Why Hire a Facilitator?




A facilitator can make or break a planning session. By using an experienced facilitator in the right situations, you will almost certainly accomplish more in your meetings, delve deeper into critical issues and resolve them. Equally important, participants will leave with positive feelings, stronger cohesiveness, a sense of accomplishment and a renewed belief in the team. Leaders who are charged with creating and executing a strategic vision have found the presence of a well-qualified facilitator essential to keeping participants objective, open, creative and, above all, on track.

Why hire a facilitator?

Planning discussions can be painful and difficult. They involve personal values and goals, deeply held beliefs about the nature of an organization and where it’s going, and maybe different perspectives on the marketplace and industry. With this type of discussion, people may have values or goals that conflict with those of others participating in the planning process.

Having a well-designed process to guide the group can reduce the barriers that prevent a team’s ability to take the objective, long-term overview that strategy requires.

By using a facilitator:

  • Strategic discussions are richer and focused on strategy
  • Conversations are focused, not on the past but rather forward and on the vision of the organization
  • Discussion stays focused on the “big picture” rather than wallowing too deeply in the weeds
  • Thinking is open and creative without barriers
  • Specific priorities and actions are detailed

Selecting a facilitator

Select a facilitator with the ability to:

  • Articulate key strategic concepts
  • Provide strategic direction
  • Willingness and expertise to tackle “sacred cows”
  • Focus on strategic issues and not be overwhelmed with the tactics
  • Keep the energy level high and momentum moving for a successful meeting

Contact Cindy Diamond at IGNiTE to discuss whether it makes sense for us to facilitate your next important meeting!

Explore the Fuzzy Front End of Innovation


The IGNiTE process is all about exploring the fuzzy front end of innovation.  This article, referencing a study from Booz & Company, confirms that successful innovators engage in the front end of innovation by engaging directly with consumers. We’ve known for a long time that this works — but it’s nice to see research confirming our approach! 

Happy Innovating!

Cindy Diamond, IGNiTE

Booz & Company’s annual global study of R&D spending reveals that successful innovators bring clarity to the early stage of innovation. It’s when companies generate ideas and decide which ones to develop.

Just 43 percent of participants said they were highly effective in generating new ideas. And only 36 percent felt the same way about converting ideas to development projects. Altogether,only a quarter of all companies indicated they were highly effective at the front end of innovation. Which is a shocking conclusion.

There are three fundamental innovation strategies. You can categorize companies as Need Seekers, Market Readers, or Technology Drivers. Booz & Company describes them as follows:

1. Need Seekers, such as Apple and Procter & Gamble, make a point of engaging customers directly to generate new ideas. They develop new products and services based on superior end-user understanding.

2. Market Readers, such as Hyundai and Caterpillar, use a variety of means to generate ideas by closely monitoring their markets, customers, and competitors, focusing largely on creating value through incremental innovations.

3. Technology Drivers, such as Google and Bosch, depend heavily on their internal technological capabilities to develop new products and services.

The 2011 study confirms that following a Need Seekers strategy offers the greatest potential for superior performance in the long term. Fifty percent of respondents who defined their companies as Need Seekers said their companies were effective at both the ideation and conversion stages of innovation compared with just 12 percent of Market Readers and 20 percent of Technology Drivers. These are the same companies, by and large, that consistently outperform financially.

So need seeking is essential, because a good innovation is a simple solution to a relevant customer need.

But what does a need look like? I like to inspire you with 10 relevant needs and innovative new products or services solving them.

