Brainstorming the business of how to make your horse thirsty….. and more.

Do you remember me talking about the power of a group in my last blog? If you didn’t get a chance to read it it’s here.

By way of a little follow up of the event I did for International Women’s Day, I thought I’d update you on how it all went and how we used the Brainstorm Booth to move forward with a few problems.

Brainstorm

The mini workshops were designed to enable participants (women at The Enterprise Network‘s conference for International Women’s Day) to bring along a problem to solve. Each session was an hour, which in itself presented a small conundrum to me – that old problem of time. How do you brainstorm 9 different problems in an hour?

The answer is you don’t. And you don’t get a fully fledged start to finish problem solving session. For that you need a far longer time frame – one where you can unpick problems slowly, piece by piece and bring them together in a way that gives you step by step actions to follow. When I facilitate in house with a group, perhaps to brainstorm ideas to move forwards with a project, or to think of ways to add value to a piece of work, we have at least half a day (a whole day if I’m lucky). But this was a taster, a mini workshop and chance to see just what was possible in an hour.

So, in the first place, not everyone had a particular problem to solve. Some people had come just to be a part of the discussion. For those that did, we started by presenting the problems, and then taking a look at whether there were any that shared some similarities. By pulling them all together, we realised that there were indeed issues that gelled together and that would benefit from being tackled in a broad sense by the same small group.

So that’s what we did, we set out the issues then pulled them together, gave them a heading and cracked on with the discussions in small groups.

Our two groups in the first session had the problems:

How to make your horse thirsty

AND

How to grow our businesses.

The second session discussed:

Appealing to different customers/potential employees

AND

What was important to start up a business and create a strategy

I probably need to explain the thirsty horse…..one of the participants told us a story based on the expression “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. Just like running a business, you can give people all sorts of information and tell them that your product or service is amazing. But you need them to want what you’re offering to become your customer. You need to make the horse thirsty. So team horse, were discussing ways to attract new customers and have quality engagement with them.

I facilitated the workshop so the participants could work through a process that I had designed for them, enabling each group came up with some brilliant ideas which they distilled into a handful of top tips. The sharing of thoughts, experiences and knowledge and the collaborative working to generate ideas really made the discussion valuable. Everyone seemed invested in the process and there was a wonderful energy in the room. These elements are some of the key ingredients for a good workshop, whatever its size.

There were some wonderful top tips that came out of the session, including:

Building up face to face relationships, being persistent and keeping on touch with potential leads to make the horse thirsty. Knowing your market and starting with a vision in mind for starting up a business and creating a strategy.

But it was much more that the things that were written down. It’s the process of the discussion itself that was powerful. Those little nuggets of information that come up, those shared stories, that confirmation that you are not alone in your dilemmas, that acknowledgement that running a business is not easy, but that we can share our insights and inspiration to move forwards.

A good brainstorm though, should not end there. It’s not about throwing the balls in the air, talking about them and leaving. It’s about what you do next. I gave each of the participants a shiny lightbulb to write down their best idea from the workshop, something to take away on act on, to remind them of the discussion and to create some continuity of the hard work everyone put it.

Shiny idea

Thank you to all the participants in both my workshops. You invested your time and energy into the sessions and made them a wonderful experience to be a part of.

What are your tops tips to make your horse thirsty?

 

 

Are you getting enough from your brainstorm?

Do you love a good brainstorm?

I do.

It’s a great way to collect a plethora of ideas together in one place, whether thoughts from a super creative and overflowing mind or the result of collective input from a group. It’s a common enough technique, and simple to do.

Idea

 

But there are most definitely things that you can do to make sure you get the most out of your brainstorm, and to make it more effective, at least in the group sense. Let’s leave aside for a moment the lone brainstorm. I am partial to “brainstorming myself”, and use it to:

  • Offload a myriad of thoughts floating around my head that need to be captured and contained somewhere, usually on a piece of flipchart paper.
  • Organise that information in a way that I might be able to make use of it effectively. Once it’s recorded then I can start to reflect and decide how to act upon the content.
  • Perhaps generate some more ideas to clarify, modify or add to the ones that I have just “stormed”.

That’s more or less what a brainstorm is – eliciting information from inside the complex systems that are our minds. Doing it alone can be tricky. Doing it in a group is far more effective, but not without its pitfalls.

So how can we make a group brainstorm work well?

Brain

The first thing to pay attention to is WHY you are doing the brainstorm in the first place.

Obviously you are asking people for ideas, thoughts and suggestions, but sometimes a brainstorm is used primarily as a discussion starter. In this sense you might be less worried about the answers people give, and more interested in the discussion itself. A brainstorm used in this way may be most effective at the start of a workshop where you are teaching people something new; a training session. Before giving your participants the “right answers” you are opening up, stimulating ideas and helping people engage with the topic.

You may however really need to find out and gather particular knowledge from the people in the room. For example if you are looking for ideas to save costs on a project, or answers to a specific problem, you are looking to the participants for some answers. While the brainstorm has the same function of stimulating discussion and engaging people, its main aim is to elicit the ideas from the people in the room. The ideas, knowledge and experience held by the participants are what you are really after. They can provide information on a certain topic which may then be built upon and investigated in more depth later on in the session. This is more common in a meeting or facilitated workshop where the main purpose is not to teach people new things, but to help them to share what they know.

