March 08, 2024
How Creative Improv Can Improve a Brainstorm Session

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:08 AM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2016
Why You Need to Defer Judgment During the Ideation Phase of a Brainstorming Session


Big thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions' Director of Training, for this timely article on the importance of deferring evaluation during the ideation phase of a brainstorming session.

When Alex Osborn, co-founder of the advertising firm, BBD&O, first came up with the basic concept of brainstorming way back in the 1940's, he stressed that during idea generation "we should hold back criticism until the creative current has had every chance to flow." This principle of "deferring evaluation" of ideas until later has been a bedrock principle of brainstorming ever since. Osborn noted that human beings are of of two minds, what he called the "imaginative" or creative mind and the "judicial" or judging mind. These days, we tend to refer to these in the psych jargon of "right and left brains" today.

According to Osborn, the job of the imaginative mind was to generate ideas and see visions, while the job of the judicial mind was to analyze the ideas and select the best ones for implementation. His theory was that by deferring judgment during brainstorming we kept the critical faculty, the judging mind, from "jamming the creative faculty," the imaginative mind.

Why does this work? If you've ever experienced "writer's block," then you may well know the answer.


When a writer finds herself in the throes of being unable to create new work, the main obstacle usually is that the writer is making the very same error that brainstormers would make by trying to simultaneously generating ideas while evaluating them.

In the case of writer's block, what is often happening is that the writer is trying to write something new while editing it at the same time. This creates an endless start/stop loop of creating and judging which is frustrating to say the least. As soon as a sentence or phrase is written, the judging mind jumps in to evaluate it. "Is it too boring? Too whacky? Didn't you say this before? Will the reader understand it? Can it be said better? In a more concise way? Is that the right word there?"

No wonder some writers go mad.

The solution for this problem is simple. Write at one designated time and edit what you write at another and always keep these two disciplines separate.

Maya Angelou would write in the morning and edit in the afternoon. Ernest Hemingway did the same. Joan Didion has a similar routine. Didion says that she writes for as long as she can in the morning and then in late afternoon, right before dinner, she has a drink and goes over what she wrote earlier in the day. "The drink helps," she says.

Some writers write for many days at a time before going into the editing mode. But, the effective pattern is clear -- writing should be a separate activity from editing.

The same goes for the creative act of brainstorming. Osborn advised having TWO brainstorm sessions at different times. The first session was designed to generate the ideas and the second was to analyze, select and develop the best ones.

In my experience, if you have enough time, you can do both in sequence in the same session but you have to keep these two events completely separate by including a break between them.

Enforcing the ground rule of "deferring judgment" during the idea generation segment of a brainstorming session is very important. I often say to miscreants "right now, all ideas are innocent until proven guilty. You'll have your opportunity to shoot them down later. Just not now."

If you ignore this basic fact of creativity -- that the imaginative mind must be given free rein to run without the constraints of the saddle, stirrup and harness of the judicial mind -- then you put yourself and your participants in danger of brainstorm asphyxiation.

You know the scene. A brainstorm participant volunteers an idea and, automatically and on cue, another participant tells everyone why he it won't work. The idea is withdrawn and never captured, or even worse, a long argument ensues back and forth as to the merits of the idea. If this continues for any length of time, everyone becomes frustrated and annoyed. And your brainstorm session can't even get started.

You know the cure. Keep the idea generation phase of brainstorming sacrosanct from the judgments of the left (or judicial) brain by enforcing the brainstorm ground rule of deferring judgment.

You can let the left brain out later to do what it does best -- compare and contrast. Weigh. Measure. Sort. And choose.

But never let both sides of your brain out together at the same time -- a sure path to madness... and a really frustrating brainstorming session.

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June 23, 2016


Big thanks to Idea Champions' Director of Training, Val Vadeoncoeur, for this insightful post on the power of mindset.

One of the biggest blind spots we human beings have, and one of the most common, is forgetting to include ourselves in the calculation. It's almost as if we believe we don't matter or as if our intentions or the manner in which we do something won't play an important role in affecting the outcome. Not true. It does.

Otto Scharmer of The Presencing Institute in Cambridge, MA elaborates on this curious phenonmenon:

"Why do our attempts to deal with the challenges of our time so often fail? The cause of our collective failure is that we are blind to the deeper dimension of leadership and transformational change. This blind spot exists not only in our collective leadership, but also in our everyday social interactions. We are blind to the source dimension from which effective leadership and social action come into being. We know a great deal about what leaders do and how they do it. But we know very little about the inner place, the source from which they operate.


