We love what we do — helping forward-thinking organizations go beyond the status quo and tap into the collective genius of their workforce. Here’s one way we do it. And here are some others.
What our clients say
We love what we do — helping forward-thinking organizations go beyond the status quo and tap into the collective genius of their workforce. Here’s one way we do it. And here are some others.
What our clients say
Some years ago, there was a big problem at one of America’s most treasured monuments — the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. Simply put, birds, in huge numbers, were pooping all over it, which made visiting the place a very unpleasant experience. Attempts to remedy the situation caused even bigger problems, since the harsh cleaning detergents being used were damaging the memorial.
Fortunately, some of the National Parks managers assigned to the case began asking WHY — as in “Why was the Jefferson Memorial so much more of a target for birds than any of the other memorials?”
A little bit of investigation revealed the following:
The birds were attracted to the Jefferson Memorial because of the abundance of spiders — a gourmet treat for birds.
The spiders were attracted to the Memorial because of the abundance of midges (insects) that were nesting there.
And the midges were attracted to the Memorial because of the light.
Midges, it turns out, like to procreate in places were the light is just so — and because the lights were turned on, at the Jefferson Memorial, one hour before dark, it created the kind of mood lighting that midges went crazy for.
So there you have it: The midges were attracted to the light. The spiders were attracted to the midges. The birds were attracted to the spiders. And the National Parks workers, though not necessarily attracted to the bird poop, were attracted to getting paid — so they spent a lot of their time (and taxpayer money) cleaning the Memorial.
How did the situation resolve? Very simply. After reviewing the curious chain of events that led up to the problem, the decision was made to wait until dark before turning the lights on at the Jefferson Memorial. That one-hour delay was enough to ruin the mood lighting for the midges, who then decided to have midge sex somewhere else.
No midges, no spiders. No spiders, no birds. No birds, no poop. No poop, no need to clean the Jefferson Memorial so often. Case closed.
Now, consider what “solutions” might have been forthcoming if those curious National Parks managers did not stop and ask WHY:
1. Hire more workers to clean the Memorial
2. Ask existing workers to work overtime
3. Experiment with different kinds of cleaning materials
4. Put bird poison all around the memorial
5. Hire hunters to shoot the birds
6. Encase the entire Jefferson Memorial in Plexiglas
7. Move the Memorial to another part of Washington
8. Close the site to the general public
Technically speaking, each of the above “solutions” was a possible approach — but at great cost, inconvenience, and with questionable results. They were, shall we say, not exactly elegant solutions.
Now, think about YOUR business… YOUR company… YOUR life. What problems are you facing that could be approached differently simply by asking WHY…. and then WHY again… and then WHY again.. until you get to the core of the issue? If you don’t, you may just end up solving the wrong problem.
THE FIVE WHYS TECHNIQUE
1. Name a problem you’re having
2. Ask WHY it’s happening
3. Get an answer
4. Then WHY about that
5. Get an answer
6. Then ask WHY about that — and so on, five times
Our new, half-day, WHAT’S THE PROBLEM workshop
Do the people in your organization treat invitations to brainstorming sessions like jury duty summons? Do the ideas generated all-too-often underwhelm? Do people roll their eyes when the brainstorming is over, convinced that nothing new is going to materialize? If so, Idea Champions can help.
Brainstorming, in most companies, is seriously flawed, an exercise in wheel spinning, futility, and lost potential — not because brainstorming, as a method, is flawed, but because the people who lead brainstorm sessions don’t fully understand the art and science of eliciting group genius.
For the past 28 years, we’ve been facilitating groundbreaking ideation sessions for a wide variety of forward thinking organizations — powerful innovation-sparking gatherings that radically increase the odds of bold, new ideas seeing the light of day. And now, we’re teaching what we know to others.
Our Conducting Genius training is a highly engaging, customizable learning experience that can be adapted to fit the needs, social styles, and experience of just about any participant. And because we know that one size doesn’t fit all, we’re offering a wide range of training options — onsite, online, and on-the-fly.
ONSITE: Whenever time, money, and logistics allow, we advise our clients to consider our onsite training. Past experience has shown us that learning goes deeper and lasts longer in this format. Indeed, mastering the art of brainstorm facilitation is a kind of apprenticeship — a transfer of tacit knowledge that is best sparked live and in-person.
