The ten personas of a brainstorm facilitator

Facilitating a brainstorming session is a multi-faceted task, requiring a variety of sensitivities. A skilled brainstorm facilitator is more like 10 people than one, exhibiting a broad spectrum of personalities as needed in order to get the job done. Read on to assess and strengthen your facilitation skills.

Facilitating a brainstorming session is a multi-faceted task, requiring a variety of sensitivities. In reality, the skilled brainstorm facilitator is more like 10 people than one, exhibiting a broad spectrum of personalities as needed in order to get the job done. Take a few minutes now to review the following “persona checklist.” Note which personas are your strengths and which are your weaknesses. Then rate yourself on a scale of 1-10 to determine which areas you need to work on.

1. Conductor: A skilled brainstorm facilitator knows how to orchestrate powerfully creative output from a seemingly dissonant group of people. In the conductor mode, the facilitator makes sure to include everyone, evokes even the subtlest contributions from the least experienced member and demonstrates their commitment to the whole by offering immediate feedback to anyone who tends to get lost in their own song.

2. Alchemist: A good brainstorm facilitator is able to transmute lead into gold — or in modern terms — knows how to help people “get the lead out.” This talent requires an element of wizardry –- the ability to see without looking, feel without touching, and intuitively know that within each brainstormer lives a hidden genius just waiting to get out.

3. Dancer: Light on their feet, brainstorm facilitators move gracefully through the process of sparking ideas. Able to go from the cha cha to the polka to the whirling dervish spinning of a brainstorm group on fire, enlightened facilitators are willing to take bold steps when necessary, even when there is no visible ground underfoot. “The path is made by walking on it” is their motto.

4. Mad Scientist: An impassioned experimenter, the brainstorm facilitator often takes on the crazed (but grandfatherly) look of an Einstein in heat. While respecting the realm of logic and the rational -– the ground upon which most scientists build their homes -– the enlightened facilitator is willing to throw it all out the window in the hope of triggering a “happy accident” or a quantum leap of the imagination. Indeed, it is often these non-linear moments that produce the kind of breakthrough thinking which logic can only describe, never actually elicit itself.

5. Diamond Cutter: Fully recognizing the precious gem of the human imagination (as well as the delicacy required to set it free) the skilled brainstorm facilitator is a craftsman par excellence. Focused. Precise. Dedicated. Able to get to the heart of the matter in a single stroke without leaving anything or anyone damaged in the process.

6. Actor: Brainstorm facilitators are “on stage” whether they like it or not. All eyes are upon them, as well as all the potential critical reviews humanly possible. More often than not, the facilitator’s audience will only be moved to act (perchance to dream) if they believe the facilitator is completely into his or her role. If the audience does not suspend this kind of disbelief, the play will close early and everyone will wish they were back home watching TV.

7. Environmentalist: Brainstorm facilitators are the original recyclers. In their relentless pursuit of finding value in the human imagination, they waste absolutely nothing. No thought, no idea, no inkling of a possibility is trashed without being acknowledged for some alternative use, some previously undetected possibility. To the enlightened facilitator, there is no such thing as a bad idea, only ideas whose usefulness have not yet been fully explored.

8. Officer of the Law: It is one of the brainstorm facilitator’s most important jobs to enforce law and order once the group gets roaring down the open highway of the imagination. This is a fine art — for in this territory, speeding is encouraged, as is running red lights, jaywalking, and occasionally breaking and entering. Just as thieves have their code of honor, however, so too should brainstormers. It is the facilitator’s task to keep this code intact — a task made infinitely easier by the ritual of stating the ground rules at the beginning of a session, and the periodic reinforcement of them as the session proceeds.

9. Servant: Some brainstorm facilitators, intoxicated by the group energy and their own newly stimulated imagination, use their position as a way to foist their ideas on others — or worse, manipulate the group into their way of thinking. Oops! brainstorm facilitating is a service, not a personal platform. It is supposed to be a selfless act that enables others to arrive at their own solutions -– however different they may be from the facilitator’s.

10. Stand-up Comic: Humor is one of the brainstorm facilitator’s most powerful tools. It dissolves boundaries, helps participants get unstuck, and shifts perspective just enough to encourage everyone to open their eyes to new ways of thinking. Trained facilitators are always on the lookout for humorous responses. They know that humor often signals some of the most promising ideas, and that giggles, guffaws, and laughable side talk frequently indicate a rich vein of ideas to explore. Humor also makes the facilitator more likable which makes the group more amenable to the facilitator’s direction as the session proceeds. Ever wonder why the words “Aha!” and “ha ha” are so similar?

Mitchell Ditkoff is president of Idea Champions.

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