Scharmer goes on to quote Bill O'Brien, former CEO of Hanover Insurance.

"When I asked him (O'Brien) to sum up his most important learning experience in leading profound change, he responded, 'The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.'"

Not surprisingly, this great truth also applies to your challenge as a brainstorm facilitator. Are you truly doing everything you can to get yourself ready for the optimal performance of your duty?

You've gotten the room. You've invited the right people. You've worked out a meaningful agenda and focused on the right question. Everything appears to be in order -- except for one thing. The state of your mind, heart. and soul. In other words, yourself.

Without doing so, the odds of you being uncentered, unfocused, and less-than- vibrant will increase, resulting in the quality of the sessions you facilitate declining.

What follows are nine practical tips to ensure that you will be at your best when it comes time to facilitate an effective brainstorm session:

1. VISUALIZE THE SESSION the night before: See yourself confidently and successfully facilitating each part of your agenda.

2. UNPLUG FROM OTHER PROJECTS at least an hour before your session. There is no need to schedule distracting activities or important meetings right before your session.

3. REVIEW YOUR AGENDA at least an hour before the session. Know the flow of what's to come, what you want to accomplish, and what you want to say to move the agenda forward so it all makes sense to participants.

4. SHOW UP AT LEAST 30 MINUTES BEFORE the session to set up the room. Even if your set-up is minimal, the act of simply moving objects into their proper position and cleaning up messy sight lines will help you put your stamp, your energy, into the room.

5. VISUALIZE THE RESULTS YOU WANT -- with people engaged and happy to be there; you calm, focused, clear-headed and articulate; lots of great ideas being generated; lots of kudos for a job well done.

They will help put you in the zone. There is no reason not to do them. If they work, they work and and will work before you begin your session. If you don't know of a way to center yourself and relax before going "on stage", then find a way.

7. SET YOUR INTENTION AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL: One way to do so is to complete the following sentence: "I want to be at my very best so that..."

8. PLAY YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC as you set up for your session -- and have some instrumental music playing as people enter the room. This will not only relax you, it will relax participants -- helping them make the transition from their left-brained business minds into their more right-brained creative minds.

9. COMMIT TO HAVING AS MUCH FUN AS YOU CAN: If you are enjoying the moment, chances are good that others will, as well. This can only help.

Which of these "get the zone approaches" will YOU do before your next brainstorm session? And what else might you do to ensure that you don't forget about YOURSELF before facilitating the session?

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:36 AM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2016
Do You Have the Courage to Find Out Just How Good (or Not Good) Your Brainstorm Sessions Are?


Many of us wince when we hear the word "feedback", especially when it relates to our own performance. We tend to see feedback as criticism or a veiled personal attack. And for good reason. We've all been on the receiving end of feedback that was anything but complementary -- open season, you might say, on US! Not a pleasant experience.

But feedback, in its truest sense, is as much a part of our lives as breathing. The fact is -- we're giving and receiving feedback, in many forms, all the time.

For example, our spouses, friends, children, and even pets, are always giving us feedback. By word, body language, gesture, energy level, focus of attention, and feeling we're signaling others how we are experiencing what they're saying and doing -- and they are doing the same in return.


With "communication" being a tricky business, however, we sometimes miss the signals or misinterpret them. As a result, it becomes difficult for us to improve our performance because we simply don't know what to improve and why.

The antidote? Purposely seek out clear feedback.

That's why we, at Idea Champions, are constantly seeking out feedback from our clients. We want to know how we're doing, what we're doing well, and what we're not doing well. It's how we avoid disaster, take advantage of our strengths, and stay in business.

Over the years, we've developed a wide range of feedback polls that give our clients a simple way to rate our performance. And, now, we're offering one them to you, absolutely free -- the beginning a multi-year research project on the efficacy of brainstorm sessions in the business world.

If you have 50 or more people in your organization and want to get some insights into the state-of-the-art of your brainstorming sessions, get in touch with us ( In response, we'll send you a custom link to your very own brainstorm poll which you, in turn, can forward to anyone in your company who participates in brainstorming sessions. Less than two weeks later, we'll forward you the results, along with our observations and some food for thought.

-- Thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions Director of Training, for this thought provoking piece

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January 24, 2015
Radio Woodstock in the House!


We just received this very nice piece of feedback from the President of Radio Woodstock, Gary Chetkof.

"Idea Champions was a true partner in helping us untangle some of the issues we were struggling with. They were very easy to work with and the processes used were fun and creative and they worked splendidly. We were able to find out what the major obstacles were and our entire team worked together to find solutions. Everyone participated fully, and everyone now has much more clarity about how to better work together. We even have our new mission statement that you can see on our Facebook page! I wholeheartedly recommend Idea Champions to any business that wants to problem solve, brainstorm, or get their employees to work more harmoniously together."