The difference between our shorter and longer trainings? The stickiness of the learning. Number of techniques taught. Time available for practice. And confidence level attained. Regardless of the duration of the training you select, all content is adapted from our Master Curriculum.)
ONLINE: If you have a distributed, maxed-out workforce that makes it difficult (or too expensive) for people to get together at the same time and place, we offer an alternative training scenario. Our online Conducting Genius training does not require travel and can be done in 90-minute increments over a TBD period of time. Includes our 142-page workbook, pre-training needs assessment, and customization.
— One 90-minute module
— Four 90-minute modules
— Six 90-minute modules
— Eight 90-minute minute modules
— Twelve 90-minute modules
ON THE FLY: (i.e Flipped Learning): If our onsite or online training options don’t work for you, perhaps our flipped learning option will. It is especially designed for intrinsically motivated people who prefer to study our instructional content first and then decide if an onsite or online training will be value-added. Our flipped learning process is a simple one: we ship a Conducting Genius workbook and deck of Free the Genie cards to each participant, along with guidelines to get the most out of our materials. Thirty days later, we facilitate a 45-minute Q&A conference call and determine if there is a need for onsite or online follow-up training.
FOLLOW UP: You know the expression “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard?” Well, there is a training corollary to that phrase: “Training is easy. Follow-up is hard.” Knowing how busy most of our clients are these days and how much support they need to internalize and apply what we teach them, we offer five ways for graduates to stay in the game. post-training.
1. Micro-Learning: An online curriculum of videos, articles, tips, tools, and techniques that we email graduates, once a week, for an entire year. Each Micro-Learning lesson takes less than ten minutes to imbibe.
2. Phone Coaching: One-on-one coaching calls to keep everyone on top of their game — a chance to share their successes, progress, challenges, and questions, as well as receive just-in-time support from their Idea Champions Master Trainer. Group calls available.
3. Design of the Times: A chance for Conducting Genius graduates to call their Idea Champions Master Trainer anytime before facilitating a session to get the support they need to make sure they are ready for prime time.
4. Co-Facilitation: It’s not uncommon for graduates of a Conducting Genius training to find themselves being asked by management to facilitate high profile client ideation sessions. For these special occasions, Idea Champions can co-facilitate with you.
5. Pinch-Hit Facilitation: If your company has been asked to facilitate a super high-level client ideation session and none of the Conducting Genius graduates feel up to task (or are unavailable), Idea Champions can pitch hit. In other words, we’ll facilitate client sessions that might be too difficult or challenging for your staff facilitators.
What they say
Blue States Digital testimonial
The DNA of Our Training
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“Every battle is won or lost before it is 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?
Most people think that the ability to be innovative is a mystical state available only to the chosen few.
The effort, they imagine, takes a lot of time and hard work. And since they don’t have time and don’t like hard work, they reason that innovation just isn’t in the cards for them.
But innovation is not a mystical state. It’s a natural state — a human birthright. The people in your organization, in fact, already are innovative. The only thing is: their natural ability to be innovative is being obscured by their own habits of mind and a variety of bothersome organizational constraints.
Their challenge is the same one as seeing the “hidden” arrow in the FedEx logo (look between the “E” and the “X”).The arrow has always been there, but most people never notice it.
This is the work of Idea Champions. We help people see what they already have, but don’t know how to access.
We help people make meaningful adjustments of vision, insight, and perception so they can acknowledge, embrace, and apply their innate ability to be more creative on the job — and, for those clients who want to reinvent their “innovation process”, we help them figure it out.
What follows is a brief summary of how we do this…
1. Know Thy Customer:
Long before we ever get into a room with participants, we do our due diligence — learning about WHO we are serving, WHAT they expect, and HOW our time with them will be the most significant.
Sometimes this takes the form of phone interviews. Or online polls. Or studying key documents our clients send us in order to understand their current reality, industry, business challenges, organizational constraints, and hoped for outcomes.
Based on our assessment of our client’s needs, we put together a game plan to get the job done. Towards this end, we draw on more than 100 “innovation-sparking” modules we’ve been developing since 1986.
