That phrase can make you smile or cringe, depending on who says it.
Nothing makes me more frustrated than entering a room, tasked to think, with no structure behind it. That is not a brainstorm. That is a shitstorm.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been a structured thinker. What is the problem we are solving/what do we want to achieve? What are the insights we can work from? What do we want to leave the room with?
I’ve always prided myself in setting a room up for success. I’ve read myriad books, observed others and followed different techniques and exercises to facilitate brainstorms that elicit seeds, nuggets and big ideas from people’s minds. Aligning ideas with a specific objective takes work and a lot of planning. It takes knowing who’ll be in the room, what their strengths are, what their attention span is. It takes the right depth of insights to drive the right type of thinking and ideation.
I’m pretty good at it.
However, sometimes even the biggest overachiever has to admit they can’t do everything themselves. (No really it’s true, we can’t).
Calculated risk and reward
This week, I produced a large multi-disciplinary ideation session of 20+ people. Research, insights, logistics…the whole nine. For it to be successful I knew I wouldn’t be able to facilitate it myself for multiple reasons. Lack of neutrality being the largest. Everyone knows the key to a successful brainstorm is having a neutral facilitator, who is unbiased; their only job to tease out ideas from the group.
Jennie, a planner on my team introduced me to Mitch Ditkoff from Idea Champions. When I first met Mitch on the phone I knew he was our guy within 10 minutes. Aside from his highly credentialed and impressive background, he was so personable. Likeable. Infectious energy. No bullshit. Asked the right questions. Whip Smart. Witty. Met him in person and the spark was 10 fold.
Done, done and done.
Fast forward 3 weeks of agenda framework, collaboration and logistical coordination we arrived at the morning of our brainstorm. I entered the offsite space (offsite spaces, btw are key to getting people out of their comfort zone); my confidence in Mitch was sky high and couldn’t wait for the day to unfold. I knew everyone would be in for such a treat.
A treat it was. I thought I was good at facilitating brainstorms. But Mitch. Wow. WOW. If you are inspired by making cool stuff and get excited by great insights, strategy and ideas you should explore the specialized skills and mindset of a professional brainstorm facilitator. AKA professional problem solver, part storyteller, part historian, part improv actor, part imaginative magician, part professional child in an adult body. He was captivating, believable and motivating. He used very interesting analogies and techniques to prime our thinking and additional techniques to synthesize and expand our thinking even further. He would probably shoot me if I gave away his proprietary methods, so I won’t. But I will tell you I learned so much and while I’ll never be able to do what he does, there are definitely tricks I’ll take back to my strategic arsenal.
You know you had a successful brainstorm when it’s 4pm and people are STILL generating ideas and contributing to a plethora of ideas we’d already generated. You know it’s even better when colleagues are sending you even more ideas at 11:30pm while doing dishes.
A smarter way to think.
An old boss once told me, you are only as successful as the people you surround yourself with- hire for your weaknesses and they will support your strengths. I believe there is so much power in your network. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without my network of people and partners I’ve met through the years who make me a stronger individual. I also believe we trust and invest in people, not services or companies.
If you need to facilitate a brainstorm, need to plan an innovation session—TRUST ME when I tell you Mitch is your guy, place your trust in him. Ideas are not a commodity when they are great.
Caveat: Views and opinions are my own. I was not encouraged nor incentivized to write this review. If there were a Yelp for strategic partners and generally cool and creative people who live in Woodstock, NY I would have posted this there.