Here's the deal: You are one of the creatives in a high flying PR, Marketing, or Communications company and have been asked by one of your clients to lead an upcoming brainstorming session. While no one at Idea Champions, as far I as know, has never thought about buying a pair of "yaller pants", we have thought about designing the cover of our CONDUCTING GENIUS workbook in a way that communicates what exists beyond the cover.
I like what Edward deBono once said about the phenomenon of creative people trying to get results, but coming up empty (and I paraphrase). By the way, 75% of all product breakthroughs are NOT the result of strategic plans or "intentional effort", but the result of serendipity and "happy accidents" -- what happens when the open-minded innovator "stumbles" on something intriguing, pauses, and makes the right kind of effort to see if this discovery has value and is worth pursuing. Armed with a short list of ground rules, a flipchart marker, and a muffin, most brainstorm facilitators miss the mark completely.
The reason has less to do with their process, tools, and techniques than it does with their inability to adapt to what's happening, real-time, in the room. In an all-too-professional attempt to be one-pointed, they end up being one-dimensional, missing out on a host of in-the-moment opportunities to spark the ever-mutating, collective genius of the group. A skilled brainstorm facilitator knows how to orchestrate powerfully creative output from a seemingly dissonant group of people. A good brainstorm facilitator is able to transmute lead into gold -- or in modern terms -- knows how to help people "get the lead out." This talent requires an element of wizardry -- the ability to see without looking, feel without touching, and intuitively know that within each brainstormer lives a hidden genius just waiting to get out. Light on their feet, brainstorm facilitators move gracefully through the process of sparking new ideas. Skillful brainstorm facilitators are bold experimenters, often taking on the crazed (but grandfatherly) look of an Einstein in heat. Fully recognizing the precious gem of the human imagination (as well as the delicacy required to set it free), the high octave brainstorm facilitator is a craftsman (or craftswoman) par excellence -- focused, precise, and dedicated. One of the brainstorm facilitator's most important jobs is to enforce "law and order" once the group gets roaring down the open highway of the imagination. Some brainstorm facilitators, intoxicated by the group energy and their own newly stimulated imagination, use their position as a way to foist their ideas on others -- or worse, manipulate the group into their way of thinking. It doesn't matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, Tea Partier, Liberal, Birther, Rebirther, Socialist, Social Butterfly, Vegan, Feminist, Nihilist, Atheist, Subversive, Conspiracy Theorist, Media Junkie, Fruitarian, Immigrant, or Bee Gee Fan, if you want your cage rattled, check out Michael Moore's new movie. What challenge or opportunity is coming up for you that will require a higher level of preparation than you usually make?
Most Fortune 500 companies have some kind of corporate strategy in place for ratcheting up their innovation efforts.
To the casual observer, it all looks good, but few of these initiatives ever amount to anything In fact, research indicates that 70 percent of all change initiatives fail. Here's how I see it: one of the biggest (and least addressed) reasons why most change initiatives fail can be traced back to the cro-magnon way most innovation-seeking people give and receive feedback -- especially when it comes to pitching high concept ideas. Case in point: Some years ago, Lucent Technologies asked me to facilitate a daylong "Products of the Future" ideation session for 75 of their best and brightest.
The harsh reality is this: The vast majority of Senior Leaders are not very skillful when it comes to giving feedback -- especially in response to ideas that challenge the status quo. As a facilitator of high profile brainstorming sessions, I cannot, in good faith, allow this all-too-predictable dynamic to play itself out. So I told the consultant-seeking woman from Lucent that I, in service to the outcomes she was about to hire me to ensure, needed to meet with her CEO so I could teach him and his team how to give effective, humane feedback to a roomful of 75 future product generating optic fiber geniuses. I envisioned him to be a tall man, silver-haired, with a large Rolex and a steely look in his eyes -- someone who might be good friends with the Governor and eventually have his portrait hanging in the lobby at headquarters. The senior team took their place on stage, sitting behind a table, draped in black, that reminded me of the Nuremberg Trials.
The first BIG IDEA pitch was excellent -- a compelling idea for a telecommunications platform of the future that was utterly mind blowing.
Speaking into the mic in my best baritone imitation of the Wizard of Oz, I quickly intervened. In an optic fiber nanosecond, he sheepishly smiled, thanked me for the reminder, and returned to the technique.
The literature is filled with examples of great ideas whose value was not immediately recognized. If you want to spark innovation in your organization and are looking for the diamond cutters stroke, consider storytelling.
During the past two years, I've asked more than a thousand people what they see when they look at the FedEx logo.
When I ask the baffled 80% if they see the arrow, most of them shake their heads and shrug. This little phenomenon, methinks, is a great metaphor for what it really takes to innovate.
Our entire work life has become a kind of oversized FedEx logo -- full of colors, shapes, and letters -- but all too often we miss the white arrow.