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Yes, Idea Champions is based in Woodstock!

And this just in from Richard Fusco, Radio Woodstock's General Manager:

"As a small company where everyone wears many hats, being organized and all pulling in the same direction is key. Strangely, as a communications company, our internal communications were off. Val Vadeboncoeur of Idea Champions helped us with all three. His sessions were focused and fun. We all came away with a new unified working spirit."

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:34 AM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2015
Setting the Standard


A big thank you to guest blogger, Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions Director of Training, for this inspiring post from the world of classical conducting.

In March, 2011, the editors of BBC Magazine asked 100 of the world's finest orchestra conductors to choose who they thought were the three best conductors of all time. From these 300 selections, the magazine compiled a Top 20 list. The conductor at the very top of that list was the eccentric genius, Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004.)

The choice was not entirely surprising; Kleiber had been highly regarded throughout his career, which began in 1954. What IS interesting is that Kleiber conducted less often than any comparably long-lived famous conductor in musical history; a grand total of 96 concerts and about 400 opera performances only, numbers that most full-time working conductors achieve every three years or so.

A notorious introvert and a perfectionist, Kleiber found the art of conducting brutally difficult, mostly because he set inhumanly impossible standards for himself, often despairing that despite eliciting great performances from the finest orchestras in the world, they were not as perfect and wonderful as he imagined the scores to be in his own imagination. He worked entirely as a free-lancer, never wanting to be the principle conductor of any orchestra, although he was often asked.

He was demanding, insisting on much more rehearsal time than any other conductor, and very expensive to hire, charging unheard of fees...and getting them. He was also unpredictable, often cancelling his conducting dates at the last minute, a classical music Sly Stone. He could speak about music and conducting with great insight and humor for hours on end with his closest friends, but gave only one five-minute public interview his entire life.

He combined the meticulous analysis of the German music tradition with a joy and spontaneity that seemed to come from his upbringing in Argentina, where his famous conductor father, Erich Kleiber, had taken his family to escape the Nazis.

Fortunately, his art has been captured in a number of fine recordings and concert videos of live performances. Here he is in action.

One of the lessons we can take from Kleiber's life and career is the vital importance of setting your own standards... and setting them as high as you possibly can. Instead of settling for competence, or being better than the next guy, why not try to be the very best at what you do... and not just the very best in the world at present but the very best EVER?

How much more would you have to love your work to set your bar at the highest level possible? How much more effort would you have to commit to? What would it take?

Kleiber's lifelong wrestling with the achievement of perfection might inspire us to look at our own standards, and those of our team and company. Where, in our work, could we be the best of all time? What is that one thing that we can do better than anyone else? And why wouldn't we want to try to do just that?

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:23 AM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2014
The Challenge of Virtual Brainstorm Training

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For the past six months, Idea Champions has been delivering its Conducting Genius brainstorm facilitation training virtually as well as in person. We've learned a lot along the way and we'd like to take a few minutes, now, to share a little bit of that with you -- just in case YOU are thinking of doing more online training.

First of all, a lot of things you'd assume would be lost in translation by going the virtual route did not turn out to be an issue for us.

If you have a solid online platform and everyone can see and hear clearly, without video hiccups or audio delays, most of the concerns about clarity of communication become moot.

And, there's really no problem with maintaining a high level of engagement and immediacy of experience IF you can keep tossing the proverbial ball back to participants in the form of questions, discussions, online polls, and practice sessions.


Indeed, we've found we can keep a high level of engagement for as long as four hours at a time (including breaks, of course.)

Content is also not a problem, as any information you can deliver in person can be delivered virtually.

Powerpoint? We've found it important not to use it too much -- only when absolutely necessary and then get back to directly relating to the participants as soon as possible. Similar to on-site sessions, Powerpoint can put people into a trance and turn them into spectators, not participants.

Additionally, removing the visual presence of the online facilitator and replacing him/her with a Powerpoint slide removes an important aspect of what keeps people engaged -- the human face and the sense that someone can "see" them.

Our challenge, in teaching people, virtually, how to become better brainstorm facilitators is finding ways to replace the modeling we do when we teach onsite.

Alert participants can pick up a lot of nuanced body language and facilitation cues simply by watching someone else facilitate a live brainstorm session. The transmission of tacit knowledge (the kind of knowledge that can only be communicated via apprenticeship or observation) tends to get lost in the virtual sauce.

