Transferable skills

About a month ago, a chance run-in with Creative Realities‘ Chief Talent Officer led to an offer to participate in their Facilitator Development Program. I first learned about Creative Realities, a business innovation consulting firm, many moons ago when I was running my first business, Interactive Cuisine. I had been offered a free, half-day consulting session with them – they were in the process of training a new “Innovationist” and were practicing with “real” clients and “real” business growth dilemmas. The session was a guided brainstorming process designed to help me come up with new business opportunities.

Their process intrigued me, and at the end of my session I was waffling between wanting to pursue one of the ideas generated for the business I already had, and figuring out how to become a “business innovationist” with their firm.

This unexpected opportunity last month to learn their process absolutely fascinated me, so I managed to put my other projects on hold and spent two weeks learning the process of innovation and practicing these new-found skills.

Whether or not I pursue a career with Creative Realities as a business innovationist, I did learn some valuable skills that I hope to share with you as we continue to work together to improve your business:

Headline Your Thoughts

Has a friend ever told you a story, and half way through you wonder to yourself, “Where is this going?” Perhaps the story goes something like this:

So I was in Starbucks the other day, waiting in line for my double cappuccino. I should have known better than to go at 7:30 to the Central Square one because there’s always a line out the door. But it was good, because I ended up having a really interesting conversation with the guy standing in front of me. It turns out he works for the Mayor’s office for the food policy advisor. He starts telling me about the Boston Public Market. (Have you heard about it yet? It will be opening in 2014.) At any rate, he mentioned Alex Lewin, who’s on the board for the market, and he just came out with a new book that I think you’d really like called Real Food Fermentation.

The headline of this thought is, “I just learned about a new book I think you’d really like Real Food Fermentation.” But through the long, weaving story, the listener is lost, falling in and out of attention. The same thing happens when you want to share a great new idea with a colleague.

Attention is strongest when the speaker first starts talking and then fades in and out. The trick is to headline first, and then give the backstory. Using this method, you will capture the attention of your listeners when it’s strongest, and if they do zone out for a few seconds, they haven’t missed the gist of your point.

No Bazookas

Imagine you’re in a brainstorming session with your colleagues and you offer a suggestion. A co-work chimes in: “Well that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!”

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that shooting down someone else’s ideas is not a productive way to interact with colleagues or clients. Two things happen as a result:

The first, and probably more obvious, is that the person who had the “bad” idea is less likely to contribute more ideas. I won’t go so far as to say, “no idea is a bad idea” – there are bad ideas – but that person could very well have other “good” ideas later on. If he fears his idea will be bazooka’ed, he’s less inclined to contribute.

The second, and subtler, consequence is that all ideas (good, and especially the “bad” and “absurd”) can spark further ideas — driving a string of thoughts that could lead to the “great” idea.

Let me give you an example:

In a recent brains-storming session with a client, the owner of a health club whose goal is to increase business, I offered the idea:

I wish you had wine breaks instead of water breaks.

(not realistic, but tossed out as a way to stimulate better ideas)

The client responded:

“We do have whine breaks” (a subtle bazooka).

Fortunately, I have a thick skin and I wasn’t inhibited from throwing out more ideas. But the employees of the health club owner, who were also in the brain-storming session, became more and more quiet as the session went on.

Now if I had been muted, we wouldn’t have the benefit of the wacky idea that generated other ideas around creating a social environment with friends, which in turn sparked the notion of date nights at the gym. And this idea led somewhere productive.

Here’s the take-away from this: allow people to throw around crazy ideas because you never know where the spark may lead a group. If you bazooka someone’s idea, you are less likely to get the “stretchy,” innovative ideas and you will in turn limit the creative capacity of the group.

Open Minded Evaluation

When going through the process of brainstorming, you will come up with many ideas, several of which you will want to pursue further. As you are evaluating ideas to pursue, it’s important to recognize that no idea is perfect. Rather than toss out every idea that isn’t perfect, or immediately feasible, take the opportunity to evaluate the idea with an open-mind towards making it possible. The trick is to identify the flawed but exciting “beginning” idea and have a thinking tool for keeping the parts you like about the idea and overcoming the negatives.

In a recent brainstorming session for The Farmer’s Kitchen, I set a task to come up with creative ways to use our content to generate more revenue. One of the ideas generated was to create recipe kits to sell to farmers’ market managers.

Like most ideas, this one is not 100% perfect, nor is it 100% dud. And its potential for perfection will increase as its feasibility increases. The trick is to take a new idea and push it along the spectrum of “perfection” by getting it past the threshold of feasibility.

It’s easy to come up with all the reasons why it won’t work, but that alone will not make the idea more feasible. Instead, start with all the ways in which the idea is a good one. For example,

  • the recipe kit is an economical tool for farmers’ markets
  • the content is already created
  • it helps to educate consumers further about the wonderful produce available at markets.

By starting with the positives, the idea generates some energy to push it through the issues that it may have.

And instead of just creating a list of why an idea won’t work try inviting some problem solving. One easy techniques is to “headline” your issue using the two most powerful words in problem-solving, ”How To.”

For example, one issue is:

Who’s going to buy these kits?

This issue can be restated by starting the question as a “How to”:

How to generate interest in these kits?

By the simple restatement of the issue, I’ve encouraged myself (and others) to think about the issue in ways that it can be resolved. With a few more rounds of brainstorming around the issues, I can now move the idea along the spectrum toward the Threshold of Implementability.

If you’re interested in learning more about Creative Realities and how their process of facilitating innovation can help you, feel free to call or email.

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