Ideation Facilitators are Part of the Problem – the Jerry Seinfeld Syndrome

Categories: Innovation Insights

The traditional way of collecting ideas is brainstorming. Many firms have found that they require a process to brainstorm, a form of structure, to help them manage people issues and to get higher quality ideas. To achieve this, there is a burgeoning industry of ideation consultants and facilitators.

I am writing this note in the middle of one of the worst facilitated ideation sessions, led by an apparently world-acclaimed expert in ideation. She provided some structure for ideation, explained the rules, and started gathering ideas. She described bad ideation techniques, and encouraged us to do it better. She then proceeded to turn into Jerry Seinfeld, grandstanding at every opportunity, taking over a person’s idea and sharing her own special insights. She listened to the ideas, and used her magic idea-translator pen to write them on her flipchart – you know, someone shouts out an idea, and she writes down something completely different on the board. She disrupted the flow of ideation, criticizing people in mid-sentence.

It was just at this point that I have realized that most of the facilitators I have met and worked with are often part of the problem, not really part of the solution. It is rare to find a facilitator who is truly good at extracting the best from their participants. I know a few (Jonathan Vehar, Charlie Prather and Blair Miller spring to mind), but these are unicorns in a field full of mules.

The best companies have been moving away from facilitated sessions, drawing on new forms of interaction such as the mass participation systems of Idea Management. We may miss the comedy routines, but our sanity may be spared.

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