For example, one of our seven brainstorm ground rules, in a training, is "no side talk." In our live sessions, we promote a fairly strict adherence to the ground rules, but there are several non-verbal ways to remind rule breakers to stay focused -- subtle facilitation methods that become hard to communicate virtually.

Also, if people are having side conversations during a session, all you have to do, as facilitator, to stop this behavior, is walk closer to them physically. This gets their attention and they look up. It is usually enough to extinguish the unwanted behavior. If not, you can then give them the "finger," so to speak -- the index finger indicator for "only one person speaks at a time."

Other peripatetic facilitator moves that are hard to teach virtually are the spontaneous ones that emerge in a session -- the kind where the facilitator chooses to walk around the room, or stand in different places in the room, to give participants a different visual focus -- a move with the potential to literally change the "point of view" for everyone.

Of course, we can TELL our online participants about these subtle facilitation tactics, but it's much more effective, from the learning retention perspective, if they experience them physically and real-time.

Our goal, as brainstorm facilitation teachers, is to create a virtual training experience that is virtually identical to our in-person training. Right now, we figure we're about 90% of the way there.

How long do you think it will be before communicating via holograms becomes the norm?

Thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions Director of Training, for sharing his insights and wisdom on this most important topic.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:01 PM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2014
What You Can Learn, in the Next Five Minutes, from a Ping Pong Ball


Big thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions' Director of Training, for this insightful post on an important topic.

I have a handyman friend, Paul Duffy, who is a real-life MacGyver and possesses an uncanny ability to improvise an inexpensive and elegant solution for just about any electrical, plumbing, or construction problem that exists.

For example, just last week he correctly diagnosed a stopped kitchen drain as being the fault of a cheaply-made plastic vent not operating properly. After providing him with a pin, I watched him tweak the device with the pin and his trusty pocket knife so it did what it was supposed to do. No roto-rooting, no run to the hardware store, and no plumbing-related costs.

Paul says he learned this skill from his mother back in Ireland -- a woman who could solve any household problem with whatever was at hand.

MacGyver, as you might recall, was a very popular American TV hero back in the late '80's and early '90's -- a "troubleshooter" who displayed an amazing ability, usually in life and death situations, to simulate just about any complex device with everyday materials needed within a matter of minutes.


Household cleansers could be turned into explosives or made into poisons. Engines could be fixed with flip-flops, coins, and bubble gum -- that kind of thing.

Both the real-life Mr. Duffy and the fictional Mr. MacGyver demonstrate an important innovation skill -- overcoming the human propensity to be hypnotized by current reality -- a thinking box called functional fixity -- whereby it is difficult to imagine any object operating outside of its already-known function.

Functional fixity is a kind of near-sightedness of the mind -- a psychological phenomenon that demonstrates how the more familiar we are with an object or tool, the more we see that object or tool's uses as fixed.

A hammer stays a hammer and a blender stays a blender. They never become an emergency can opener or doorstop.

In the business world, this type of psychological straightjacket shows up as an inability to imagine new uses for the products and services we've created or new applications for the tools and processes we use every day.

Unchecked, it leads to statements like "that's the way this works" or "that's the way we do things around here."

It also enthrones the "expert" or the "experienced ones" as the arbiters of what is possible and what is not possible, which, for an organization, is the road to total paralysis and it's eventual mummification.

This kind of self-hypnosis or "spell" can and must be broken if new ideas are to be generated and developed.

In the brainstorm sessions I facilitate, I break this spell by asking participants to perform a simple exercise. I give them the task of coming up with as many possible uses of a ping-pong ball as they can imagine in three minutes.

With nothing on the line, and no identification with the object at hand, it becomes easy for people to generate alternative uses -- necklaces, tiny boats, toys, packing material, mobiles, Christmas tree decorations, Kermit the Frog's eyes, etc.

Then, I ask people to come up with alternative uses for their own company's products, services, or processes.


What people notice is that it's harder to generate multiple alternative uses for something they are very familiar with. In other words, they are bound by functional fixity.

Having done the ping pong ball exercise just minutes before, however, people become much more able to expand their thinking horizons and see everyday objects in a new light.

Maybe data collected via a particular manufacturing process can be used somewhere else in the organization. Maybe a core competency in molding plastic can be used in another line of business. Maybe there are new markets for a flagship product.

Once freed from functional fixity, our creativity expands. We have more choices and more freedom to move.

My invitation to you?

For the next seven days, notice the functional fixity in yourself as you go about your daily routines. Then look for alternative uses of the objects all around you. See how many new ways you can use common household items -- elastic bands... forks... or your favorite hat.

