your responsibility to follow it with a SUGGESTION, a way that would resolve your concern and keep the idea alive Got it?"
"Oh... one more thing, Rich. If you forget to use the method, do I have your permission to remind you?"
The senior team took their place on stage, sitting behind a table, draped in black, that reminded me of the Nuremberg Trials. The 75 brilliant brainstormers took their seats at round tables -- everyone attentively listening to me describe the feedback process that was just about to unfold.
The first BIG IDEA pitch was excellent -- a compelling idea for a telecommunications platform of the future that was utterly mind blowing. The audience applauded, I acknowledged the presenter, and then gave the floor to the CEO, reminding him to use the feedback technique I'd taught him just a few minutes ago -- which he proceeded to do for, oh, maybe 30 seconds or so.
After that? It was Apocalyse Now meets The Godfather, with a little Don Rickles in Vegas thrown in for good measure, a scene I'd witnessed countless times before in corporate America -- the kneejerk, reptilian-brained, go-for-the-jugular tendency most senior executives have to focus on what's wrong with a new idea before what's right.
Speaking into the mic in my best baritone imitation of the Wizard of Oz, I quickly intervened.
"Oh Mr. CEO of a very large and profitable telecommunications company. Remember the LCS technique! First your LIKES, then your CONCERNS, then your SUGGESTIONS."
In an optic fiber nanosecond, he sheepishly smiled, thanked me for the reminder, and returned to the technique.
The rest of the session went off without a hitch. Five powerful ideas got pitched. Seven of Lucent's top executives weighed in with insight, honesty, and graciousness. And 75 aspiring innovators experienced something they had probably never experienced before -- that it was possible to spend all day brainstorming "out there" possibilities and get the kind of feedback from senior leadership that was honorable, empowering, easy-to-listen to, and immediately helpful.
SO WHAT? Ever hear the phrase "ideas are a dime a dozen." Of course you have. It's one of the classic truisms we were all brought up to believe. That old saw, however, is less about ideas being inconsequential, than it is about people not knowing how to elicit their value. Granted, not every idea is worth developing, but far too many good ones are lost along the way because the person to whom the idea is pitched is blinded by their own knee jerk reactions.
The literature is filled with examples of great ideas whose value was not immediately recognized. The steam engine. The MacIntosh. FedEx. And the Post-It Note just to name a few. All of them were pitched to the "powers-that-be" and all were victims of knee jerk, naysaying, idea killing behavior. Yes, it's true, many senior leaders beat the drums for "out of the box thinking". But when push comes to shove, as it often does, their drumming is more like fingernails on the edge of an office desk than a conga player with fire in his eyes. So let's give our senior leaders what they need to make the shift from theory to practice -- and that is a simple method for them to respond to new and untested ideas in a way that increases the odds of innovation actually happening.
NOW WHAT? Think about your style of responding to new ideas. Do you listen? Do you pause long enough to see the seed of innovation? Do you give meaningful feedback in a humane way? And what about your organization? Do people know how to give and receive feedback? Do they take the time? Does the process increase the odds of innovation becoming a reality? If not, what can you about it this week to turn things around?February 15, 2016
On Creating an Innovation Mindset
If you want to spark innovation in your organization and are looking for the diamond cutters stroke, consider storytelling. Since 1987, I've tried everything under the sun to help my clients raise the bar for innovation. What I've discovered is that innovation begins in the mind and that unless people are in the right mindset, innovation will never be more than a pipe dream. Storytelling, I've learned, is the simplest, fastest, most memorable way to get people into an innovation mindset. Here's how we do it. And if you only have 90 minutes, this is how we do it. Its also boosts employee engagement.December 03, 2015
Storytelling & the Creative Process
This is bleeping brilliant. Not only WHAT its says, but HOW it's presented. Two minutes on what it takes to really do creative work. Inspiring. Truthful. And in your face like a fresh arctic wind off a lake you've been waiting too long to sail on...
September 15, 2015
The Art of Sparking Innovation
When my mother was alive, she told me she had no idea what I did for a living. Around the canasta table, she would tell her friends I was a "motivational speaker", no matter how many times I explained what I actually did. The slide show below is dedicated to her and to YOU, too -- especially if you're wondering what the heck goes on in one of Idea Champions' innovation-sparking workshops. Best to view full screen.
December 11, 2014
The Awesome Power of Immersion
"If I had an hour to solve a problem," explained Albert Einstein, "I'd spend the first 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and the last five solving it."
Translation? One of the secrets to having a big breakthrough is immersion -- "the state of being deeply engaged, involved, or absorbed."
Immersion is the ocean in which our fabulous insights, ideas, and illuminations are swimming. That's why Yogis seek out caves, embryos gestate, and writers go on retreat.
And that's why my business partner, Steven McHugh, and I rented a townhouse in Boulder, Colorado for 30 days and 30 nights when it was time for us to start up Idea Champions. We knew we had a great idea for a business, but we also knew that ideas were a dime a dozen and that unless we really immersed we'd end up with nothing much more than a charming story to tell at cocktail parties -- the idea for a business, but not the business itself.
Armed with little more than a flip chart, a few marking pens, and a burning desire to create something new, we unplugged from all our other commitments and jumped in with both feet.
