A Very Cool Brainstorm Facilitation Training for People in the Fast Lane 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?October 22, 2015
Asking for Permission to Facilitate
Here's a useful tip for you the next time you find yourself standing in front of a group of people and about to facilitate a meeting of any kind: Before you begin, ask people to give you permission to facilitate.
This may sound like a complete waste of time, especially if you've been brought in by the powers-that-be to facilitate the meeting, but it's not. It's essential. Here's why:
If your meeting is anything like the other 11 million meetings being held each day in corporate America, chances are good that there will be a time during your gathering when at least one person -- bored, cranky, distracted, or angry that they weren't asked to facilitate, will do something (consciously or unconsciously) to derail the session.
This something can take many forms -- everything from incessantly checking email under the table... to returning late from breaks... to ranting on any number of topics that have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand -- moments that will require a skillful and well-timed response from the facilitator.
If you haven't bothered to ask for permission to facilitate, people will resist (or ignore) your spontaneous interventions every step of the way. And if they don't resist you every step of the way, they will silently retreat into their own private Idaho, perceiving you, in their fevered mind, as an invasive, disempowering, or egomaniacal facilitator.
Bottom line, you will lose them.
And, if the people you lose should happen to be "tribal chieftains" of any one of the many feudal kingdoms represented in the room that day, you will lose a bunch of other people, as well. Their minions.
This is not the outcome you want -- an outcome that will lead you to triangulating to third parties or wishing you had gone into your father's dry cleaning business.
The way out of this mess? Simple.
Within the first five minutes of your meeting, after establishing a few simple ground rules, let everyone know that you need their permission to play your facilitator role -- that there may be some times, during the meeting, when you may have to ask someone to hold a thought or shift their behavior in some way ... and that unless you have their permission to do so, they will likely end up resenting you or feeling mistreated when, in fact, all you are trying to do is ensure that the meeting is a productive one.
Invariably, meeting participants will gladly give their permission for you to facilitate, even if they chuckle, under their breath, while doing so. And if they just sit there, silently, after your request -- bumps on an analog -- all you need to do is ask them to give you some kind of visible indication that they agree -- either by standing up or giving you the "thumbs up".
This simple act of people visibly giving you permission to facilitate is often the difference between success and failure -- especially when, later in the meeting, someone starts acting out or marching to a drummer from another planet.
Armed with the permission they gave you at the beginning of the meeting, all you need to do is reinforce the ground rule that's been forgotten and remind them that all you're doing is playing the role they gave you permission to play in the first place.September 04, 2015
HOW TO MAXIMIZE IDEA POWER FOR FREE: A 3-Minute Video Tutorial
Need powerful, new ideas to grow your business, solve a problem, or find a better way? Don't want to go to yet another meeting to figure things out? Start paying attention to the ideas you are conceiving away from the workplace. And encourage others to do so, as well. Here's WHY and HOW.July 18, 2015
Mojo, Marshall Goldsmith, Face the Music, and the Blues
Let me know if your organization needs a mojo upgrade. Face the Music (a corporate blues band I co-founded in 1999) is up to the task -- a fun, empowering, participatory teambuilding event for conferences, retreats, or any business function wanting to do something different.March 03, 2015
If You Call a Meeting, Please Call It By the Right Name
Maybe it's just me. Or maybe it's the business I'm in, but I can't help but notice how often people with a pressing need to call a meeting find a way to work the "Let's get together and brainstorm" phrase into their invitation even when their meeting has absolutely nothing to do with brainstorming.
In effect, these kinds of invitations are nothing more than a kind of "bait and switch" in which unwary invitees assume they've been invited to help conjure up new possibilities, when, in fact, their creativity is neither needed, wanted, or recognized. The result? "Brainstorming" gets a bad name, meeting goers get pissed, and the person who called the meeting loses major points.
Simply put, not all fruits are bananas.
And so... if YOU, oh savvy Heart of Innovation reader, have a tendency to misrepresent the kind of meetings you call, the following list of "non-brainstorm meetings" should help clarify matters. I beseech you -- please do not use the "B" word to describe the meeting you're inviting people to if it has nothing to do with ideation and if any of the five descriptors below more accurately describe the purpose of your meeting.
1. INFORMATION SHARING MEETING: This is probably the most common kind of meeting -- a chance for people to update each other, share research, and reflect on changes impacting whatever projects they are working on together. New ideas are not the goal of this kind of meeting -- just the facts, m'am. (BTW, before calling this kind of meeting, ask yourself if the information to be shared can be shared in any other way).
2. DISCUSS IMPORTANT TOPICS MEETING: Some meetings require nothing more than a talking head session -- a bunch of people sitting around a table and talking about this, that, and the other thing. This kind of meeting gives people a healthy chance to air out opinions, share concerns, listen, debate, and eat muffins. There's nothing wrong with this kind of meeting, but it does not require brainstorming for it to be effective.
3. TEAM ALIGNMENT MEETING: Sometimes teams simply need to get together to get on the same page. Or, if not on the same page, then in the same book. While this kind of gathering may include the sharing of information (see #1), it may also be a time for team mates to connect, clarify their vision, and reinforce commitments. While this kind of meeting may seem "soft" to some people, it's not. Unless your team is connected and aligned, it's highly unlikely it will be effective. PS: Getting your ducks in a row requires discussion, not brainstorming.
4. FEEDBACK MEETING: Sometimes it's useful for team members to get together for no other reason than to give and receive feedback. This kind of gathering can be as simple as a few "report outs" and a previously agreed upon process for people sharing their perspectives with each other. Ideas may spontaneously emerge from this kind of pow wow, but a feedback meeting is not the same thing as a brainstorm session.