Then consider your company's poorest-selling product or service and ask: "How else could this product or service be used? What non-obvious need might it fulfill?"

Or look at your own skills and ask: "How can I use these skills to help others in new ways?"

The answer will probably be right under your nose. You just have to un-hypnotize yourself to see it.

Excerpted from our Brainstorm Facilitation Training

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:46 AM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2014
What Business Can Learn from Baseball


A few years ago I ran across an article that got me thinking about how what we measure can change the way we think about what we measure, and how the latest technology that enables us to measure more and more things is not always our friend.

For several decades now, baseball scouts and coaches have been using radar guns to measure how hard pitchers throw. In fact, you can always spot a scout at a baseball game because he's the guy in the stands, behind home plate, with the radar gun pointed at the pitcher, zealously jotting down little nuggets of facts in his notebook like a squirrel gathering acorns.

Not surprisingly, baseball people have come to value pitchers who can throw hard (95 MPH and faster).


This seems to make sense at face value, but if we think about it a bit more we have to ask ourselves if throwing a baseball faster actually makes one a better pitcher. The answer is -- not necessarily.

There are many factors that contribute to making a pitcher effective:

1. Does the pitcher throw the ball exactly where he wants to throw it?

2. Is it easy or difficult for the batter to see the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand?

3. Can the pitcher throw his array of pitches at different speeds, confusing the batter's timing?

4) Can the pitcher deal with adversity, or does he get rattled when things go wrong?

These factors are all more important than how hard a pitcher throws a baseball.

But baseball's obsession with pitch speed, enabled by the ease of measuring speed with a radar gun, has caused some organizations to lose focus on what they're really trying to gauge; that is, the pitcher's effectiveness -- can he get batters out?

A few years ago, the Kansas City Royals conducted an experiment to test the existing assumption that faster is better.

Dayton Moore, the General Manager of the Kansas City Royals, has issued an edict banning radar guns from the lower levels of the organization -- the place where young players first go to develop their skills.

Moore believed that eliminating radar guns from the minor leagues would eliminate a big distraction for young pitchers -- getting caught up in throwing hard in order to be noticed and promoted and forgetting to develop other, key pitching skills.

It may take some time to determine if Moore's hunches turn out to be right, but I, and a host of soft-throwing pitchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame, like Whitey Ford and Hoyt Wilhelm, are willing to bet that they are.

I will end my baseball rant with the following quote from the contemporary economist. Adam Smith:

"Some years ago the sociologist and pollster, Daniel Yankelovich, described a process he called the "McNamara Fallacy", named after the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, who had so carefully quantified the Vietnam War.

'The first step,' he said, 'is to measure what can easily be measured. The second is to disregard what can't be measured, or give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily isn't very important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist.'

The philosopher A. N. Whitehead called this tendency, the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

Are contemporary business and government leaders all too quickly and lazily falling into the trap of McNamara's Fallacy? Are we measuring only that which is easy to measure (and money, for one thing, is easy to measure) and making decisions based merely on those numbers because other important factors, such as long-term effects on quality of life and the environment, are just too difficult to quantify?

Should we all be rethinking what we measure and why, just like the Kansas City Royals did? And what are our own industry's "radar gun measurements" that give us easy-to-acquire numbers that gather importance simply because they're easy to get?

And if you're still not convinced, consider what Albert Einstein had to say about the topic: "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts!"

-- Val Vadeboncoeur

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Posted by Val Vadeboncoeur at 02:43 PM | Comments (1)

January 07, 2014
Why a Diversity of Participants in a Brainstorming Session is So Important


"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things. Unfortunately, that's too rare a commodity. A lot of people haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions." -- Steve Jobs

One of the challenges of facilitating a successful brainstorm session is ensuring that the right people are in the room, so you have enough "dots to connect." Defining what "right" means, of course, is, itself, a challenge.


Yes, you want a high level of expertise, talent, and decision making authority in the room. But these qualities often result in the "usual suspects" syndrome -- inviting the same people (or the same kinds of people) again and again to your sessions.

If you only invite the usual suspects. it's likely that your brainstorming sessions will get stranded on an island of group think.

People with the same history, careers, education, expertise, interests, and worldviews will typically approach a challenge in the same way.

This is, shall we say, not optimal.

But there's a simple antidote to this phenomenon -- one that is freely supplied by Mother Nature. Diversity.

With a seeming overabundance of species on Earth, it would take a total destruction of the planet for all Life to cease. Short of total destruction, at least some species will continue and, in a few hundred million more years, who knows what new kinds species will emerge?