We talked. We walked. We walked our talk. We noodled. We conjured. We brainstormed, blue-skied, dialogued, role played, invented, read, sang, stretched, drank coffee, wine, the crisp Colorado air, and whatever else it took to free ourselves from the gravity of what we already knew. If this was Rocky 1, our townhouse was the Gym, Adrienne nowhere in sight.
And every night before we went to bed, blissed out of our trees, we'd remind each other to remember our dreams and speak them aloud the first thing in the morning.
CLUES. We were looking for clues, hints, perfumed handkerchiefs dropped by our muse while we slept and anything else that bubbled to the surface of the imaginal stew we found ourselves now swimming in.
Crackpots? No. More like crockpots, simmering in our own creative juices, unimpaired by the almost infinite amount of distractions we had grown accustomed to calling our life.
Immersed. We were completely immersed -- two eggs submerged in the boiling water of creation, heat turned up, lid on, timer off.
Our walls? The walls of our abode? Covered with paper, sketches, scribbles, post-its, quotes, pictures, lists, charts, diagrams, questions, and take out menus -- the barely decipherable hieroglyphics of our journey into who knows where.
The floors? Our mothers would have had a heart attack, littered as they were with anything we didn't have a place for. Rube Goldberg meets Fellini. Yin meets Yang meets Jung -- the flora and fauna of two aspiring entrepreneurs on fire with possibility.
But our immersion went far beyond the four walls of our abode. It was a state of mind, not a geographical location. It didn't really matter where we were. Walking by the creek or sitting in a bar was all the same to us, ruled as we were by our shared fascination, random silken threads of conversation with complete strangers, and the increasingly apparent sense that we were on to something big.
And then, on the morning of the 19th day, very much at ease in our townhouse abode, there was a knock on the door -- a loud and insistent knock, a knock both of us found rather odd since nobody knew where we lived -- or so we thought.
"It's open," Steven shouted from across the room. "Go ahead and let yourself in."
And there, at the threshold, stood a woman neither of us knew, a woman boldly announcing that, for the past three days, she'd been hearing about "these two creativity guys" and she just had to meet us, her business now on the cusp of either breaking through or breaking down.
I don't remember a single thing of we said, but whatever it was hit the nail on the head.
The next day, there was another knock on the door. Apparently, someone else had heard about our whereabouts. This guy had a business, too, or was trying to have a business. He spoke. We listened. He spoke some more. We listened some more, occasionally asking a question or two and sharing some insight. He too, got what he needed.
On the third day, Jesus did not rise from the grave, but, yes, there was another knock on the door -- just enough proof to the logical part of our minds that the previous two visits were not random events, but part of some kind of emerging pattern -- what fans of Rupert Sheldrake might refer to as manifestations of the morphogenetic field, or what less metaphysical folks might describe as our very own "field of dreams."
Steven and I had done nothing at all to draw these people to us -- no ads in the paper, no posters on poles, no calls, no emails, no flyers, no social marketing campaigns. The only thing we'd done was immerse -- dig deeply into our own highly charged process of creating something new.
But this "nothing at all" wasn't nothing at all. It was something -- something grand and glorious. Something extraordinarily attractive.
Is a mother hen sitting on her egg doing nothing at all? Is she slacking? Is her seeming disappearance from the poultry marketplace a sign of irresponsibility?
To the casual observer, maybe that's what it looks like, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sitting is exactly what the mother hen needs to do in order to bring new life into the world. Stillness, not action, is her path.
Did Steven and I accomplish what we set out to do during our 30 days of immersion? Yes, we did. In spades. Beyond the inspiration, collaboration, and good feelings we experienced, we emerged with the design of our first product -- a creative thinking training we ended up licensing to AT&T just two years later for a truck load of money.
Was our immersion time all fun and games? No way. Chaos and confusion were our housemates, but the rent they paid sparked a ton of learning, creativity, discovery, and a new found willingness to make friends with the unknown -- what Henry Miller was referring to when he defined confusion as "simply a word we've invented for an order that is not yet understood."
In today's business world, immersion is a very rare commodity. ADD rules the day. Time is sliced and diced. We don't have time. Time has us. We tweet, we delete, we tap our feet, but all too often nothing much beyond the status quo ever really happens. Downtime has become an anathema -- the province of "B list" players. Busy-ness and business have become synonymous.
The assumption? The more we do and the faster we do it, the more success we'll have. Boil an egg? Ha! We microwave it -- even if it tastes like shit. Dive in? No way. We hydroplane.
But it doesn't have to be that way. It really doesn't.
Slowing down and going deep trumps speeding up and going crazy. Immersion trumps diversion. It's possible. Yes, it is. I have proof. And so do YOU, if only you would pause long enough to remember those extraordinary times when you unplugged, tuned in, and dove into your own process of creating something new and wonderful.
A QUESTION FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
What can you do, this week, month, or quarter, to unplug from the daily grind and give yourself the luxury of immersion? Where will you go? When? And who will you invite to accompany you, if anyone?
Excerpted from my forthcoming book: WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.October 07, 2014
THE SEED OF INNOVATION MOMENT: A 3-Minute Video Tutorial
If you are trying to spark a renaissance of innovation in your company by launching some kind of "innovation initiative", consider the fact that the seed of innovation is already available in every conversation that people are having. This 3-minute video tutorial dives in deeper.February 19, 2014
How to Open the Door to Innovation
There is no magic pill, but there is a key. And the key has a lot to do with creating a critical mass of savvy innovation catalysts and change agents who know how to open doors (and minds).