5. DECISION MAKING MEETING: Sometimes the only reason for a team to get together is to make decisions, as in "who's doing what?" or whether it's time to get new bowling shirts. Decision making comes from the left brain. Brainstorming comes from the right. By the way, if your team has no agreement about how it makes decisions, this kind of meeting won't go very well --unless, of course, it's already been decided that the "boss" is the one who will be making decisions on behalf of the team.
So there you have it. Five kinds of meetings that are not brainstorm sessions. Neither are they vacations, coconuts, of the latest viral YouTube video of a cat playing the piano with a tongue depressor.
If you value the time, energy, and expectations of the people you work with, please take the time to clarify what kind of meeting you are inviting them to and declare it, as such, instead of misrepresenting it as a brainstorming session (which it probably isn't).February 20, 2015
WANT TO RUN BETTER MEETINGS? Ask For Permission to Facilitate
Every day, around the world, there are millions of meetings. Maybe zillions. Many of these meetings suck. And if they don't suck, they underwhelm. One of the biggest reasons WHY is because many meeting participants, in various and sundry ways, undermine the facilitator. Unwilling to let go of control and have somebody else "run the show", meeting participants play out any number of passive/aggressive behaviors that erode the quality of the gathering. Maybe that's why so many of us resist going to meetings. Is there anything that you, as meeting facilitator, can do about this phenomenon? Yes there is -- and it only takes a few minutes as described in this 5-minute video by yours truly.February 03, 2015
The Secret to a Good TED Talk January 28, 2014
A Conference Call in Real Life November 22, 2013
The Woodstock Festival of Thanksgiving!
Ask just about anyone on planet earth what comes to mind when they hear the word "Woodstock" and they will most likely say one of three things: Peace, Love, or Music. Makes perfect sense -- especially since that's what the world-famous Woodstock Festival was all about back in '69.
Forget the fact that Woodstock never actually happened in Woodstock, but 43 miles southwest in Bethel, NY. Facts were never what Woodstock was about. Not 44 years ago, when Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin walked this earth. And not now.
Woodstock is about something else -- something less quantifiable than facts, but far more meaningful. Woodstock is about feeling -- a feeling rooted in the recognition that there is something more to experience, in life, than initially meets the eye.
Peace and love were the first visible expressions of this feeling back in the 60's, but these days peace and love are morphing into something equally as significant -- and that is gratitude -- the spontaneous feeling of appreciation that rises in recognition that life is a gift.
With Thanksgiving fast approaching, a mix of Woodstock's present day movers and shakers are getting together to create the next generation Woodstock Festival -- this one a bit smaller in attendance than the first (by about 399,700) but equally as inspired.
The Brainchild of Evelyne Pouget and Marc Black, the November 30th gathering promises to be an extraordinary event -- a multimedia, intergenerational, non-denominational celebration of life taking place at the iconic Bearsville Theater.
Explains Marc Black, Chief Mover and Shaker of the event, "It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best way for us to deal with what's bothering us these days may be to pay attention to what's not bothering us. There's so much to be thankful for that we often ignore. If we simply train ourselves to notice and appreciate what we love, it just might grow."
And grow is the operational word for the Woodstock Festival of Thanksgiving.
Thirty days ago, it was only an idea in the minds of Marc Black and One Voice Global Founder, Evelyne Pouget. Now? In the words of Otis Redding, "Like a snowball rolling down the side of a hill, it's growing..."
Headlining the celebration will be the ever growing Marc Black Band -- one of Woodstock's many local treasures -- a band that's been together since the 1970's in many different forms.
This incarnation includes the great pianist Warren Bernhardt (most recently with Simon & Garfunkel and Steely Dan), Happy Traum (world famous guitarist and folklorist), Amy Fradon (the chanteuse of the Hudson Valley and lead singer with Face the Music), Gary Kvistad (extraordinary percussionist and founder of Woodstock Chimes), Mike Esposito (original lead guitarist for America's first psychedelic band, the Blues Magoos), Don Davis (alto sax for the Microscopic Septet), and Eric Parker (drummer for Joe Cocker, Paul Butterfield and Stevie Winwood).
Two local elementary schools will also be participating -- Woodstock Elementary and the Highwoods School -- the next generation of young movers and shakers who will be launching the world premiere of their Alphabet of Gratitude.
Their artwork will be on display at the Woodstock Library where Marc will present a free concert for the kids at the Library on the afternoon of November 30 at 3:00 pm. And in the evening, some children from the upper grades at the Highwoods school will perform a song at the Bearsville Theater celebration.
Additionally, there will be brief presentations from local luminaries and leaders in various faith traditions, an invocation from a Lama at the KTD Monastery, and lots of dancing, laughing, and other assorted expressions of gratitude.
Twenty percent of all proceeds from the $25 ticket price will be donated to Family of Woodstock, the town's longstanding social service organization -- an organization that was founded in 1970, just months after original Woodstock Festival in.
In case you're wondering, no mud is expected, though, word has it, a few surprises are in store.
This will not be the last Woodstock Festival of Thanksgiving if Marc Black and Evelyne Pouget have anything to do with it. Their intention? For this to be the beginning of a long and glorious tradition -- both locally and around the world.
"We've just planted the seed," explains Marc. "This could easily take off in other cities. The time is right to celebrate the power of gratitude -- not just in our family gatherings, but in our communities via music, dance, and art.
Intrigued? Curious? Psyched? If you want to learn more about how to launch your own Festival of Thanksgiving, feel free to contact Marc Black -- firstname.lastname@example.org. Marc will be happy to share what he's learned about producing these kind of gratitude-infused events.