In the same way, diversity is an excellent survival strategy for a brainstorm session. Not just the diversity of techniques used, but the diversity of participants.

Diversity adds value in two ways: First, it gives the group more dots to connect (as Steve Jobs notes above). And, second, it increases the appearance of creative tension in the room, an important variable in any kind of solution-finding process. Indeed, it's in the super-charged space between two varying points of view where the greatest potential for breakthrough ideas exists.

Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis.

So, in order to get "more dots" in the room to connect, as well as more creative tension, it's your responsibility to invite a varied mix of participants.

Include the old hand and the beginner, the expert and the novice, the white collar and the blue collar worker, extroverts and introverts, the right brainers and the left. The more varied the group, the better. And, I might add, the more challenging your facilitator role will be.

Animated by a cornucopia of views, experiences, and knowledge, the chances of your brainstorm session succeeding will increase exponentially.

-- Val Vadeboncoeur

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:59 PM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2013
15 Awesome Quotes on the Real Meaning of Work


1. "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." - Mahatma Gandhi

2. "Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you." - Mother Teresa

3. "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love." - Martin Luther King Jr.

4. "How can I be useful, of what service can I be? There is something inside me, what can it be?" - Vincent Van Gogh

5. "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." - Anne Frank

6. "Selfless service alone gives the needed strength and courage to awaken the sleeping humanity in one's heart." - Sai Baba

7. "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted, and behold, service was joy." - Rabindranath Tagore

8. "As far as service goes, it can take the form of a million things. To do service, you don't have to be a doctor working in the slums for free, or become a social worker. Your position in life and what you do doesn't matter as much as how you do what you do." - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

9. "Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life's deepest joy: true fulfillment." - Anthony Robbins

10. "Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, both young and old, shared a little of what he is good at doing." - Quincy Jones

11. "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." - Mother Teresa


12. "I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." - Mahatma Gandhi

13. I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do." - Edward Everett Hale

14. "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." - Edmund Burke

15. "Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." - John Wooden

Big thanks to Val Vadeboncoeur for finding these quotes.

The Meaning of Engagement
The Meaning of Real Brainstorming
The Meaning of Innovation Keynotes

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 01:28 AM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2013
Getting Back Into Our Right Brains

The following is by Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions' Director of Training.

"May God us keep from single vision & Newton's sleep." - William Blake

The prolific Chris Hedges has written a powerful, new piece for Truthdig entitled "We Need Free Thinkers or Society Will Shrivel Up and Die".

I'd like to expand on it.

We need prophets and, as my good friend Roberta, a devoted student of the Torah, remarked the other day -- a "prophet" is not someone who foretells the future -- a prophet is someone who speaks the Truth right here in the moment, saying what needs to be said, whether it's popular or not (and it usually isn't).

We have had some prophets in recent times: comedian George Carlin was a prophet, for example, and so was Bill Hicks.

They told us what needed to be said, but they made us laugh about it so we didn't stone them to death when they did. Maybe Chris Hedges is a prophet.

But, today, we lack people who can see the bigger picture and help us make sense of things because, in great part, we have cut ourselves off from an essential part of ourselves.

We have neglected half of our human inheritance. In fact, we have dismissed it, made it an orphan, and cast it into exile.

The human being is a creature of balance. That's why we get so elated when our child takes his/her first steps.

After being born, this is the most significant event in a human life. It means we are learning about the fundamental reality of being human. We are mastering balance.

With every step we take in our lives, there is a moment where we have to find our balance or fall down. Once mastered, we do this so elegantly that we don't even notice this remarkable skill, much like a cheetah doesn't know how breathtakingly fast it runs, or a bird doesn't know how beautifully it flies. It just does it.

Physical balance is only one small part of it.

We are always balancing some kind of duality -- a duality of left/right, good/bad, up/down, wet/dry, smooth/rough, fast/slow, rich/poor, light/dark, hot/cold, positive/negative, me/you, us/them, etc.

We are always dealing with the reality of opposites. We also have two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two vocal cords, and two brains -- and that's what I want to talk about here.

We don't have one brain. We have two. And they're supposed to work in tandem, like a team of horses.

But our society has lost a critical balance between our two brains. We are overworking one horse and ignoring the other, so it starves to death.

Or to put it another way, instead of using our hammer to do what it is designed to do and our screwdriver to do what it's designed to do, we are trying to do everything with the hammer alone.

It is not the hammer's fault that it can't deal with the application and removal of screws. It is ours for expecting the hammer to be able to do this at all.