Early in the design process, we invite our clients to give us feedback about our approach. Their feedback stirs the creative soup and provides us with the input needed to transform a good session design into a great one.
4. Spacing In:
We make a great deal of effort to ensure that the space in which our sessions take place are as ideal as possible. Form may follow function, but function also follows form.
When participants walk into an Idea Champions session, they begin “mind shifting” even before the session begins. It is both our belief and experience that culture/environment is a huge X factor for creativity and innovation.
5. Drive Fear Out of the Workplace:
W. Edwards Deming, one of America’s most revered management consultants, was a big proponent of removing fear from the workplace. So are we. Towards that end, each of our sessions begins with a norm-setting process that makes it easy for participants to establish a dynamic culture of innovation for the day.
Organizations don’t innovate, people do. But not just any “people.” No. People who are energized, curious, confident, fascinated, creative, focused, adaptive, collaborative, and committed.
People who emerge from our sessions are significantly more in touch with these “innovation qualities” than when they began. Their minds have changed. They see opportunities when, previously, all they saw were problems.
They let go of perfectionism, old paradigms, and habitual ways of thinking. In their place? Open-mindedness, listening, idea generation, original thinking, full engagement, and the kind of commitment that drives meaningful change.
7. Balancing Polarities:
Human beings, by nature, are dualistic, (i.e. “us” vs. “them,” “short-term” vs. “long-term,” “incremental” vs. “breakthrough,” “left brain” vs. “right brain”.)
The contradictions that show up in a corporate environment (or workshop) can either be innovation depleters or innovation catalysts. It all depends how these seeming conflicting territories are navigated. Idea Champions is committed to whole-brain thinking — not just right brain or left brain thinking.
Our work with organizations has shown us that one of the pre-conditions for innovation is a company’s ability to strike the balance between these polarities.
Each workshop we lead and each consulting engagement we commit to is guided by our understanding of how to help our clients find the healthy balance between the above-noted polarities.
8. Expert Facilitation: “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile when someone contemplates it with the idea of a cathedral in mind,” wrote St. Exupery.
This, quite simply, is what Idea Champions does. But we do far more than just contemplate. We also architect and build.
Since 1986, we’ve been facilitating innovation-sparking engagements for a wide variety of industries. We have mastered the art and science of turning lead (or leaders) into gold. And we can train your people to do the same thing we do.
9. Experiential Challenges: “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”
So said the great Chinese sage, Confucius. This 14-word quote describes the essence of our work. Simply put, we get people off their “ifs, ands or buts,” and into the experience of what’s possible.
While we value theory, research, models, data, best practices, business cases, and most of the other flora and fauna of business life, we’ve come to understand that the challenge of sparking insight, breakthrough, and change, is best accomplished by doing — not talking.
That’s why all of our sessions include experiential challenges that provide participants with visible ways of seeing innovation in action — what supports it and what obscures it.
10. Emergent Design: Awakening the creativity of an organization’s workforce is not a follow-the-dots exercise.
Although all of our interventions begin with carefully crafted project plans and agendas, our facilitators are fluent in the art and science of making the kind of real-time adjustments, refinements, and improvisations that are the difference between a good session and a great session.
Facilitators who attempt to imitate our approach find it difficult to succeed without first learning how to master the art of emergent design. The good news is that it can be learned — and this is just one of the things we teach in our Train the Trainer programs.
11. Edutainment: Idea Champions sessions are a hybrid of two elements: education and entertainment. We know that when participants are enjoying themselves their chances of learning increase exponentially.
That’s why we make all of our sessions a hybrid of education and entertainment. Participants do not get tired. They do not get bored. They do not sneak long looks at their smart phones.
12. Full Engagement: Idea Champions sessions are highly participatory. Our facilitators are skilled at teasing out the brilliance of participants, regardless of their social style, job title, or astrological sign.
But perhaps more importantly, our facilitators know how to help participants tease out each others’ brilliance. Eventually, everyone gets into the act. The shy people take center stage and the power players take a back seat. The collective wisdom in the room gets a much-needed chance to be accessed and expressed.