Simply put, they know how to prime the experience of tuning into the seemingly invisible -- the omnipresent opportunities to innovate that are non-obvious.
One simple way to do this is to start paying more attention to stories that move you, especially your own.
There's a lot of talk these days about the need for business people to "get out of the box", but very little talk about what the box actually is.
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 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.
Needless to say, GE's best and brightest -- for the entire 45 minutes of my opening act -- were not impressed. 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.
As a student of Aikido, I knew how amazing the martial arts were and what a great metaphor they were for life. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Indeed, my presumptive effort to "win over my audience" by impressing them with data, case studies, and best practices was a losing game. The key to my breaking through the collective skepticism of GE's best and brightest wasn't a matter of information.


They didn't need to analyze, they needed to engage -- and it was my job to make that easy to do.
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.
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. 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? If you work in a big organization, small business, freelance, or eat cheese, there's a good chance you've participated in at least a few brainstorming sessions in your life.
But even the best run brainstorming sessions are based on a questionable assumption -- that the origination of powerful, new ideas depend on the facilitated interaction between people. That's why some of your co-workers like to show up early at the office before anyone else has arrived. It's your decision, at the end of the idea generating time, if you want the debrief to be spoken -- or if you want people to come back the next day for a verbal debrief. In today's nano-second, downsized, caffeine-buzzed business world, corporations are increasingly demanding that "their people" redouble their efforts to find new and better ways of getting the job done. If this were the 1950's, an efficiency expert might be called in, a bespectacled, uncharismatic gentleman with a fascination for predictability, order, and control. It wasn't a great leap of faith for upwardly mobile managers to buy into this trendy "consulting service" since it seemed like such a safe way to yield increased productivity and reduced costs. Eventually, this tidy little service matured into a full blown "organizational intervention" and was renamed and repriced.
The theory upon which this was based was difficult to find fault with -- that most company's processes were sadly misconfigured and, like the average American city, had grown to incredibly convoluted proportions without much thought for elegance, orderliness, or efficiency. Systems, as the story went, were often disconnected from organizational needs, bringing with it an extraordinary amount of confusion, frustration, and a few too many martinis. It's interesting to note that the root of the word "reengineer" is "engine" (as in the machine that drives movement forward) and the root of the word engine is "gine" -- from the Latin "ingenum", meaning "genie," the spirit that drives the engine (from the same root as the word "genius"). Invention, innovation, ingenuity, and creativity are not merely "processes" that can be replicated by getting everyone to follow the dots drawn by some reductionist-driven consultant. Time and again the literature speaks of breakthrough moments and breakthrough ideas being preceded by a breakdown of the existing order. And what about the Theory of Dissipative Structures which posits that everything in this universe eventually falls apart only to reorganize itself at a higher level? Business leaders beating the drums of double digit growth need to wean themselves from their addiction to incremental improvement and allow more discontinuity in their lives. Indeed, honoring the laws of discontinuity is one of the most responsible things forward thinking business leaders can do. Knowing my own process, everything I have created has been influenced, in some way, by the opinions and advice of my peers and community. The ideas you submit can be as simple as one word, a complex list of specific instructions, or even an existing photograph you would like to see recreated. The "social art" I will create, based on the ideas I receive, will be posted, by April 1, on this page The more submissions I receive, the more interesting the results will be, so don't be shy. A little known fact about innovation is that many breakthroughs have not been the result of genius, but "happy accidents" -- those surprise moments when an answer revealed itself for no particular reason.
The discovery of penicillin, for example, was the result of Alexander Fleming noting the formation of mold on the side of petri dish left uncleaned overnight. Vulcanized Rubber was discovered in 1839 when Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a lump of the polymer substance he was experimenting with onto his wife's cook stove. One of the inevitable things you will hear at a brainstorming session is "there are no bad ideas." Not true. What well-meaning "keep hope alive" brainstorming lovers really mean is this: Even bad ideas can lead to good ideas if the idea originators are committed enough to extract the meaning from the "bad". Immersion is the ocean in which our fabulous insights, ideas, and illuminations are swimming. And that's why my business partner, Steven McHugh, and I rented a townhouse in Boulder, Colorado for 30 days and 30 nights when it was time for us to start up Idea Champions.
Armed with little more than a flip chart, a few marking pens, and a burning desire to create something new, we unplugged from all our other commitments and jumped in with both feet. And every night before we went to bed, blissed out of our trees, we'd remind each other to remember our dreams and speak them aloud the first thing in the morning. And then, on the morning of the 19th day, very much at ease in our townhouse abode, there was a knock on the door -- a loud and insistent knock, a knock both of us found rather odd since nobody knew where we lived -- or so we thought. And there, at the threshold, stood a woman neither of us knew, a woman boldly announcing that, for the past three days, she'd been hearing about "these two creativity guys" and she just had to meet us, her business now on the cusp of either breaking through or breaking down. Steven and I had done nothing at all to draw these people to us -- no ads in the paper, no posters on poles, no calls, no emails, no flyers, no social marketing campaigns. To the casual observer, maybe that's what it looks like, but nothing could be further from the truth. What can you do, this week, month, or quarter, to unplug from the daily grind and give yourself the luxury of immersion?
