There are 5 new posts in "Jeffrey Cufaude, Idea Architects"
“Timing is everything” they say. If so, sitting in a busy Starbucks on a Thursday afternoon is not exactly the best time to find yourself with tears streaming down your face.
Mind you, this was not exactly the café community experience I envisioned when stopping off today for a latte and to sort through some old files. In doing so, I ran across the full-page ad I had clipped for a special Annie Leibovitz series of photographs that American Express commissioned more than a decade ago.
It was at this inauspicious moment that I began to quietly cry uncontrollably. And the catalyst for all this unexpected emotion was a simple photo of the now-deceased Congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, of Texas, in her wheelchair and wrapped in an American flag.
That damn photo, no bigger than a business card, latched on to my heart like a magnet and simply would not let go. And the price it required in order for me to get back to sorting through other papers was a most simple one … tears. Lots of them. In combination with periodic gentle sobs, swipes at my eyes, and a little full body trembling for good measure.
I never met Barbara Jordan. I have read only a little about her life. I vaguely remember watching the television broadcast of her speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. But she epitomizes for me the essence of democracy, grace, and leadership. Just look at some of her oft-quoted observations:
“The majority of the American people still believe that every single individual in this country is entitled to just as much respect, just as much dignity, as every other individual.”
“Justice of right is always to take precedence over might.”
“What the people want is simple. They want an America as good as its promise.”
Seeing her photo allowed me to hear her booming voice, so eloquent in its rhetoric, so powerful, confident, and uplifting in its cadence.
And so I cried … some tears for Barbara Jordan and the class with which she exercised political leadership … but the biggest tears were reserved for the power of her beliefs in the dignity of every individual and the power of America’s promise.
As a people we can, and should, be so much better. As an individual person, I can, and should, be so much better.
As the last few days of political posturing have demonstrated, we desperately need more individuals like Barbara Jordan to model the way, to remind us to be as good as our promise ... individually, as a nation, and to and for the world. Too many of our leaders fail us as they fail to bring dignity to our discourse.
As I finished my coffee I couldn't be quite sure whether I had been crying for the past or shedding tears for our future.
The past two weeks have found me held hostage in more poorly organized, under-managed, and enthusiasm-draining meetings than any human being should have to endure. In this day and age it is simply unacceptable to ask volunteers and our staff colleagues to share their valuable time and to then misuse it in such a manner.
If your meetings are plagued by underwhelming results and lack the spirit needed to promote creativity and innovation, the following five practical pointers might help.
Change the players.
Creativity is often enhanced by involving a pool of individuals other than the usual suspects in your meetings. Bring in “wild cards,” individuals not tied to your department or organization, but who are known to be good thinkers. During the meeting use social media and other online channels to cast a wider net for input and feedback. Involve people who will bring different perspectives without any of the preconceived assumptions that the regular attendees might have. So long as you have unity of purpose you can honor and tap into a diversity of perspectives.
Change the place.
Behavior is a function of how people interact with their environment (Kurt Lewin), so you can elicit different behavior by changing the environment or changing the people. Use different settings to send messages about what a meeting is designed to accomplish. Quick stand-up meetings in an open area suggest fast idea generation and getting back to business. On-line meetings suggest tapping into talents of people geographically dispersed. A meeting outside the office often suggests an attempt to free yourself from regular work constraints.
Change the process.
Though meetings occur for different reasons, many organizations use a “one size fits all” approach to managing the process for all their meetings. Sessions specifically designed to elicit creativity and innovation need to be intentionally structured to do so using appropriate creative and collaborative thinking techniques and facilitation styles. Similarly you should adjust your discussion process for those agenda items that are part of a longer meeting agenda if they are meant to foster new thinking.
Change the power.
Power ripples throughout organizations and meetings in a variety of ways affecting who says what … to whom … and how it gets said. A creative and innovative mindset in meetings requires a more dispersed power structure that spreads the wealth and reduced fear of intimidation or retribution by either personal or positional power. Pay attention to room settings, small group participant distribution, reporting out mechanisms, idea collection techniques, who’s facilitating, and much more as you examine and try to adjust the power quotient in your meetings.
Change the pace.
We can foster greater creativity and innovation in meetings both by speeding up and slowing down the thinking process. We can speed it up by interjecting short bursts of creative thinking techniques that challenge us to maximize our idea generation in a compressed period of time (i.e., 5-10 minutes). We can speed up the thinking by having on-line discussions (or individually completed worksheets) prior to ever coming together in person to make a decision or react to the advance thinking. We can slow the process down by separating the idea generation process from the decision-making process, allowing ample time to reflect and incubate between the two.
What other shifts have you found helpful to refresh the creative conversations in your meetings?
