Hazel Wagner

Jan 042012
 

team members holding signs with question marks on themThe hardest part of building an innovative culture in an organization is getting it started. People aren’t sure what they should or can do. If you sit a team around a table and tell them to brainstorm for new ideas they will look around at each other expectantly or look down so they won’t be called on. But seldom will many ideas come from this scenario.

Instead, consider starting a company sanctioned Think Tank.

Setting up a place and/or a team as a think tank gives permission to say crazy, creative, funny, off the wall things and to follow interesting paths that don’t have to seem relevant at first. In other words, calling a place a think tank frees up thinking and takes off the pressure to be immediately financially productive.

IBM had a program in which certain individuals were awarded fellowship time to pursue what ever research they chose. IBM knew that they couldn’t know all the paths that would lead to great ideas and therefor by not assigning a topic or question, those with fellowships could pursue a passion or whim that might lead to areas not previously considered.

Every organization can create a think tank to free up thinking and make it possible and likely that creative and innovative ideas will follow.

What does it take to start a think tank?

It helps to have a physical space where any member of the team can spend time using brainstorming tools and documenting ideas that pop up. The space should allow large pieces of paper to be hung and left to come back to as needed. Mind mapping, affinity diagrams, drawings, visual thinking will improve the results so the tools need to be there.

White boards that can save and print the results are excellent but not required. Big pads of flip-chart paper or long rolls of newsprint or other paper will work just fine.

Decks of cards with creativity questions or thought provokers are essential for the times when the group gets stuck.

Lots of colored pens and pencils, books about how to mind map, how to draw on the right side of the brain, and how to use visuals will both teach the processes and get everyone comfortable with the tools.

Some groups do better with music playing. If that is true about your team, include a set of speakers that can work from an MP3 player or some other method to provide whatever genre of music stokes the creative juices.

A brainstorming facilitator, either internal or brought in, can start the idea generating process off with a bigger bang. Be sure if you bring someone in your team learns the methods and can continue using the methods learned rather than require that person to be there every time the team meets.

By having a designated space that you call the ‘think tank’, you have tools and a mind-set established that will help the team jump into a creative mode just by entering the space.

About the Author:
Hazel Wagner, PhD, MBA, CMC
Author, Speaker, Consultant, Entrepreneur
Certified/Qualified in DISC, HBDI, Mindex, MBTI Myers-Briggs
hazel.wagner@b9d.comAuthor of Power Brainstorming: Great Ideas at Lightning Speed
http://www.hazelwagner.com
http://www.brainstorming-that-works.com

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Dec 272011
 

profile of a man with thoughts coming out of his headImagine that you have been invited to join a group of people in a room with casual comfortable furniture and with the job of coming up with ideas to solve a problem creatively and with no pressure. Everyone will be listening to everyone else and looking for ways to enhance each others’ ideas and to piggy-back or combine ideas. The combination and diversity of backgrounds and thought processes makes this situation feel exciting, productive, and fun.

That is the essence of a perfect think tank.

There are many ways to make this work. Here are some that are easy to implement:

1. Arrange both comfortable seating and standing room. Sometimes it works best to have a group standing in front of a white board or flip chart participating together.

2. Diversity of roles: Be sure your team represents many different roles. If this is a company think tank, look for people from different divisions, departments, locations, and time with the company. For some think tank projects it may be possible and advantageous to bring in a customer or vendor or both.

3. The size of the team is important. Too many and some will fade into the background and not actively participate. Too few and you won’t have enough diversity. Between 5 and 12 works well though it will also depend on the depth and breadth of subject matter experience needed.

4. Though much of the brainstorming and working through ideas will happen when you are together in the designated location, be sure everyone carries a notepad and writes down every idea no matter how far-fetched when they aren’t ‘in residence.’ This includes having the notepad, or iPad type of device, and a small light next to their bed because ideas come up at night especially after working on a problem during the day.

Here are two things to do that may be a little harder to implement but are well worth the additional effort:

1. Diversity of thinking styles: If you have never had the opportunity to take a thinking or personality style assessment (e.g., HBDI, DISC, Mindex, MBTI), you may want to seek one out. It adds to your understanding if you find a certified practitioner to guide the discovery process. Even without the formal assessment you can recognize people with whom you work who seem to view the world and decision-making in a different light than you do. Think tanks that are deliberately filled with diversity in thinking styles will productively explore many viewpoints. Helping each other recognize those differing viewpoints is part of the think tank process.