13. Convergence: Idea Champions is successful because what we do works. And one of the reasons WHY it works is because our sessions help participants translate ideas into action.
Ideas are powerful, but they are still only the fuzzy front end of the innovation process. Ultimately, they need to turn into results. Creativity needs to be commercialized. Our workshops, trainings, and consulting interventions help our clients do exactly that.
14. Tools, Techniques, and Takeaways: Ideas Champions closes the gap between rhetoric and reality. We don’t just talk about innovation or teach about it — we spark the experience of it. And we do that in very practical ways.
One way is by teaching people how to use specific, mind-opening techniques to access their innate creativity. Another way is by providing our clients with a variety of innovation-sparking guidelines, processes, and materials that can be immediately used on the job.
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Storytelling at Work
Brainstorm Facilitation Training
What our clients say
Ten years ago I was invited to teach a course on “Innovation and Business Growth” at GE’s Crotonville Management Development Center for 75 high potential, business superstars of the future.
The GE executive who hired me was a very savvy guy with the unenviable task of orienting new adjunct faculty members to GE’s high standards and often harsher reality.
My client’s intelligence was exceeded only by his candor as he proceeded to tell me, in no uncertain terms, that GE gave “new instructors” two shots at making the grade — explaining, with a wry smile, that most outside consultants were intimidated the first time they taught at GE and weren’t necessarily at the top of their game.
I’m not sure how you say it in Esperanto, but in English what he said translates as “The heat is on, big time.”
I knew I would have to raise my game if I expected to be invited back after my two-session audition was over.
And so I went about my business of getting ready, keeping in mind that I was going to be leading a 6-hour session for 75 of GE’s “best and brightest” flown half way around the world — high flying Type A personalities with a high regard for themselves and a very low threshold for anything they judged to be unworthy of their time.
I had five weeks to prepare, five weeks to get my act together, five weeks to dig in and front load my agenda with everything I needed to wow my audience: case studies, statistics, quotes, factoids, and more best practices than you could shake an iPhone at.
I was ready. Really ready. Like a rookie center fielder on designer steroids, I was ready.
Or so I thought.
The more I spoke, the less they listened. The less they listened, the more I spoke, trotting out “compelling” facts and truckloads of information to make my case as they blankly stared and checked their email under the table.
Psychologists, I believe, would characterize my approach as “compensatory behavior.”
I talked faster. I talked louder. I worked harder — attempting in various pitiful ways to pull imaginary rabbits out of imaginary hats.
Needless to say, GE’s best and brightest — for the entire 45 minutes of my opening act — were not impressed.
Clearly, I was playing a losing game.
My attempt to out-GE the GE people was a no-win proposition. I didn’t need new facts, new statistics, or new quotes. I needed a new approach — a way to secure the attention of my audience and help them make the shift from left-brained skepticism to right-brained receptivity.
And I needed to do it five minutes, not 45.
The next few days were very uncomfortable for me, replaying in my head — again and again — my lame choice of an opening gambit and wondering what, in the world, I could do to get better results in much less time.
And then, like an unexpected IPO from Mars, it hit me. The martial arts!
As a student of Aikido, I knew how amazing the martial arts were and what a great metaphor they were for life.
Fast forward a few weeks…
My second session, at Crotonville, began exactly like the first — with the Program Director reading my bio to the group in an heroic attempt to impress everyone. They weren’t.
Taking my cue, I walked to center stage, scanned the audience and uttered nine words.
“Raise your hand if you’re a bold risk taker.”
Not a single hand went up. Not one.
I stood my ground and surveyed the room.
“Really?” I said. “You are GE’s best and brightest and not one of you is a bold risk taker? I find that hard to believe.”
Ten rows back, a hand went up. Slowly. Halfway. Like a kid in a high school math class, not wanting to offend the teacher.
“Great!” I bellowed, pointing to the semi-bold risk taker. “Stand up and join me in the front of the room!”
You could cut the air with a knife.
I welcomed my assistant to the stage and asked him if had any insurance — explaining that I had called him forth to attack me from behind and was going to demonstrate a martial arts move shown to me by my first aikido instructor, a 110-pound woman who I once saw throw a 220-pound man through a wall.
