Guerilla Innovation

    Innovation Facilitation — Death is Easy, Magic Takes Training

    Death by Powerpoint framedThree Essentials for Magical Innovation Facilitation

    An essential ingredient to successful innovation projects is good facilitation.

    Who could argue with that? Innovation combines individual and group activities. Good group collaboration is not a given. Even individual activities need coordination with the group effort. You really need an inspiring, confident, well-trained facilitator to enable innovation.

    I’m talking about running and managing strategy meetings, ideation sessions, virtual sessions (using IMS), concept writing sessions, and other group work. A good facilitator makes a world of difference in the results of these group meetings and activities.

    And yet, in the long list of things that can go wrong in innovation initiatives, it’s often the one that is overlooked or taken for granted.

    The problem is many in-house innovation facilitators are poorly trained, or not trained at all. It’s interesting that sometimes it’s the low person on the totem pole that gets handed the marker. It’s as if they think this is the easiest part. It’s not. It’s just the opposite. It takes more to be truly magical as a facilitator than just standing at a flip chart with a Sharpie. I’ve listed below the three things it takes to be a top-notch facilitator (and a link to a great training session coming up in October).

    Companies looking to ramp up their internal innovation capacity would be well served to invest in facilitation training.

    A good group with a sense of urgency can easily be led astray (or bored to death) by a poor facilitator.  In our ADD world keeping the attention of a high level group is so challenging. Distractions rain on the average meeting. How hard it is to keep a group of a dozen people engaged for a half day, a full day, or a couple days? Very hard. It’s nearly impossible in the age of smart phones.

    One of the reasons companies hire expensive agencies and consultants is because those agencies have dynamic, well-trained, inventive, and experienced facilitators. Those facilitators have great session plans and a lot of splashy and fun exercises to get people thinking.They’re worth the money, AND, why not have this capacity in-house?

    The bigger companies often have in-house facilitators, even teams of in-house facilitators and I think that’s a very good idea. You’re more likely to be responsive to changing market conditions if you can arrange a think-fest quickly and have it expertly facilitated. Big companies invest in facilitator training, sometimes. Or they hire experience.

    The problem is many in-house innovation facilitators are poorly trained, or not trained at all. Here’s what it takes to be a top-notch facilitator:

    1. It takes a big picture idea of what innovation is and how innovation process should work. This means you have to be a strategic thinker. It means you need to know some basic innovation processes like CPS and/or design thinking. How can a person lead a strategy session unless they know how to think that way? How else does a facilitator reframe the challenge? Breakthrough perspectives are how you find breakthrough ideas. If your facilitator doesn’t know how to shift thinking on the challenge he/she has been handed — it’s likely you’ll be brainstorming the wrong question. The big picture would include the mission and goals of the organization, the real ones, that are often masked behind PR/MBA speak. If you don’t know what you’re shooting for, how can you hit the target? A facilitator does not have to be a content expert, but they have to be in the ballpark in order to direct the process.
    2. You have to know the classic tools and techniques for facilitation. There are a ton of them. This includes energizers, modern techniques for data collection (including use of Idea Management Systems), and use of stimulus. There is a time and place for writing at a flip chart or a white board, but if that’s all you know how to do you’re stuck in 1953. Post-It Note brainstorming can work, but it can’t be the only thing you do in a workshop. It’s amazing how many organizations don’t know how to do Post-It note brainstorming, it’s a basic technique. It’s also amazing that the most basic rules of brainstorming are not adhered to (like no-critique, etc.) and then people have the nerve to say that brainstorming doesn’t work. Advanced techniques like “scaffolding,” concept blends, and kinesthetic exercises are not used by 98% of in-house facilitators and that’s a shame because those tools do work; they leverage modern knowledge of how people think and learn. Does your facilitator know anything about multiple intelligence theory? The role of introverts? Graphic facilitation? Can you enable the thinking of a group to enable them to connect very distant dots? If you can’t, you’re not likely to get to breakthrough ideas. You’ve got to know the tools people.  You also have to practice the tools enough to be confident using them.
    3. You have to know how to create a dynamic and flexible session plan. Planning an innovation workshop or ideation session is an art form. If the day isn’t planned down to 15 minute increments, it’s probably not a great plan. Plans should include pre-work and backgrounding for participants. Backgrounding on the day of the session is a super crazy bad idea. It’s a classic mistake that is made again and again. It’s as if you really want people to be brain dead just before a brainstorm starts. On the other hand, providing data and active thinking exercises well before a session can improves results dramatically. Can your facilitator create custom exercises? Change the plan mid-stream? Planning what to do after the session is just as important. Want to kill an innovation culture? Don’t do anything with the ideas you worked so hard to get. A great plan is essential to innovation workshop success, and this takes training.

    KILN USA is, by an amazing coincidence, conducting a public Innovation Facilitation course in October, at the historic Keith House, in Chicago. See here for details and to register.