2. Diversity of backgrounds: Different work and life experiences play a big role in idea generation and improve your chances at a break-through innovation. Often a team of associates are so much alike in backgrounds that they won’t realize they are all following the same paths. You want diversity of ideas to come from as much diversity of backgrounds as possible.

Make it fun and broadcast results, and employees will be lining up to get asked to join a think tank.

About the Author:
Hazel Wagner, PhD, MBA, CMC
Author, Speaker, Consultant, Entrepreneur
Certified/Qualified in DISC, HBDI, Mindex, MBTI Myers-Briggs http://www.hazelwagner.com
Author of Power Brainstorming:Great ideas at Lightning Speed. Find more ways to speed up your idea generation at: http://www.brainstorming-that-works.com

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Dec 132011
 

woman with white and bronze colors on her faceSchool teaches that there is one right answer. As students we are supposed to figure out that answer. It’s the one that matches what it says in the answer key at the back of the book or for the test.

But business and life isn’t like that. There isn’t just one right answer for most of the problems and situations we encounter. In business and in life we need to be creative, to explore many options, to be able to discover something or a process that is innovative.

It is too easy, too comfortable, and usually a mistake to think that we are searching for the one right answer. Instead, in business we are looking for as many options as possible and then be able to make a choice or choices among them. If we think there is only one right answer we will jump on the first answer that comes up that would work. Usually the first idea is one that comes up fast because it is common and over-used. You are better off making your choice because it won the comparison discussion, not just because it was the first and only idea expressed.

Innovation means something new to the world or at least new to the situation. To come up with something new it is necessary to tap into the creativity of as many options as possible. That will work best when you open up to other viewpoints, brainstorm to bring out all types of responses, and include multiple ideas and multiple versions of similar ideas.

Creativity. Without open minds embracing many ideas and options, the road to innovation will be completely fogged in. With the openness for creativity, the road will have many dead ends but will also have plenty of room for u-turns, start-overs, and what-ifs.

What is creative competency? It does not require that you be an artist or writer or any of the ‘creativity’ occupations. Instead, all that is required is that your mind be open to possibilities and you share and keep sharing the hundreds of ideas you have, rather than squashing them by saying, ‘No one would think it is a good idea,’ or ‘That’s silly.’

The ideas shared with others often form the germ of an idea to expand and share back.

If I share an idea I have with you and you share one with me, we both now have two ideas, or many more as we explore how to mix and match and build on those ideas. Ideas multiply like rabbits if only you have an open mind and let them.

About the Author:
Hazel Wagner, PhD, MBA, CMC
Author, Speaker, Consultant, Entrepreneur
Certified/Qualified in DISC, HBDI, Mindex, MBTI Myers-Briggs http://www.hazelwagner.com
Author of Power Brainstorming:Great ideas at Lightning Speed. Find more ways to speed up your idea generation at: http://www.brainstorming-that-works.com

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Jul 222011
 

hand with the word "innovation"What is the difference between creativity and innovation? When you look up both words in dictionaries it is clear that these two words get mixed up and sometimes even are used synonymously. So here are my working definitions which I hope you find to be helpful and realistic.

Creativity is coming up with ideas that are different from anything you already know about. Innovation is when the ideas are also something new to the world AND has a value that someone would covet and pay for. Continue reading »

Jul 122011
 

drawing of a head with a bright light.After going through an explanation of mind-mapping and its advantages, and my usual apology for my evangelical zeal on the topic, one attendee jumped up and said “That is what my boss does! I never understood what it was. Now I can not only follow what he is doing but bring my ideas and proposals in the same form. I feel that he will respond much more positively to my ideas.” Another attendee then told us the story of being interviewed by a reporter who was doing something that seemed strange at the time. Continue reading »

May 312011
 

a group of business people around a tableImagine that you have been invited to join a group of people in a room with casual comfortable furniture and with the job of coming up with ideas to solve a problem creatively and with no pressure. Everyone will be listening to everyone else and looking for ways to enhance each others’ ideas and to piggy-back or combine ideas. The combination and diversity of backgrounds and thought processes makes this situation feel exciting, productive, and fun. Continue reading »