Pin drop silence.
I asked our bold risk taker to stand behind me and grab both of my wrists and instructed him to hold on tight as I attempted to get away — an effort that yielded no results.
I casually mentioned how the scenario being played out on stage is what a typical work day has become for most of us — lots of tension, resistance, and struggle.
With the audience completely focused on the moment, I noted a few simple principles of Aikido — and how anyone, with the right application of energy and the right amount of practice, could change the game.
As I demonstrated the move, my “attacker” was quickly neutralized and I was no longer victim, but in total control.
In three minutes, things had shifted. Not only for me and my attacker, but for everyone in the room.
That’s when I mentioned that force was not the same thing as power — and that martial artists know how to get maximum results with a minimum of effort — and that, indeed, INNOVATION was all about the “martial arts of the mind” — a way to get extraordinary results in an elegant way.
PS: I was invited back 26 times to deliver the course.
Every day, no matter what our profession, education, or astrological sign, we are all faced with the same challenge — how to effectively communicate our message to others.
This challenge is particularly difficult these days, given the glut of information we all must contend with. The amount of information available to us is doubling every ten years! Yearly, more than one million books are published. Daily, we are bombarded with more 6,000 advertising messages and 150 emails. As a result, most of us find ourselves in a defensive posture, protecting ourselves from the onslaught of input.
What I’ve discovered in the past 25 years of working with some of the world’s most powerful organizations is that if I really want to have get my message across, I’ve got to deliver it in a what that gets past the “guardians at the gate” — the default condition of doubt, disengagement, and derision that comes with the territory of life in the 21st century business world.
My rite of passage at GE was a microcosm of this phenomenon.
Indeed, my presumptive effort to “win over my audience” by impressing them with data, case studies, and best practices was a losing game. Not only was I barking up the wrong tree, I was in the wrong forest.
The key to my breaking through the collective skepticism of GE’s best and brightest wasn’t a matter of information. It was a matter transformation.
They didn’t need to analyze, they needed to engage — and it was my job to make that easy to do. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi so deftly put it, I had to “be the change I wanted to see in the world.”
I had to do something that invoked the curious, playful, and associative right brain, not the logical, linear, analytical left brain — tricky business, indeed, especially when you consider that most business people, these days, have a very low threshold for anything they judge to be impractical
Which is why I chose the martial arts as the operational metaphor at GE, my attempt to move them from the Dow to the Tao.
Impractical? Not at all.
Bottom line, whether we know it or not, we have all entered the “experience economy” — a time when being involved is at least as important as being informed.
Information is no longer sufficient to spark change. Data is no longer king. Thinking only takes us part of the way home. It’s feeling that completes the journey — the kind of feeling that leads to full on curiosity and the kind of engagement that opens the door to exciting new possibilities.
Which is exactly what happened at GE when I made the shift from marshaling my facts, to marshaling my energy — and by extension, the energy of 75 of GE’s best and brightest.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What message have you been trying to deliver (with too little impact) that might be communicated in a totally different way — a way that more successfully engages people and leads to measurable results?
Excerpted from Storytelling at Work
It All Began With Balls
Big Blues from the Viagra People
Being the first to come up with a good idea does not always make the path to success easy. In fact, often, it’s quite the opposite.
For example, the idea of micro-learning may be all the rage these days, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, the company that created the first micro learning programs, AthenaOnline, was kicked out of quite a few offices for even proposing the idea.
The idea of micro-learning — bite-sized bits of knowledge that are easy to digest and understand — has been around for ages. It encompasses everything from viewing a short video to reading an article to taking a short quiz. Micro-learning, however, was never a form of enterprise learning until the visionaries at AthenaOnline released its MyQuickCoach application in 1999.
Priot to that, in 1994, Athena had released a number of award-winning, computer-based training programs called The New Leader Series — an idea inspired by popular game Myst, that created a “learning village” allowing users to explore what they wanted to learn at their own pace. Players would meet experts in various areas of the village and, depending on what they accomplished in the game, new areas to explore would open up. It was one of the first examples of gamification to hit the field of organizational learning.
