The Three Keys To Becoming A Masterful Brainstorm Facilitator

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As a former student of the martial arts, I have noticed a curious phenomenon in corporate America that is becoming increasingly troubling to me — especially among “creatives” who aspire to become masterful brainstorm facilitators. I call it the “Bruce Lee Syndrome” or perhaps more correctly, the “I-Took-a-Karate-Lesson-at-My-Local-Shopping-Mall-and-How-Come-I-Still-Can’t-Break-a-Brick-Yet” syndrome?

Well-meaning business movers and shakers expect that learning a new creative thinking technique is all they need to spark brilliance in a roomful of people. Not true. Not even close to being true.

While learning a technique is a good beginning, it is only a beginning. What’s needed to leverage the power of any creative thinking technique — no matter how cool the technique might be — is practice.

A Karate Master can explain to you how he breaks a brick with a single punch. He can even demonstrate it to you. But that doesn’t mean you will be breaking bricks in the next minute or two. Or even the next year or two. For that to happen, you will need to practice.

Practice is the key. Learning from experience. Trial and error. And, more than occasionally, feeling like you have taken on an impossible task.

What I have noticed in the people I have trained to become skillful brainstorm facilitators is that they fully expect to be getting great results the first time they use a technique. Not a good idea. First of all, it’s totally unrealistic. Second of all, it puts too much pressure on the student to perform at a high level too quickly. And third of all, it increases the likelihood that the aspiring brainstorm facilitator will prematurely dismiss the technique as faulty when, in fact, it’s not the technique that is faulty, but the application of the technique by the novice student.

All of this, of course, is exacerbated by the fact that everyone in the business world is so time-crunched these days that unless results show up immediately, they’re on to the next technique, or next consultant, or next magic pill.

My grandmother, Celia, who was definitely not a martial artist, had two words for this phenomenon: OY VEY.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are committed to eliciting brilliance in others and want to master the art of facilitating highly effective brainstorm sessions, you will need to practice. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s the deal. We’re not talking Trump University, folks, or learning how to make a fortune by watching a late night infomercial. We’re talking about walking the long and often unglamorous path of practice, practice, practice.

Which brings up an interesting question: how best to practice?

Know this: there is no one right way to practice. There are many ways to practice. The best way is the way that works for you. But to get the party started, here are ten choices for your consideration.

1. Pick some low risk situations for you to try out the new techniques you are learning. At home? With friends? With other students of the technique?

2. Take a few minutes after each time you use a technique to reflect on how it went. Ask yourself what you LIKED about it’s application, what CONCERNED you, and what SUGGESTIONS come to mind for how you might improve your use of the technique the next time you do it.

3. Watch other people facilitate the technique and see what you can learn from their approach.

4. Ask the people who participate in your sessions to give you feedback. Find out what worked for them and what didn’t.

5. If you have a coach, teacher, or mentor (assuming you didn’t just google “brainstorm techniques”), check in with him/her from time to time and continue exploring the nuances of the techniques. A single word, phrase, or suggested tweak can make all the difference.

6. Deconstruct the technique. Notice the beginning, the middle, and the end of it and see if there are ways you might improve your execution of any of those.

7. Invent your own techniques — especially ones that fascinate you. If you are the inventor of the technique, your ownership of it will skyrocket and you will be far more likely to make the effort required to perfect it.

8. Debrief with other brainstorm facilitators in your company. Get together from time to time and share your experiences. Getting a new perspective is one of the simplest ways of developing mastery.

9. Offer your services for free, outside of work, to a non-profit, group of friends, or community organization. They get the benefit of your facilitation. You get the benefit of practice!

10. Make your practice fun! If it feels like drudgery, you will bail out way too soon. Remember the words of hockey great, Wayne Gretzky: “The only way a kid is going to practice is if it’s total fun for him… and it was for me.”

Oh, wait, I just remembered the name of this blog post was the THREE KEYS to becoming a masterful brainstorm facilitator and I have only given you ONE. My bad. Sorry. Please accept my apologies. Here are the other two:

2. Practice
3. Practice

Mitch Ditkoff is the Co-Founder and President of Idea Champions, an innovation consulting and training company headquartered in Woodstock, NY.

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