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Summary: Brainstorm Session

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Analysis of execution of a brainstorm session

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Summary: Brainstorm Session

  1. 1. Creative Session An experiment with a client by Justin Fenwick Saturday, November 14 – Ypsilanti, Mi Setting the Stage I had landed this client just as school was starting. It was thanks to the recommendation of someone who participated in a strategic planning process I led with another community organization. I jumped on the opportunity when I first heard of it, especially being my first consulting gig. I was finally a real consultant. Plus, I really needed the money. What I got was the busiest time of of my life. As life continued, so did my doing the minimum for the client. The overall goal was to assess their whole program and help them with three deliverables: (1) The start to a strategic plan that they could begin to act on short term; (2) facilitate a process for their Board of Advisors and staff to better understand their roles; and (3) draft a mission statement. Keeping track of the project had been difficult. A stakeholder meeting was planned for November 14, as it drew closer I jumped on it as an opportunity to run a creative session. Seeing it as an idea generation activity, I though it would be perfect. I asked them, as a change in plans, to invite any outsiders who’s ideas they respected, even if they weren’t familiar with the program. As the day arrived we discussed the agenda and the question we would ask. After some discussion about order and expectations for the day, we felt ready. The Question In which ways can a culture of entrepreneurship ensure youths’ success and ability to contribute in a changing economy? ! 1
  2. 2. The Agenda 9:00 Introductions and Breakfast 9:30 Creative Session In which ways can a culture of entrepreneurship ensure youthsʼ success and ability to contribute in a changing economy? Focus: Quantity This creative session will help provide the substance of the B.Side visioning process. This activity embraces the spontaneity and imperfectness of creativity, the goal is to get as many ideas on the table as possible. Often times “crazy” ideas serve as a useful stepping stone to something more valuable. This time will be used to embrace diversity and expose the many opportunities available to the B.Side for success and growth. Time will be given to both write and speak. Every “voice” will be present. Expect play, open minds, and new perspectives. 11:30 Lunch Dotmocracy Focus: Potency The participants will provide speedy feedback through a simple voting process on multiple items that asses the current and potential operational structure and activities. Every participant will provide a “gut check” on what staff, and others, associate with the success of B.Side. Expect clarity, lots of different options, and effort to try and stay in touch with your “gut” response. Pattern Mapping Focus: Connections All participants help create a visual representation of what it is that B.Side does. From a strategic standpoint, it will expose leverage and driving points that better inform where time and energy should be spent to be the most effective. All aspects of current B.Side activities and goals will be encouraged to be included. Expect structured mess, epiphanies, complexity, and deeper awareness. Debrief Focus: Strategy This is the only time where judgement and discernment is expected. Lots of information will have been brought to the table. The group will create criteria from which to organize and prioritize the information created. Expect tension between want and need OR reality and fantasy. ! 2
  3. 3. The Day Of The Myth of Planning I arrived early that Saturday morning, excited but nervous. The youth of the program showed up, which was great. Attendance actually ended up being more than expected and nearly 20 people were in the room. I had been assured beforehand that everyone had been sent the question the night before to sleep on. Also, a large number of participants were supposed to leave at lunch, leaving me with the most dedicated participants to finish sorting and planning. The day started, I felt ambitious trying out this new thing, excited for the opportunity. There were some big community names in the room. I led by asking everyone to stand up and literally shake off the week. Then was a quick creative activity, asking people to make some leaps by associating something seemingly unrelated to the client. I began to lose people as confusion brewed. Believing in the creative process, I pressed forward, assuring people the value of everything and anything that occurred. “Yes and” was used. I tried to move the group between silent idea generation and observation but got stuck in a rut of large group conversation that was moving too slow for my liking. I kept trying to get concrete ideas out by asking about what was good in an idea or for solutions. Then it happened, a few people couldn’t hold it in any more. Scrapping the Agenda Grunts, sighs, and some very open “what are we doing?” statements...I was outwardly managing and facilitating, it’s what I do, but internally I was a wreck. I don’t think any one read their agenda, let alone the question. Later I realized it was only a select few, but at the time it felt like the whole room. The emotions were so strong that by lunch, the agenda was scrapped in favor of new needs. ! 3
  4. 4. Afterwards Seeking creative destruction In Reflection What went wrong? It is obvious that if you don't have full control over the participants, that you loose control of fully engaging creativity. My reliance on the client to communicate with participants meant that they arrived ill informed and expecting something with a concrete conclusion. The broad goals of creativity did not allow for this development. If it wasn't for the passive channel to contribute the quantity of ideas collected would have been small. In addition, failure to communicate left certain personality types out of the conversation. One man, with many years of entrepreneurial experience, had very strong mental models of what a planning process looked like. The creative process was unfamiliar to him and even my framing did not welcome him in. At one point he even pulled me aside and said he might leave. Only after extensively validating his point of view did he begrudgingly stay. The question was too broad and needed to have been tested with more people. My client and I must have been too wrapped up in our heads to see the awkward situation we were putting the participants in. They felt both confused and bothered. Yet at the same time apologetic for potentially blindsiding me. Some key stakeholders were blindsided as much as I was and we were all scared by that. It was my mistake to run a creative session with 100% stakeholders who have buy-in. This was also done directly in the face of one of my objectives, helping the client bring clarity to their advisory boards role. The lack of of it was apparent. What went right? All in all I got around 150 idea cards. Despite the negative energy, enough people in the room felt validated and excited enough to keep contributing. I described “Yes and” well enough that people kept using it. All of this brought to the forefront issues and confusions that existed in the organization and I often was able to ask enough questions to get to something concrete. While it wasn’t part of the creative session, I was able to change the entire agenda on the fly to squelch the negative energy and keep the ideas flowing. I did this by continuing to ask what people needed and offering solutions with a light foot. Yet most exciting to me, this multi-hour process kept the youth engaged the ENTIRE TIME. They even said that it was fun. The creative session gave them voice, validation, and room to participate. ! 4
  5. 5. The Results Trends and Themes My favorite way to sort this type of information is by frequency. The most popular or common ideas serve as my main platform from which I develop much of my planning for the client. I had also asked people to star ideas and leave me with a top 3 list before they left. The following are some aggregated themes, trends and ideas. Trends: A theme of being fully responsive to the youth. Listening first.Youth make it happen. Youth self direction Local business partnerships Is the program an example of ambiguity, risk, self, relationships, etc? Making a real youth business happen Assessment of available resources A program developing life skills Themes and Ideas: Need to get innovative fast or lose board members Youth language - focused on understanding the youth "beat" Help facilitate youth on boards and other roles in the business community, involved in decisions Following gut and impulse training Investor mentors The creative business plan Look up tech town Designing program around skills that youth feel they are missing Focus on business outreach Quality over quantity…focus on one youth venture, one real opportunity. Respond to what business WILL look like, not traditional models Entrepreneurship is limited, not for all Entrepreneurship centers inside schools Products for the Client So far the client I have been able to create two deliverables (B.sidemission.doc & B.side strategic.doc), they serve as a summary of the best ideas and my “Appendix A.” Link to Raw Data If you are interested in viewing all of the ideas generated that day you can view them here: http://www.evernote.com/shard/s4/share/859-s4-f0a0befff188d9b7e7c57057f1c80422-1/ ! 5

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