As loved as these programs were, however, Jon Peters, AthenaOnline’s Founder, soon noticed a surprising phenomenon. “As we began to repurpose the programs for the internet,” said Jon, “we saw a huge number of people dropping out. Upon interviewing our customers, we discovered that people much preferred to approach learning in small chunks — trying to fit what they could into their busy day.”
Seeing a trend forming, Jon and his team made the move to create the QuickCoach concept — short, video-based modules that people could absorb in 5 minutes or less.
Launching their first programs, in 1999, was no easy task. Remember, this was years before YouTube. Most companies were just beginning to think about moving their internal classes to computer-based learning. Indeed, Athena was told by a number of self-claimed OD savants that “video would never take off on the internet” and that “nobody could possibly learn anything in only five minutes.”
It took years for Athena’s ideas to take hold, but they kept at it.
As a new generation of managers entered the workplace — a generation used to YouTube and bite-sized interactions of all kinds — Athena’s ideas began to take hold. (And Idea Champions, for one, is glad they did.)
“Sometimes,” explains Jon Peters, “you just have to believe in yourself and your vision, even when nobody else does. What I learned, and am still learning, is that while seeking input from others is always good thing, it’s not the only compass of success. Sometimes you just need to believe yourself and persevere.”
PS: If you want to know the impact that AthenaOnline’s micro-learning has had in organizations, click here to download an article about the University of Iowa where elearning usage increased by a whopping 800%.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What “ahead of its time” project of yours, going more slowly than you imagined, do you need to double down on? And what is your next step
Free weekly micro-lessons from AthenaOnline
Yours truly on MyQuickCoach
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!
Carl Jung chimes in
Allow more time for storytelling!
Play time at AT&T
OK. You’re busy. I get it. Which is why I just deleted the first four compelling, context-setting paragraphs to this blog post and will now simply cut to the chase: Your company’s “ideation process” is either non-existent, seriously flawed, or a joke.
You know it. I know it. And 99% of the people you work with know it — a longstanding phenomenon that spawns nothing but frustration, wheel spinning, and resignation. Few people want to deal with the Rube Goldberg-like natureof the beast. And so it continues. Does it always have to be this way? No it doesn’t. But someone needs to step up and bell the proverbial cat. Like YOU, for example.
So read on. The following ten “ideation process best practices” are clues for you. It’s not like you have to implement all ten of them. But even one or two, applied on the job, will make a huge difference. That is IF you want to increase the odds of new ideas actually making it out the door…
1. COMMUNICATE A CLEAR, COMPELLING VISION: Regularly, let the people in your company know what the ultimate goal of their effort is. When people, swamped by the day-to-day, forget the inspired vision that attracted them to your company in the first place, your hose has sprung its first leak. What can you do, this week, to remind everyone in your organization of what the big, hairy, audacious goal is — the “gold at the end of the rainbow” aspiration that gets everyone out of the bed in the morning?
2. FRAME POWERFUL QUESTIONS: While it’s great to have an inspiring goal to aim for, unless you can translate that goal into the kind of meaningful challenges that people can get their arms around, all you are doing is hyping people up. The more skillful you are at framing your business opportunities as questions that begin with words “How can we?”, the more likely it will be that your innovation garden will grow. That’s why British author G.K. Chesterton once said, “It’s not that they can’t see the solution. They can’t see the problem.” How would you frame the question you want your creative team noodling on this week?
3. WRITE CRYSTAL CLEAR BRIEFS: I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”. Yes? Well, this phenomenon also applies to a company’s ideation process. If your Account Services department (or whoever writes project briefs) delivers vague, incomplete, or hard-to-read briefs to your “creatives”, you got trouble in River City. Unfortunately, this is all too common. The reasons? Your client doesn’t actually know what they want, or your Brief Writers don’t know how help your client figure it out. The result? Goofy, incomplete briefs that send your creatives off on a wild goose chase. What can you do to ensure that the people who write briefs in your company are totally on top of their game?