Need and problem New solution
Business developer: I need new customers. How do I expand my business network in an efficient way? LinkedIn
Music lovers: I love to listen to music (for free) but I hate to be a pirate downloading it illegally. Spotify
Consumer cleaning: I am sick and tired of a bad performing vacuum cleaners Dyson cyclone vacuum cleaner
Consumer: Is this bed clean and free of bugs I can hardly see? The Bed Bug Detective
Snow boarder: I like to go down hill fast but I am afraid for nasty accidents. The Katal Landing Pad
Consumer painting: If there is one thing that really annoys me, it’s cleaning used brushers and rollers. Dulux PaintPod
Green consumer: I hate spilling water and money flushing a toilet. Brondell Perfect Flush
People in disaster areas: due to flooding we lack clean drinking water. Filtrix Filterpen
Full time mother: Now the kids are getting bigger, I like to re-enter the workforce, but who is waiting for me out there? Work4Women
Green consumer: I love to celebrate Christmas with a real tree, but don’t like destroying nature. Lease a living Christmas tree

As a good customer understanding is essential, how do you discover relevant unmet needs? And how do you incorporate need seeking in your idea generation process?


40 Reasons Why People Struggle with Innovation


As facilitators, we know that getting people to embrace innovation can be difficult. There are many obstacles that must work to clear.  This list identifies MANY of those obstacles.  You might use this list to identify the roadblocks that might come up with a team you are facilitating and develop specific processes that work through it.

 The following list of forty reasons why people struggle with innovation in their companies in daily practice was compiled by Gijs Van Wulfen based on responses to questions he posted to LinkedIn groups.
Are there others that you would add? Let’s continue the conversation!

A. Culture

  • We are uncertain if we can be creative and come up with ideas.
  • How do we change our existing habits?
  • There are too little ideas because people don’t dare to think innovative any more.
  • A lot of people are lazy, just copying others work.
  • There is a substantial lack of curiosity among people in our company.
  • How to get key people in our organization aware of the need for innovation?
  • People don’t really believe that innovation is truly going to happen.
  • We lack the ability to invoke change, the ability to change the mindset of we’ve always done it that way.
  • We do not have the guts (mind power) to bring an idea.
  • Our past innovations were not successful and have cost a lot of money. This blocks new initiatives.
  • Our short-term mindset overrules the long-term mindset and vision to innovate.
  • There is no vision where we want to go in the future as a company.

B. Uncertainty

  • Ideas are too ambitious therefore we can’t imagine how they ever will be feasible.
  • It’s very hard to imagine the future.
  • We fear failure.
  • Those in our company that don’t understand the idea or new product will attack and ridicules the newness of it.
  • The critical thing at the front end in our company is the demonstration of the positive bottom-line impact of the new service or product.

C. Support

  • The hardest part of beginning an innovation is trying to get the support for the idea of innovation.
  • How do I share my ideas with others in the company efficient?
  • How to create sponsorship for innovation at the top?
  • How to communicate ideas to the right people?
  • How do you convince each internal stakeholder they benefit from innovation?
  • Negativity – “we tried it x numbers of ago, it does not work in our environment” – is the biggest stumbling block in our company.
  • How do we get consensus on a solution from majority of the stakeholders?

D. Market Insights

  • Often customers don’t even know themselves what they would want or benefit from.
  • We struggle to get inside the head of the purchaser of the product or service.
  • How to uncover the true customer need?

E. Process & Tools

  • Our innovation process is not well organized.
  • There are too many ideas from which it is hard to choose.
  • We do not stick to the original idea. Instead we take often the easier way.
  • How do we decide what is a good idea?
  • How do you filter ideas and at what point in the process do you throw out ideas?
  • Everyone is talking about innovation, but few know what to start doing differently to make it happen.
  • How do we select of the right technology/platform?
  • It is difficult to translate the results of user studies into the language of technology development.

G. Team

  • How do we guide the new product development team so that their ideas are in line with the company’s strategy?
  • We do not have the right people in the room for the opportunity.
  • Ideas are stopped because we do not have resources related to the needed talent.
  • It is challenging for us to get internal teams to think beyond what made our company successful thus far.

Of course this is not a scientific proven list. I see it more as ‘a cry for help’ from innovation practitioners in their daily work.

Happy Holidays!