     

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    Big Imagination is Blind Spot Remover

    Coming back from a trip to Toronto (visiting with the amazing Min Basadur) I spotted an interesting billboard at O’Hare airport. IBM suggests they can help “Remove the Blind Spots from Your Business” — by using Big Data and analytics. The visual of a man at a kind of virtual desktop that has visibility to ships, trucks, retail, and factories indicates that if you can just know more about what’s going on out there you’ll have nothing to worry about. If only that were so. I’m not bad rapping IBM here, I’m sure they can indeed provide lots of interesting insight using Big Data and analytics. Many companies would be well served to do a better job with this. Using

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    Minimum Wage Boost in Silicon Valley Ups the Cinderella Factor

    Let’s put politics aside for a moment and pretend the minimum wage is not a party-centric issue. Let’s look at it from a pragmatic perspective if possible. Raising the minimum wage in Silicon Valley (beyond San Jose which has already done so) is a very important and rational thing to do for the economic health of the valley, California, and the USA economy as a whole. I’m sure a lot could be written about the class warfare aspect of this, but to me, the innovation guy, that’s not the key issue. The issue is continuing the incredible innovation that happens in Silicon Valley. As of March 2014 it’s 87% more expensive to live in Silicon Valley than the USA average.

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    Six Reasons Why Employees Shun Innovation

    Leadership is Uninvolved with Innovation. Yes, I just said that. Take me out to the wall and shoot me — but in many companies this is a major problem. I used to frequent a bagel shop on the south side of Chicago. It wasn’t a chain. Just a small business with great tasting bagels in a good location. I popped in one day about 9:00 am for a raisin bagel with cream cheese and was a bit startled to find myself the only customer in the store. I remarked to the young lady behind the counter that it was pretty quiet for that time of day. She said, with no irony, “isn’t that great!” I’ll skip the fake ‘I’m so

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    Ten Ideas for Using Innovation Film Clips

    I’ve written an article on Innovation in movies – Inspiring Innovation Films: a Top Ten List.  It’s been published on the Innovation Excellence portal — I’d be most grateful if you’d read it and comment over there. Today’s post is a value add to that article with some ideas on how to use creativity and innovation clips in projects and meetings. If you’re an innovation educator, manager, or team leader you may want to consider using clips as training and/or stimulus tools. I’m a big one for keeping things entertaining no matter what you’re doing. Movie clips are a great way to do that. Here are Ten Ideas on how to integrate film clips into an innovation project: Send out a

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    Moisturize for Innovation

    I have a beautiful Martin guitar. It has a wonderful tone and it’s easy to play, it’s a love relationship. It’s a well engineered, and under some conditions, a quite delicate instrument. As the winter weather descends on the midwest I’m remembering I need to keep it moisturized. Yes, moisturized. And yes, your innovation environment needs moisturized in order to make beautiful music. Five years ago I left my prized guitar out of it’s case on a stand in my living room. I had no idea that the very dry air in my apartment would suck all the water out of that rosewood and maple. I got up one morning and started strumming — and it sounded terrible. I flipped

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    An Outsider’s Perspective Can Drive Innovation

    I’ve been researching an industry (coin operated vending) in preparation for a speech I’m giving.  I make an effort to tailor my keynotes, as much as is practical, in order to deliver more specific value to my audiences. In doing my research some obvious (to me) opportunity areas for innovation have become apparent. Strangely, when I bring up these interesting and potentially lucrative market adjacencies most of the folks I talk to in the industry reject these potential opportunities with barely a pause in the conversation. It’s true that “I don’t know” why these innovation possibilities can’t work. My argument is, for innovation, that can be a real strength. I’m not “in the box” of the people I’m interviewing, I

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    Zombies, Dreamers, Managers and Leaders

    I’ve been preparing a new keynote speech on Imagination and it’s been a real challenge to get my thoughts together on such a big and creatively important concept. My focus is usually on Creativity. To be honest I’m enthralled with the concept of imagination, and yet have avoided talking about it directly because it’s so individual and amorphous. That’s why I’m so excited about one aspect of my new talk I wanted to share it with my readers right away, so here it is, my “Johari Window” of Imagination (note to self: need better label). It’s helpful in getting a handle on who imagines and how, and might be helpful to individuals and groups who seek to improve imaginative capacity.

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    The Innovation State of the Union

    President Obama made mention in his state of the union address that he wishes to expand the National Netowrk for Manufacturing Innovation concept. I wholly applaud the idea, AND, there might be a more fundamental challenge that needs addressed first. I’ve made the acquaintance of a thought leader with her finger on the pulse of where the nation sits in terms of technological readiness to innovate. Her name is Pamela Menges, and she’s President of a high-tech start up in Cincinnati. She’s also a professor at the University of Cincinnati in their Engineering department. Steve Jobs once challenged Obama to find him 30,000 engineers so he could build a plant in California. That challenge remains a big one, and again,

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    Detroit Soup — Serving Hope & Innovation

    As a Michigander I’m always looking for some good vibes on the economy. I found it last night on NBC Nightly News, an inspirational story about Detroit Soup.  It’s not a restaurant, but it does serve soup — and something a lot more precious for down-on-its-luck-Motown — hope. Here’s the concept: Detroit Soup is a monthly dinner to fund creative and entrepreneurial projects. Micro grants are awarded at the dinner. Five dollars ($5.00) is the entry fee and it gets you a simple meal — soup, salad, bread — and a vote. They hold the dinner in an old warehouse. Click over to their site and read their backstory, it’s interesting. Apparently this concept has been happening for over three years.

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