I won’t bore you with the details of the brainstorming effort with Cantide, except to say that each brainstorming session I conduct reinforces the sense that well run brainstorms seem to run themselves, while poorly planned idea generation sessions can’t be run at all. They seem to start and stop, accelerate and slow at random points, much like a teenager learning to drive a stickshift. Everyone has experienced the agonies of a poorly planned and managed brainstorm, which makes our approach so refreshing.
I was fortunate at Cantide to be working with a team that was well prepared, had a clear understanding of the opportunity and understood the rules and methods of good ideation. My job was simply to keep the team talking, clarify ideas and occasionally nudge the team to think more creatively. Even with a team that is well-prepared and engaged in the idea generation, ideas come in waves, ebbing and flowing as the ideas spill out. Just when you think that one vein has been exhausted, simply changing the perspective slightly or asking a new question can open up an entirely new vein of ideas.
Once we’d finished the idea generation phase of the brainstorm we consolidated some of the duplicates and grouped the ideas into major categories. Then we worked through a voting mechanism that allowed the group to identify the ideas they felt were the strongest and most likely to succeed. After that we assigned ideas and specific follow up actions to individuals in the room, who were willing to sign up for the additional work, and set a meeting time two weeks later to review their progress.
At the end of the day I was spent. I’ve read that the brain is a calorie burning machine, and I guess even cynical innovation consultants are subject to that physical truth. I’ve noticed that a day of idea generation and brainstorming wipes me out, and I’ve heard the participants say the same thing – idea generation is real work when done well. I shook hands with Frank and thanked him for asking us to facilitate, and left Cantide for the day. In the parking lot I called Matt to see if there was anything pressing going on in the office, otherwise I had a date with another Raymond Chandler and a single malt on my sofa.
Matt said it had been quiet in the office, and he’d gotten a lot of work done on the upcoming training session he was leading for a new client. No word from Accipiter.
Not that I expected to hear from them yet, but I had hoped to get some feedback on the presentation. I made a note to call Fred Phillips, since he was in attendance, to get some insights from him about the meeting with the Accipiter executives and ascertain their comments or feedback if he was willing to share that with me. Otherwise I could probably get the same information from Briggs, however I felt he was biased toward the innovation project, while Fred was at best neutral.
I climbed into the car and headed for home. The traffic on the freeway was clogged like an ancient artery, cars like red blood cells pooling, clotting, breaking up and moving again, start and stop. The late day sun hung heavy in the sky as the smog started to rise, the air heated by the exhaust of a million people heading for home after a long day at work. I was just a corpuscle on the highway like so many others.
When I arrived at my apartment there was a message on my machine. June had called, wanting to know if I’d like to eat dinner together. June lives in my building, a few floors down, and we’ve carried on an on-again, off-again relationship for a number of years, neither of us committed enough to the relationship to take the next step, but both of us enjoying the other enough to re-kindle the flames every couple of weeks. June was from the deep South, Mississippi I believe, and had made her way to the coast in the hopes of landing a job in an office and working and living in the big city. She’d achieved both of those rather modest goals, and had her eye on moving up in the advertising world, most likely only to be stymied in her goals by the organizational hierarchy and the fact she’s named June and not James.
I kicked off my shoes, jerked off my tie and threw my jacket and tie on the couch. I didn’t feel like going out, but didn’t mind the idea of seeing June either. I picked up the phone, punched in her number and heard the rings on the other end of the line.
“June, it’s Sam”
“Hi Sam. How’re things?”
“Things are fine. And you?”
“I’m good. A bit tired but hungry. Do you want to join me in a dinner out?”
“June, I’ve got a different proposition. What if we order in? I’ve been on my feet most of the day on a consulting gig, doing some idea generation work with a client. I don’t think I’d be great company out, but would like to see you.”
“Well, I suppose that would be fine. I could order some Chinese from the place down the street.”
“That would be great. Want to come over in 30 minutes or so? Give me a chance to clean up a bit? I have some beer and perhaps a bottle of white in the fridge.”
“You do know how to make it sound enticing Sam. I’ll order the food to your place and be over in 30 minutes.”
“Great. See you then.”
Knowing June, and by extension a good number of women, I knew the food would arrive in exactly 30 minutes, and June some 10 to 15 minutes thereafter, to be comfortably, fashionably late. That meant I had time for a shower and to clean up my apartment before she arrived.
Cleaning up entailed gathering all the dirty dishes that were distributed around my apartment and placing them in the sink, and shoving all my discarded clothes into a hamper. I gave the most visible surfaces a quick dusting with a rag, which created a minor dust storm in my living room. I’m not the most housebroken. So sue me.
The food was delivered about 20 minutes later and I had begun to set the table for dinner. For me, quite often, setting the table meant opening delivery boxes. I pulled out the good china, since June would be coming along, and checked on the bottle of white wine in the fridge. This had the makings of a great closing to a long, but good day.
Promptly at 8:40, ten minutes fashionably late, June knocked on the door. I opened and stepped back, taking her in with all my senses.
June is a tall girl, at least five eight or five nine, slender but well built, with large eyes that seem to glimmer when she smiles. She has shoulder length blond hair and a broad, toothy smile. She’s not classically beautiful, but the package fits together nicely. One day she was going to realize that she could do a lot better than me, and find herself someone who would commit to her. Fortunately, she hadn’t found that man yet.
“June, you are radiant tonight.”
“Sam, cut the crap and let me in. I’m starving.”
I thought the way to a MAN’s heart was through his stomach.
Jeffrey Phillips is VP Marketing and a lead consultant for OVO Innovation. Jeffrey has led innovation projects for Fortune 5000 firms, academic institutions and not-for=profits based on OVO Innovation’s Innovate on Purpose™ methodology. The Innovate on Purpose methodology encourages organizations to consider innovation as a sustainable, repeatable business process, rather than a discrete project.
Jeffrey is the author of “Make Us More Innovative,” a book that encompasses much of the OVO Innovation methodology, and blogs about innovation at Innovate On Purpose. He is a sought after speaker and has presented to corporations, innovation oriented conferences, and at a number of universities. In 2010 he chaired the Innovate North Carolina conference and was a keynote speaker at Queen’s University, University of the Pacific, UNC and several other colleges and conferences. Jeffrey has an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and an undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of Virginia.