In terms of our two brains, commonly referred to as the left brain and the right brain, we are a left-brained biased culture -- and that bias is, in the final analysis, killing us and everything else on the planet.

When our body gets out of balance in some way, that's commonly referred to as "illness". When our minds are out of balance, that should be understood as "mental illness". Our culture, being out of balance in the use of our brains, is, in some sense, mentally ill.

Our left brain is the brain that sees the individual, detects differences, categorizes, measures, experiences time, and follows a single line of thought.

It's the brain that tells us when to cross the street safely, which product is the better buy, and which clothes we should wear that will best suit the day's weather.

It's the brain that's created Science, Mathematics, Logic, Reason, and all manner of technology. It sees "things" and can count, measure, divide, multiply and categorize those things.

It's specialty is isolation and singularity. It's useful and convincing. So useful and convincing, that we have completely identified with it.

When you ask people who they are, they usually respond in a way that indicates that the sum collection of the workings of their left brain is their identity.

The left brain, however, cannot prophesy because it cannot see beyond the material, physical realm. It doesn't even know that anything else but the material realm exists.

It cannot see how the individual things it can see might be connected in unexpected, non-logical, non-spatial, non-temporal ways.

It can't even imagine such things. The left brain cannot empathize, since it sees others as separate entities -- as objects "out there". It cannot have hunches. It cannot create a metaphor. It cannot see the whole, just the parts.

If it wants to know more about a cat, it kills the cat, dissects the cat, takes out and measures all the parts of the cat, and then feels as if it understands what a cat is. It doesn't even entertain the idea that a better way to know what a cat is might be to live with a cat, watch the cat, and empathize with the cat -- an approach that has the additional benefit of still having a cat when all is said and done.

Those qualities of connectivity and wholeness and warmth all belong to the kingdom of the right brain.

The right brain has insights and can imagine what is not yet manifest. It can be inspired. It can connect with the heart so it can feel and experience joy or sadness and the entire range of emotion.

It can put this experience of connectivity and emotion into the language of music and form and movement. It can see possibility and the road not taken. It is somewhat magical, it is now (not burdened by a past or worried about a future), and it is what we often refer to as "love".

As a society, we have rejected the genius of the right brain and we are suffering this imbalance every single day in a myriad of ways.

We suffer with psychological isolation and drug addiction. We suffer when quantity trumps quality in our food, our sex lives, and our education. We suffer when we create extremes of wealth, health, and value that cause tensions in our society that explode into violence.

We suffer when we scapegoat people, and create fear-inducing enemies and bogeymen that we try to destroy -- creating war, injustice and chaos. We suffer when we exploit our planet, and our fellow living creatures, for profit, without realizing that we are destroying our own lifeline -- that we are cutting off the very branch we are sitting on.

It's way past the time when we have to recognize our full humanity and start paying a whole lot more attention to our ignored and belittled magical right brain.

We are suffering unnecessarily because we are not in balance with our own true nature.

We are the "thinking creature" only using half of our thinking ability, and it's not even the better half, in my opinion.

We are like the cheetah using only two of its four legs to run, or a bird trying to fly by flapping only one wing.

Is this prophecy? I don't know, but what I do know is that we need to find our balance in our thinking -- and soon -- or we will all fall down.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that we are designed to do exactly that.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

January 08, 2013
Why You Like Lists and Maybe Shouldn't

If you are a lover
of lists,
you will probably find
my most recent
Huffington Post list
right up your alley.
If you, like Newton's
Third Law of Motion,
are the equal and opposite
reaction to lists,
you will find
Val Vadeboncouer's following
anti-list rant
a refreshing breath of
unlisted air.


1. They exist in a vacuum with no context.

2. They over-simplify, sometimes dangerously so.

3. They promise instant knowledge and yet deliver usually nothing but an arbitrary and momentary series of the author's already-existing prejudices.

4. Lists seem to imply choices, however they are blind to the possibilities that didn't make the list -- usually unconsciously.

5. They give the illusion that the list maker KNOWS something, when all he/she might know is how to make a list.

6. Lists reinforce our ADD culture instead of fighting against it.

7. Lists appeal to the left brain need for order and linearity. They insist that the right brain not be engaged which tends to cut us off from feeling, intuition and life itself.

8. Lists are composed of sound bytes, otherwise known as unthinking chatter gathered from the chatter of those around us.

9. We grew up with lists (laundry lists, shopping lists, etc.) and, therefore, like bad habits, they represent a past and a self that does not exist any more.

10. Lists can be easily altered at any time -- updated, added to, subtracted from -- which should give us some indication as to their arbitrary nature and reveal to us that, instead of being finite, as they seem to be, they are, in reality, practically infinite.