In an effort to ho, ho, ho the ground for innovation in 2015 (and in gratitude for YOU being a reader of Heart of Innovation), Idea Champions will be giving away five annual subscriptions to our Free the Genie creative thinking app. If you are trying to spark a renaissance of innovation in your company by launching some kind of "innovation initiative", consider the fact that the seed of innovation is already available in every conversation that people are having. That being said, there are some forward thinking organizations out there who are going beyond the status quo and seriously asking themselves what they can do differently to not only be "socially responsible", but use their corporate clout to help various peace-themed global causes truly impact positive change.
But what you probably haven't heard is how far back that phrase goes -- all the way back to June, 1867, as seen in the newspaper, Piqua Democrat. Which is why we offer nine different cover designs for the people who participate in our brainstorm facilitation training.
Maybe you're digging in the right place, but the tools you're digging with are not the right tools for the job.
And, of course, it's always possible that in your effort to discover oil, you don't see the unexpected diamonds and gold coins you stumble upon because everything that is "not oil" is invisible to you.
Think of a project you are working on -- one you have passion for whose results have been slower to materialize than you hoped. If you sense that you haven't dug deep enough -- that you've been a dilettante, slacker, or half-hearted digger for oil -- what can you do to martial your forces and commit to a more rigorous digging effort? If, in your digging adventures, you have stumbled upon some unexpected "finds", but dismissed them because you were only focused on oil, how might you extract the value from your accidental discoveries?
Many of those sessions left you feeling underwhelmed, over-caffeinated, disappointed, disengaged, and doubtful that much of ANYTHING was ever going to happen as a result of your participation. If you or anyone you know is going to lead a diverse group of time-crunched, opinionated, multi-tracking, people through a process of originating breakthrough ideas, DON'T BE A ONE TRICK PONY! Let all the cats out of the proverbial bag -- and by so doing, exponentially increase your chances of sparking brainpower, brilliance, and beyond-the-obvious ideas. Able to go from the cha-cha to the polka to the whirling dervish spinning of a brainstorm group on fire, savvy facilitators take bold steps when necessary, even when there is no visible ground underfoot. Able to get to the heart of the matter in a single stroke without leaving anything or anyone damaged in the process.
In their relentless pursuit of possibility, they look for value in places other people see as useless. This is a fine art -- for in this territory speeding is encouraged, as is running red lights, jaywalking, and occasionally breaking and entering. It dissolves boundaries, activates the right brain, helps participants get unstuck, and shifts perspective just enough to help everyone open their eyes to new ways of seeing.
But theory and reality are two very different things -- kind of like the difference between asking your teenage daughter to clean up her room and her actually doing it. He was, much to my surprise about 5'6", wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, loafers, and no socks.


The 75 brilliant brainstormers took their seats at round tables -- everyone attentively listening to me describe the feedback process that was just about to unfold. The audience applauded, I acknowledged the presenter, and then gave the floor to the CEO, reminding him to use the feedback technique I'd taught him just a few minutes ago -- which he proceeded to do for, oh, maybe 30 seconds or so.
It was Apocalyse Now meets The Godfather, with a little Don Rickles in Vegas thrown in for good measure, a scene I'd witnessed countless times before in corporate America -- the kneejerk, reptilian-brained, go-for-the-jugular tendency most senior executives have to focus on what's wrong with a new idea before what's right. 80% say "letters" or "colors" or "shapes" or "the word "FedEx." The other 20% tell me they see an arrow -- a white arrow. Only when I point to the arrow (in between the second "E" and the "x") do they see it -- a moment that is usually followed by their favorite exclamation of surprise and a chuckle.
In fact, if someone were to ask us if it existed, our answer would be an emphatic "no" -- not because it doesn't exist, but because we can't see it. That's the challenge before us all these days -- to go beyond our blind spots, limiting assumptions, and habits of thought in order to see bold new possibilities. Embedded in your stories is the "white arrow", the hidden code of what you are really learning. Here's Mitch Ditkoff, President of Idea Champions, deconstructing the box in a 5-minute video.
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.