4. READ, UNDERSTAND, AND SIGN OFF ON THE BRIEFS: Even if your Brief Writers write crystal clear briefs, there is a big likelihood that the briefs they write will just hover in the air like Goodyear Blimps. Either key people won’t read them, won’t understand them, won’t be inspired by them, won’t check in with each other to make sure that everyone is on the same page, or won’t have the time and energy needed to push back and ensure that another, better version of the brief is written to get the party started. How can you include a “Brief Reality Check” in your company’s ideation process — a way to ensure that all key internal stakeholders are on the same (clearly communicated) page before cranking out new ideas and concepts?
5. IMPROVE YOUR BRAINSTORMING SESSIONS: Most company’s brainstorming sessions are hugely ineffective, a kind of hyper-caffeinated Rube Goldberg machine where the same, usual suspects go through the same tired process of trotting out their pet ideas, jousting with each other, and calling it “ideation.” If your next brainstorm session was Spring Training for a baseball team, the field would be tilted, people would be wearing mittens, and various inebriated fans would be streaking across the field. Ouch! How can you upgrade the quality and impact of your in-house brainstorming sessions?
6. LEVERAGE THE SPONTANEOUS BRILLIANCE OF YOUR WORKFORCE: During the past 25 years, I have asked more than 10,000 people where and when they get their best ideas. Less than 2 percent tell me they get their best ideas at work. The most common times and places? In the shower. Late at night. Early in the morning. Exercising. Commuting. Or doing something completely unrelated to the task at hand. Curiously, most companies do not have any kind of dependable process in place for leveraging this naturally occurring idea generation phenomenon. And because they don’t, many awesome ideas never get planted in your garden. Bummer. How can you encourage your people to honor, capture, and communicate the cool ideas they are conceiving away from the workplace?
7. COMMUNICATE CLEAR CRITERIA FOR IDEA EVALUATION: Generating ideas is not all that difficult — just one of the reasons why the phrase “ideas are a dime a dozen” is so common. What is less common is letting your in-house “idea people” know what the criteria will be used to assess the ideas they conceive. Identifying and communicating clear criteria before engaging a mass of people in a “creative process” is another way to plug one of the big holes in your ideation hose. In other words, if you are the boss, department head, or team leader, be very clear with your people about how you will be evaluating the ideas they will be generating. Take a shot at it now. For the hottest project now on the table, what are five criteria you will use to assess the viability of ideas presented to you?
8. CAPTURE AND DOCUMENT IDEAS: Most brainstorm sessions or any kind of intentional ideation processes, usually spark a ton of ideas — some good, some bad, some ugly — but very few of these ideas are captured. And even the ones that are captured don’t often make it out of the room. A post-it on the wall or a line on a flip chart is a good start, but unless those ideas, like a baton in a relay race, get passed on to the next runner, nothing much happens. What is your current process for capturing and documenting ideas generated in brainstorming sessions. Is it working? If not, what can you do to improve it?
9. ENSURE MORE DEPENDABLE IDEA EVALUATION: Because most people in your organization are running from one meeting to another, they rarely take the time to slow down, reflect, and evaluate promising new ideas that emerge. Instead, some kind of voo doo science is applied — an odd cocktail of mood-driven opinion-making, idea jousting, half-baked conclusions, and whoever-stays-latest-at-the-office-decides. And while, sometimes, this stuff actually works, it is often a huge hole in your garden hose — especially since most of your brainstorming sessions are way too short and have no time baked into them for idea evaluation. Who are the likely suspects within your sphere of influence to evaluate ideas, post-brainstorm session, and how can you ensure that they make the time to do so?
10. CREATE A WAY FOR SENIOR LEADERS TO GIVE FEEDBACK: This is a biggie. Ignore this step at your own risk. At the end of the day, your company’s senior leaders need a chance to share their feedback — especially on ideas that are going to require funding or company resources. This does not need to be an “uh oh” moment, like some kind of surprise IRS audit. Done well, it can be supremely helpful. Your creative team will get a much-needed reality check. Viable ideas will be refined. And you will radically diminish the odds of the “11th hour squashing of good ideas” syndrome, because your key stakeholders will have had an opportunity — earlier in the game than usual — to weigh in and be part of the creative thinking process. Of course, how these idea feedback sessions are structured and facilitated make all the difference. What is your concept for how these idea feedback sessions might be structured?
Al Siraat College
34 Quotes on Leadership