If only training and professional development experiences could mirror the imaginative thoughtfulness of my landscape design. Imagine participating in a program where you were part of a steady, but constant unfolding of awareness, insight, and new learning. Your curiosity would be awakened, your senses and interest would be engaged, and your contributions to the experience would be heightened.
How rare these experiences are, however. Much of what is billed as “high impact learning” at many conferences amounts to little more than talking head panel presentations with some discussion groups thrown in as an afterthought. I know when it comes to learning styles that there are different strokes for different folks. In fact, I can recall many a time when I sat with rapt attention listening and learning from a masterful storyteller, lecturing for hours on end with nary a visual aid or handout. But those successful spellbinders are few and far between.
Our efforts need more attention during the design process. To begin we need to more clearly identify the learning questions to be explored and the learning outcomes worth achieving. We then need to prioritize the key points to be made in the content. Time is not endless, and if I hear one more presenter begin a session with “If only I had more time, we could talk about ____” I may need someone to post bail for me. It is incumbent upon the program designer (and sponsor) to design for the time available. Having clearly prioritized pieces of content makes that more manageable.
After all this has been done, we need to spend far more time exploring the truly endless number of discussions, exercises, and other teaching techniques that can be used during the session. Once techniques are identified for all of the individual segments, the overall program design needs to be examined through several lenses: (1) the lens of content flow: does the flow of discussions and points being made have an appropriate logic or order to it? (2) the lens of attention: do the various techniques employed ensure a sufficient variety and level of interaction to capture attention; (3) the lens of learning: have enough learning checkpoints been built in so participants can reflect and capture their new insights?
While this may seem an ominous task, I would suggest program participants deserve nothing less. I guess I could have skipped the landscape architect’s effort and simply thrown a bag of wildflower seeds into the ground. I’m sure some seeds would have grown into something nice, but a whole lot of ithen would probably have become weeds.
So the next time you get ready to sponsor or present a program, put on your kneepads and bury your hands in the real dirt of program design. It will produce a much prettier result.
You can download a simple planning template I use to design my own sessions that captures the steps outlined above.
Retailers have long understood the value of samples and two-fers.
When Procter and Gamble was introducing their home dry cleaning product, Dryel, they shipped free samples to thousands of sorority houses, a target market they perceived as being a natural fit for the new product. Visit any Sam's Club or Costco on a Saturday and you can essentially eat a complete meal if you accept samples given at the end of almost every aisle. On the two-fer side, don’t be surprised if that cleaning product you just bought at Target has a sample of another product shrink-wrapped in with the item you purchased.
Both of these marketing approaches relate to a simple concept: when we've got your attention we want to imbue it with meaning beyond just this moment.
In our time-pressed world, organizations would be wise to extend this concept deeper into their products and services mix. A continuing education workshop could also include a social or networking component. The evaluation form for that workshop can also be turned into a marketing tool by offering a discount to a future program if registration is completed at that very moment.
The possibilities are endless. A board or staff meeting could also include a needs assessment component by having participants work the phones and call members or customers randomly to solicit their ideas and feedback. By getting answers to a few simple questions that could be used to guide future offerings, a membership application or renewal form also becomes a marketing research tool. An evaluation form volunteers use to offer feedback on their experiences also becomes a referral tool if it solicits the names of individuals they suggest contacting about getting involved.
In terms of sampling, we could learn from the example of many software or online service providers.
It is not unusual for either to offer a 30-day free trial at the end of which your credit card will automatically be charged the full product price unless you cancel in advance. The key is to get the actual registration and purchase decision made upfront as a part of committing to try the product, not making people register and buy at the end of their trial period. That approach is far less likely to lead to new sales or memberships.
We need to become more adept at maximizing and leveraging the attention of our information-weary target audiences any time we actually get individuals to perk up and take notice. Expanding an initial action or commitment on their part into additional choices can deepen the relationship we have with them over time.
To put this into practice in your organization, the next time you are planning a meeting or event or designing a response or order form, consider how you might use the moment to elicit more commitment or action in support of your organization’s goals and objectives.
"So here's the thing," the server said. Today's special is a great value for the price and it's really good. But even though you can get it every day, the chopped vegetarian salad is really, really good. I mean, it is really special. So if it was me, I'd forget what's on special and order the thing that is really special."
I ordered the salad.
"You chose well," said my server with a bit of a smug grin on his face.
Here's the thing. While value shoppers will always be looking to get a good special, a good deal, it commoditizes what we do.
The real opportunity is creating everyday items that in and of themselves are so full of value that they are experienced as special by whomever purchases and uses them.
And it can be as simple as asking "What are we going to do to make this effort extra special?" for all of our work.
So when it comes to specials, what's your choice going to be for your work and the value you create?
Excellent. You chose well.
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I specialize in the design and facilitation of highly engaging learning experiences (individual workshops, retreats, or complete conferences), compelling keynotes, and teaching presentation and facilitation skills to subject matter experts
to enhance their competence and confidence.