Saturday, December 31, 2011

Brainstorming needs Energy!

One of the current trends in corporate ideating is that everyone should be nice and polite and respect all ideas during a "brainstorming" session. To that, I say, "Hogwash!"

Let's dissect the word "brainstorming". Brain is to supposedly use one's brain in some act. In this case the act of "storming". Storming is the act of having a violent weather occurrence. This could imply lightning, rain, snow, thunder, hail, wind, etc.

That kind of weather can make the brain tired and weary.  Not a good thing in and of itself...

I would call brainstorming the act of polite confrontation in order to bring about an idea worth putting time and effort into. If the idea is mush and pap and everyone thinks what  a great thing they've done, then that kind of brainstorming is akin to looking at a mirror when you're completelyt sunburned with your skin peeling off in huge splotches and saying, "Wow, I look great!"

Back in the 80's, I learned brainstorming from a manager at Marsh & McLennan. He said if we don't have fire we can't bake a cake. The cake, in our case, was the idea or process we were trying to make better. We had contentious, fun, tough and very productive sessions. Everyone got a chance to be heard but only if they had something intelligent to say. Not all ideas are worth listening to and the ones who throw random thoughts out without the ability to defend or validate them are just wasting everyone's time.

The goal was not to shut people up. No, it was to force people to think critically and not just throw out idiocies. Ideas or recommendations were questioned and not always gently. The more outlandish an idea the more they would have to prove its relevance and validity.

And, let's not forget that in business, unlike government, ideas matter. Costs are not unlimitted and we have to earn our keep, not collect it. A very different mindset and one I've taught to public employees for many years in my consulting.

Ideas need fire in order to make them real and cooked. Without fire we simply have a meeting of agreement as to the fact that nothing of worth will probably get done. 

Some rules for a brainstorming meeting:

  • Invite people into the meeting who have a clue or a reason for being there. Just because the air is free doesn't mean everyone should be invited. The exception may be to train someone in the art and cooking of a brainstorm.
  • Never be rude or violent. But do be aggressive in your questioning or defense of an idea. If you're not willing to defend it as the idea maker, and the stake-holder is not willing to question toughly, nothing much will be accomplished other than praise for the non0involved when nothing happens.
  • Keep the meetings short, 30 minutes or less. Long meetings waste everyone's time and people lose track of why they're there in the first place.
  • Have someone assume the role of "devil's advocate". Make that person the questioner, the challenger of ideas. This is the person that puts a little heat in the oven. The cake will either rise or collapse. It's much better to have a cake collapse up-front before you try to sell it. 
  • Set clear goals and objectives for the session. 
  • Act on what was decided upon.
  • Get back together and review the results, both good and bad.

I know some may be thinking, "This is barbaric!". Actually, it isn't. It is simply applying some energy in order to make something happen. Remember, you can't really cook a fried egg without heat. And, you can't have great ideas without energy, passion and intention.

And with that note, I close 2012, with a smile and a wish for all of you to have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. Don't be mediocre for that is just a living purgatory. Try to excel and enjoy the fruits of your knowledge and earnings.  Cherish your friends and family and above all, live a good life that allows you to go to bed everynight thinking, "I did well today!"

See you all next year! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

When one loses a friend... Terrence Wing

At about 9pm on December 1, 2011., I received a call from Michelle Winkley, a colleage and associate from the ASTD chapter in Los Angeles. She asked if I had seen Terrence Wing's Facebook page? I told her I hadn't been on Facebook all day. She then asked if I had spoken with Marie? At the moment, I hadn't equated Marie with Terrence and replied no. She informed me that Terrence had passed away earlier that afternoon from a heart attack. My first response was, "Are you kidding?" I was incredulous. Her voice showed no humor and I knew it was real...My entry into shock was a quick one...

I called from my home office to my wife and said, "Terrence just passed away..." My wife replied, "Terrence who?"

No one suspected anything would ever happen to Terrence at the young age of 42. I certainly didn't.  Over the past few years he and I had formed a great friendship and we shared many things in common. We worked on projects, shows, events, and a webcast together.  It was always a pleasant experience.  We talked for hours about politics, eLearning, social media, the military (he was a Captain in the Army) and just about anything else two friends could talk about.

He and I grew up in Queens, NY about 15 years apart. Both came to Los Angeles for different reasons and both had passions in Training, technology and social media. I met him through Trish Uhl who thought we'd make good associates. She was right. I reached out to Terrence via Twitter and we set up a time to have breakfast together in Santa Monica.

Our first meeting was absolutely hilarious! When we met I said, "Hmm, I thougt you were Chinese?" He laughed. "Nope, from the Isalnds" he said. Leslie, my wife, said, "You must be part Chinese...He was laughing.So were we. His picture on Twitter, to us, could have gone either way and "Terrence Wing"  sounded like an Asian name. So much for pre-conceptions. <smile>

In that breakfast, a friendship was formed instantly.

Shortly after that we did some work together and I dragged him into doing voice-over for a course we were doing for GE. He had never done voice-over before but thought it would be fun. And from there we had lots of business and personal interaction.

Two years ago I started an audio podcast named eLearnChat. It wasn't working because YouTube just didn't lend itself to audio podcasts. Also, the audio format just lacked that interactive feel I was looking for. I did some research, invested money to build a small studio and looked for a co-host for the new eLearnChat show. I didn't really look for a host, I called Terrence and asked if he'd join me. The response, after a micro-second of deliberation, was instant from him, "YES!"  And we filmed 39 shows together. Wow! We had a lot of fun doing the shows and I'm convinced he liked the show more than I did.

Last Wednesday, we were talking about new plans for the show, new guests, new ideas. We were having fun trying to make the show more fun for 2012. We also discussed seminars, shows and where to have lunch next...

In the years I've known Terrence I would say he was my newest "old" friend. He was like someone I knew forever and it was an incredibly comfortable relationship... A relationship that ended too soon...

Terrence was one of those people that wanted everyone to succeed, to do better. He made it a point to always recommend someone for something. I think that made him happy. He had a great work ethic and an enormous passion for what he believed in: social learning and media, Training,video and technology. And he placed people first at all times. It was always a fight to see who grabbed the bill first at a meal...

Terrence and I talked several times a week and always had a good time on the show and at shows.  I feel a real black hole in my heart right now. But I know he's at peace and probably starting some sort of initiative for social media in heaven.  He's like that, you know... :)

Terrence leaves behind his sweet wife, Marie. He also leaves behind a lot of people whom he touched with his ideas and that smile, always that smile...

May you rest in peace, Terrence. You won't be forgotten... I salute you, Captain Wing. Thank you for your friendship.