Whatever the main thrust of your brainstorm, it is important to make sure you know exactly what you are asking of people and make your questions clear.

If you manage your brainstorm well, then you will get all sorts of ideas flowing. A good brainstorm will not only help people to share their insights and knowledge, but help ignite the sparks of new ideas and produce fantastic gems of information. This is when a brainstorm can become truly valuable. It moves beyond simply asking people to offer up an answer, or even stimulating a discussion. It is about really enriching that discussion, broadening it out and creating a result that is so much bigger that the individual ideas on their own.

WHAT you do with the information elicited very much depends on the aim of your brainstorm in the first place. But, the more in depth and targeted the process, the greater the flow of ideas and the more extensive the possibilities will be for your next steps.

A brainstorm is far more that a brain dump. It is far more than collecting and recording information. It is far more than finding out what people think. It can be the start of something quite exciting, a voyage of discovery. But as with many of the simplest things; the devil is in the detail, so make sure you think about what you need!

If you want to get more from your brainstorms:

Get my top tips, by signing up below!

OR

To get your workshops in much better shape, include a great brainstorm and really get some ideas and discussions flowing then click here to find out more about my “how to” workshops!

 

 

What is a Workshop Anyway?

Someone asked me a very important question the other day, one I think that a lot of people ask but perhaps not enough.

It’s something we discuss in my Workshop Essentials workshop, at the start, in brainstorm fashion. It’s a good place to start when you are doing a workshop on workshops and what’s not to like about a good brainstorm?

The question was:

“What is a workshop anyway?”

Well, let’s see……..

The fruits of our discussion on that workshop were comforting, they showed that even though we had yet to really dig into the workshop, everyone seemed to be thinking along similar lines:

  • Everyone joining in
  • Participants thinking
  • Trying out new things – practical
  • Group participation
  • Do stuff and talk
  • Ideas generation
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Self discovery session
  • Builds confidence
  • An interactive way to deliver training
  • Interactive
  • Coming away with something
  • Learning by doing
  • Catering to individual needs
  • Learning session
  • Learning in a memorable way
What is a workshop

What is a Workshop Anyway?

 

The keys points for the group were all about interactivity, learning, participation and doing. I would say that sums it up pretty well really and somehow captured what it feels like to be in a good workshop!

A workshop can, in a sense be what we want it to be. It depends on what your workshop is about, how many people are in it, where you are doing it and what types of materials you will use. Workshops can vary enormously in type and style and size and function. And they can be called many different things so that by the time you have this large combination of variables, it does become a difficult thing to define.

By way of an explanation, rather than a definition I would say that:

“A workshop has become a catch all term for a group learning experience where one person trains, facilitates or hosts the participants”.

But while the outer edges have become blurry, the exact definition rather intangible, there are some key ingredients and a balance at the heart of a workshop that you need to get right to make it work.

One of these key facets is its participatory and interactive nature. The participants take on an active role in their learning, thinking and doing. You are not talking at them, you are not presenting, you are not just informing. You are involving people. And when people are involved and actively listening, questioning, taking on what you (and each other) are saying, then they are getting the most out of the workshop. They are learning as they go along, making the workshop their own, contributing and shaping it. They are not just taking away a collection of facts to put together later, but learning while doing.

Workshop Essentials

Workshop Discussion

So perhaps it’s not a definition we need but a picture, a mental image of something that we feel we are part of, where active participation is a crucial element. It’s not always easy to achieve, and getting people involved, making sure you have the right balance and introducing the right structure and process to do so does involve a bit of work. But if you know what you are aiming for, then you are half way there. Think of the people in your workshop as working with you and you can devise and create something that may very well be “an interactive way to deliver training” where people “do stuff and talk” in the very best way.

If you’d like to know about how to make your workshops more participatory and interactive then take a look look here.

Are you a groupie?

I spend a lot of my time planning, preparing, organising and generally trying to work through the processes that I need to, to get things done. I can frequently be found surrounded by pieces of paper and pens, scribbling down ideas, drawing up lists or tables, and creating templates and plans.

On the one hand I like the mental space of me and my pen, sometimes flip chart and often my keyboard, writing down ideas, considering, cogitating, reflecting and polishing, untangling my thoughts so that they look the way that I want. I like to get my ideas down and to lay them out in a way that enables me to think, to create solutions and concrete plans. It’s important to have this time, and I enjoy the introspection. There is no one to tell me I am wrong, disturb my patterns of thought or tell me which direction I need to go in. I am guided, moderated and powered by myself.

I can in this way do what I want to do.

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What does it mean – OBJECTIVE?

When you’re planning what you want to do and where you want to go, whether organisationally or individually starting with the vision and the mission sets out where you want to be and define what it is you are doing. The goals that you set in line with these, then allow you to outline the targets to achieving these. But at some point, you will need to get down to the detail, to decide exactly how, when and where you are going to activate these plans. Before you launch straight into the activities however, there is an in between step; setting the objectives.

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