You've noodled, conjured, envisioned, ideated, piggybacked, and endured overly enthusiastic facilitators doing their facilitator thing. Methinks, in today's over-caffeinated, late-for-a-very-important-date business world, we have become addicted to the storm. In the middle of your next brainstorming, session, restate the challenge -- then ask everyone to sit, in silence, for five minutes, and write down whatever ideas come to mind. Ask each member of your team to think about a specific business-related challenge before they go to bed tonight and write down their ideas when they wake up. Organizational "solutions" have become overly systems- driven and do not give proper due to the collective intelligence, imagination, and creativity of the workforce. For that, something else is needed -- something beyond business as usual -- something that embraces discontinuity, ambiguity, serendipity, spontaneity, surprise, paradox, mystery, and chaos. How does a company stir the soup, challenge the status quo, think more creatively, go beyond business as usual, explore blue sky, get disruptive, and otherwise foster a dynamic culture of innovation without the whole "thing" devolving into some kind of corporate Lord of the Flies? In other words, if you haven't declared yourself as an 'artist', how will you ever create a piece of art? It is also a thought process, often manifesting in visual form, but it is no less valid if it exists only in your head. Breakthroughs aren't always about invention, but the intervention required, by the aspiring innovator, to notice something new, unexpected, and intriguing. Think about a recent project, pilot, or business of yours that did not turn out the way you expected.
Ask yourself if any of the unexpected results offer you a clue or insight about how you might proceed differently. Instead of interpreting your results as "failure," consider the fact that the results are simply nature's way of getting you to see something new -- something that merits further exploration.
We were looking for clues, hints, perfumed handkerchiefs dropped by our muse while we slept and anything else that bubbled to the surface of the imaginal stew we found ourselves now swimming in. We were completely immersed -- two eggs submerged in the boiling water of creation, heat turned up, lid on, timer off. The only thing we'd done was immerse -- dig deeply into our own highly charged process of creating something new. Idea Champions, in 2015, will be launching a new innovation-sparking service to help corporations, world wide, figure out HOW they can leverage their resources, bandwidth, and brainpower to foster peace and well-being in the world -- and still make a profit. With an effective tracking system and insurance program, EMS is able to offer a secure delivery worldwide.
Take a peek below and see if YOU can get a feeling for what our 1-3 day course is all about.
The more you tell your stories and the more you reflect on what they really mean, the more the white arrow will become visible -- to you and everyone else who gets a chance to listen to your stories. I worked harder -- attempting in various pitiful ways to pull imaginary rabbits out of imaginary hats. 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. We want proof that something is happening, even if the proof turns out to be nothing more than sound and fury. Begin by having the brainstorming challenge written on a big flip chart before people enter the room.
We were meant to interpret this as we wished and create art that involves society in some way.
My hope is that this project lends itself to making your most interesting, powerful, embarrassing, and bizarre ideas a visual reality in a way you hadn't previously considered feasible. More like crockpots, simmering in our own creative juices, unimpaired by the almost infinite amount of distractions we had grown accustomed to calling our life. You can track your package with the tracking code provided and it will be delivered within a week.
Even though you're an idea-generating machine, facilitating sessions that bring out brilliance in others is not your forte. They know that humor often signals some of the most promising ideas, and that giggles, guffaws, and laughable side-talk frequently indicate a rich vein of possibility to explore.
Then, after five minutes are up, go "round robin" and ask everyone to state their most compelling idea. Then, after some initial schmoozing, explain the "silence ground rule" and the process: People will write their ideas on post-its or flip charts. I have decided to launch a project that offers people an outlet to have their ideas brought to life by an aspiring visual artist -- in this case, me. There were plenty of earlier drafts that were horrid, but eventually led to the final outcome.
Walking by the creek or sitting in a bar was all the same to us, ruled as we were by our shared fascination, random silken threads of conversation with complete strangers, and the increasingly apparent sense that we were on to something big. Humor also makes the facilitator much more "likable" which makes the group they are facilitating more amenable to their direction. At 3:00, it was time for coffee and sugar, me craning my head for the CEO and his merry band of direct reports. They see what their students (or their players) can't see and help them discover it on their own. Your client wants remarkable, actionable ideas and wants the session to be highly engaging, energizing, and worth their precious time. It is supposed to be a selfless act that enables others to arrive at their own solutions -- no matter how different they may be from the facilitator's.
Granted, not every idea is worth developing, but far too many good ones are lost along the way because the person to whom the idea is pitched is blinded by their own knee jerk reactions.
We brainstormed, blue-skied, dialogued, role played, invented, read, sang, stretched, drank coffee, wine, the crisp Colorado air, and whatever else it took to free ourselves from the gravity of what we already knew.
And so do YOU, if only you would pause long enough to remember those extraordinary times when you unplugged, tuned in, and dove into your own process of creating something new and wonderful.
But when push comes to shove, as it often does, their drumming is more like fingernails on the edge of an office desk than a conga player with fire in his eyes. So let's give our senior leaders what they need to make the shift from theory to practice -- and that is a simple method for them to respond to new and untested ideas in a way that increases the odds of innovation actually happening.



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