11. Lists give us an instant opportunity to disagree. They take a stand somewhere and create an instant reaction. They create a push-pull, I-You dichotomy. If you want to pick a fight with someone, make a list and show it to them.

12. Lists give readers the hope that they are being given a "crash course" on a topic of great significance while all they are really being given is someone else's temporary illusions.

13. People feel no compunction about sharing lists, thereby spreading the infection virally.

14. Lists are numbered, which gives the items the seeming solidity of definition, order, and thought where none may exist.

15. Lists can be folded up, put in one's pocket, carried around, thrown away, and replaced by a new list -- part of the disposable nature of the consumer world.

16. Items on lists can be easily crossed off, giving the list maker an instant feeling of accomplishment when nothing of consequence has really been achieved.

17. Lists are great ways for list makers to plug their own books that, in the hyperlinked blogosphere, just adds to the clutter of narcissism that assaults us each and every minute.

18. Lists provide a sense of progression that, unless you are attempting to describe a step-by-step process (like a recipe), does not, most probably, exist outside of that particular list.

19. Lists add to the information overload of the world while providing little wisdom, which is in very short supply.

20. Lists are an example of how the left brain assumes command and tries to order the world so that the left brain can understand it, but this "order" is in piecemeal, disconnected fragments and gives us a truly sketchy, disjointed, and incomplete reality. In other words, lists can't be trusted.

Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2012
The Brilliance of Eliminating Left Turns

ED NOTE: Big thank you to Val Vadeboncoeur for this insightful report from the World Innovation Forum.

I caught Andrew Winston's excellent presentation at the 2012 World Innovation Forum last week in NYC in which he focused on how companies can use environmental sustainability as a driver of innovation.

This "Green to Gold" movement has been spurring innovation and boosting profits across a wide range of industries in recent years simply by trying to decrease waste and environmental impact.

Along the way, Andrew, who is the author of Green Recovery (and with Daniel Esty, the book Green to Gold) got into one of my favorite subjects. He offered a series of corporate innovation examples of what he called "head-slappers" and what I call counter-intuitive thinking.

One perfect example of counter-intuitive thinking is what Maersk Shipping did in their efforts to decrease their environmental footprint.

Maersk (a Dutch company) is the world's biggest container shipping line. They asked themselves an odd and challenging question: "Does a shipping company always need to go fast?"

By pursuing that seemingly absurd question, they realized that if they decreased the speed of their ocean-going vessels, they could save up to 40% of their fuel costs, and by merely scheduling and planning better, their ships still arrived on time when their clients expected them to. D'oh!

A little closer to home, Con-Way Trucking of New Jersey had a similar AHA!

By simply reducing the maximum speed of their trucks from 65 MPH to 62 MPH, they now save $10 million a year, and in this economy, that's the difference between making a profit or not.

UPS (and now FedEx as well) had another kind of head slapper insight.

They realized that in big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, their truck drivers used up a LOT of gas, wasted a lot of time, and got into a lot of accidents when their trucks had to make left turns and got stuck, all too often, waiting at red lights.

So, they asked themselves the seemingly bizarre question: "Do our trucks really have to make left turns?"

Their conclusion? They didn't!

By re-designing their drivers' routes in busy city downtowns and by re-calibrating their UPS devices to avoid left turns, they save incredible amounts of time and fuel (not to mention having fewer traffic accidents.)

UPS now saves three million gallons of gas and 28 million miles each year by only making right turns!

Similarly, the folks at Scott Paper asked themselves: "Why do we need cardboard tubes to package our toilet paper products?"

What they realized? They didn't.

They now have a line of "tube-free" toilet paper which also saves lots of money AND the environment.

So... the question I (and Andrew) have for you is this: "How can YOUR company use environmental sustainability as a catalyst for innovation?"

And, even more to the point, "What powerful and challenging trigger questions can you ask yourself that might provoke a head slap moment in a flash of counter-intuitive thinking?

Because, sometimes, it's the seemingly ridiculous question that leads to the biggest breakthrough and innovation.

PS: A big thank you to George Levy and the other fine folks at HSM Global for inviting Idea Champions to be a guest blogger at the World Innovation Forum -- now three years running.

Ask the right questions
Why you need to ask why

Big problem or right problem?
15 great quotes on the subject
Who is Idea Champions?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:27 AM | Comments (0)

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."

atlassian fedex day 10 champ.jpg

Interested? Want to enter the contest? Click here. Or here to find out what Dan Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind has to say about it.

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
Idea Champions

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:21 PM | Comments (0)

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