Open 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.

     

    Comments

    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

    Read More..
    Comments

    Harvard’s Kodak Moment?

    Have you ever been in the position where you thought, “gee, if only I was better educated, or just smarter, this complex decision in front of me would be easy.” In the innovation world the agonizing decision of whether to embrace a new trend and leave behind your old business model is always brutally dificult. Organizations have been torn to shreds in the conflict about what to do. Some have made those big choices and survived, like IBM, or, made bad choices and bit the dust, like Kodak. Part of the psychology of leadership is the doubt, the fear, that you’re not quite smart enough to make a good decision. One of the reasons people flock to Harvard to get

    Read More..
    Comments

    People Got To Be Free

    Power. It’s not something people talk about in the context of innovation. They talk about Leadership, Change, Management, and Teams — but they rarely talk about what’s behind all of those concepts, Power. I’ve been making a habit lately of talking about the unsaid in innovation, and power is a huge unsaid in innovation. I’m going to have to be a little bit snarky here. I’ll balance that by citing those gurus of innovation, The Rascals (who were in fact genuinely kind hearted guys who worked for civil rights). But first, my citation: Power, wielded with a heavy hand, is the enemy of innovation. Power, aligned with values people believe in, is the enabler of innovation. The higher up an

    Read More..
    Comments

    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.

    Read More..
    Comments

    Take Advantage — Innovate More for Less

    I’ve done 385 general interest creativity and innovation posts in the last few years. This post is different — it contains a commercial offer — albeit a fairly innovative one. If you’re not interested please ignore this post. Here’s the offer – I’ve decided to double the value I provide to my customers by offering a good old fashioned two-for-one deal. Why? I want to generate more buzz about my service offerings. To generate more buzz I want the perception of my value to be exceptional. So exceptional that people will talk , tweet, and refer. There is no sleight of hand here, I’ll be working twice for one fee. For both services delivered I won’t be cutting preparation time or the customization I

    Read More..
    Comments

    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

    Read More..
    Comments

    Orin Davis Report from World Innovation Forum

    The following are thoughts from Orin Davis, Phd, who is covering the World Innovation Forum. As always, Orin makes some good points, notes from talks from the Mayor of Asheville, NC, the On Your Feet Improv group, and Michael Martin of Vibram. So, here’s what you missed at WIF. ****** Ideas from the World Innovation Forum  (by Orin Davis, Phd) With some speakers, you just have to be there to really get the marrow of what they have to say, but here are some piquant ideas from speakers at the World Innovation Forum:  Terry Bellamy — Mayor of Asheville, NC Make an investment in a sustainability endeavor, and keep reusing the savings in other sustainability endeavors to have sustainable infrastructure

    Read More..
    Comments

    KILN Continues to Innovate Innovation Services

    I’m off to the FEI show (Front End of Innovation) in Boston this week. In my view it’s the most serious innovation conference in the world, and the USA edition features speakers and participants from a who’s who of international organizations. I’m particularly interested in hearing Denise Morrison CEO of Campbell Soup about their use of culture in the innovation process, and also Nelson Farris of Nike about corporate storytelling. It will be great to catch up with Idea Management System vendors like CogniStreamer, and innovation service firms like Ideas To Go and Maddock Douglas. They’re always doing something new. I’m glad the show is in Boston. After the recent troubles it feels appropriate that a conference dedicated to positive change is

    Read More..
    Comments

    Innovation in Michiana, How Whirlpool Creates Magic

    Benton Harbor, Michigan, have you heard of it? It’s a big enough town that it shows up on the weather maps of Chicago TV stations. It’s directly across Lake Michigan from Chicago. It’s in tourist area, but it’s hardly a garden spot — not nearly as quaint as nearby victorian-gingerbreadish St. Joseph. Locals call the area Michiana, a term to describe the cachement of small and medium sized towns along the Indiana-Michigan border (Gary, Michigan City, Niles, Elkhart, South Bend, Three Oaks, New Buffalo…). Michiana is a lovely area — if you like the beach, vineyards, and the woods. It’s not exactly Silicon Valley. It wasn’t always so. Once upon a time Benton Harbor was home to one of my

    Read More..
    Comments