The Importance of Focus, Time Constrained Tasks and Energy Breaks


A good reminder by  HBR contributor Tony Schwartz about the importance of staying focused on one task at a time, allocating time within which to complete a task, and taking energy breaks.  As all facilitators know, longer days do not equal more productive sessions. Better planning is the only way to accomplish more in less time.

Four Destructive Myths Most Companies Still Live By

11:17 AM Tuesday November 1, 2011

Myth #1: Multitasking is critical in a world of infinite demand.

This myth is based on the assumption that human beings are capable of doing two cognitive tasks at the same time. We’re not. Instead, we learn to move rapidly between tasks. When we’re doing one, we’re actually not even aware of the other.

If you’re on a conference call, for example, and you turn your attention to an incoming email, you’re missing what’s happening on the call as long as you’re checking your email. Equally important, you’re incurring something called “switching time.” That’s the time it takes to shift from one cognitive activity to another.

On average, according to researcher David Meyer, switching time increases the amount of time it takes to finish the primary task you were working on by an average of 25 percent. In short, juggling activities is incredibly inefficient.

Difficult as it is to focus in the face of the endless distractions we all now face, it’s far and away the most effective way to get work done. The worst thing you can do as a boss is to insist that your people constantly check their email.

Myth #2: A little bit of anxiety helps us perform better.

Think for a moment about how you feel when you’re performing at your best. What adjectives come to mind? Almost invariably they’re positive ones. Anxiety may be a source of energy, and even motivation, but it comes with significant costs.

The more anxious we feel, the less clearly and imaginatively we think, and the more reactive and impulsive we become. That’s not good for you, and it also has huge implications if you’re in a supervisory role.

As a boss, your energy has a disproportionate impact on those you lead, by virtue of your authority. Put bluntly, any time your behavior increases someone’s anxiety — or prompts any negative emotions, for that matter — they’re less likely to perform effectively.

The more positive your energy is, the more positive their energy is likely to be, and the better the likely outcome.

Myth #3: Creativity is genetically inherited, and it’s impossible to teach.

In a global economy characterized by unprecedented competitiveness and constant change, nearly every CEO hungers for ways to drive more innovation. Unfortunately, most CEOs don’t think of themselves as creative, and they share with the rest of us a deeply ingrained belief that creativity is mostly inborn and magical.

Ironically, researchers have developed a surprising degree of consensus about the stages of creativity and how to approach them. Our educational system and most company cultures favor reward the rational, analytic, deductive left hemisphere thinking. We pay scant attention to intentionally cultivating the more visual, intuitive, big picture capacities of the right hemisphere.

As it turns out, the creative process moves back and forth between left and right hemisphere dominance. Creativity is actually about using the whole brain more flexibly. This process unfolds in a far more systematic — and teachable — way than we ordinarily imagine. People can quickly learn to access the hemisphere of the brain that serves them best at each stage of the creative process — and to generate truly original ideas.

Myth #4: The best way to get more work done is to work longer hours.

No single myth is more destructive to employers and employees than this one. The reason is that we’re not designed to operate like computers — at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time.

Instead, human beings are designed to pulse intermittently between spending and renewing energy. Great performers — and enlightened leaders — recognize that it’s not the number of hours people work that determines the value they create, but rather the energy they bring to whatever hours they work.

Rather than systematically burning down our reservoir of energy as the day wears on, as most of us do, intermittent renewal makes it possible to keep our energy steady all day long. Strategically alternating periods of intense focus with intermittent renewal, at least every 90 minutes, makes it possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably.

Want to test the assumption? Choose the most challenging task on your agenda before you go to sleep each night over the next week. Set aside 60 to 90 minutes at the start of the following day to focus on the activity you’ve chosen.

Choose a designated start and stop time, and do your best to allow no interruptions. (It helps to turn off your email.) Succeed and it will almost surely be your most productive period of the day. When you’re done, reward yourself by taking a true renewal break.

Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebook and connect with Tony at Twitter.com/TonySchwartz and Twitter.com/Energy_Project.


Brainstorming: Finding the Next Big Idea


Finding the Next Big Idea — IGNiTE Presentation

Feel free to download the attached presentation (pdf format) for essential facilitator tools and techniques.

The key to successful facilitation is providing structure and process tools to help groups think through issues, brainstorm solutions and evaluate  alternatives. I’ve attached a presentation I created called “Brainstorming: Finding the Next Big Idea.”  I hope you will find a useful tool or technique in here that you can apply to your work as a formal or informal facilitator.

Cindy Diamond,  Principal, Strategist & Facilitator

IGNiTE – Fueling Creativity and Innovation

Try These Focus Groups with an Insightful Twist!


Debate-style focus groups are a great way to learn more about consumer preferences. This style of focus groups amps up the disparities between product supporters and detractors or heavy users and light/non-users by putting them in the same room and asking them to debate your product’s merit vs. other options!

Debate style focus groups require two groups of consumers to come in at the same time. The process begins with a brief discussion with each group in separate rooms with a moderator  (i.e. heavy users in one room and non-users in the 2nd room). The moderators work with each of the groups to form the basis of their debate arguments. The groups are then brought together in one room to debate the topic at hand (for example, “Apple makes the best laptop computers for business professionals” may be the topic debated). One group will agree and the other disagree. The arguments that come out provide a deeper understanding of the category benefits,  how your product performs in that category, key product and category drivers, consumer perceptions and attitudes about your product and others in the category, etc. The moderators’ role during the debate is to keep the discussion genuine, probe on key issues and encourage group participation.  At the conclusion of the debate, the groups return to their separate rooms to debrief with their respective moderators on what was most convincing from the other side and which of their arguments they felt held up and which did not.

Debate-style focus groups provide a new level of insight and understanding you are unlikely to get from traditional focus groups. It’s also highly engaging and entertaining for the people observing in the back room!

IGNiTE your team with new consumer insights!

Cindy Diamond, President

IGNiTE, facilitating creativity and innovation

Creativity and the Spaces We Work In


We all know the impact that the space we work in has on our productivity and creativity. As facilitators and participants in group process, we feel great when we have light, air and space to move around. It helps us think more creatively and keep our energy high. Now, there’s scientific research that backs this up. This interesting article in the Wall Street Journal confirms what we know intuitively — the space we work in strongly impacts the job we do and even our physical health!

Here’s to great creative spaces!

Cindy Diamond

Building a Thinking Room

Wall Street Journal, Saturday April 30th by Jonah Lehrer

For thousands of years, people have talked about architecture in terms of aesthetics. Whether discussing the symmetry of the Parthenon or the cladding on the latest Manhattan skyscraper, they focus first on how the buildings look, on their particular surfaces and style.

Today, it turns out, the real cutting edge of architecture has to do with the psychology of buildings, not just their appearance. Recently, scientists have begun to focus on how architecture and design can influence our moods, thoughts and health. They’ve discovered that everything—from the quality of a view to the height of a ceiling, from the wall color to the furniture—shapes how we think.

Recently, for example, researchers at Ohio State University and the National Institute of Mental Health tracked 60 white-collar workers at a government facility in the central U.S. Some had been randomly assigned to an old office building, with low ceilings and loud air-conditioners. The rest got to work in a recently renovated space filled with skylights and open cubicles.

[JOHNA]Millenium Images

For the next 17 months, the scientists tracked various metrics of emotional well-being, such as heart-rate variability and levels of stress hormone. They discovered that people working in the older building were significantly more stressed, even when they weren’t at work. The scientists said the effect was big enough to be a potential risk factor for heart disease.

But spaces can also help us to become more creative and attentive. In 2009, psychologists at the University of British Columbia studied how the color of a background—say, the shade of an interior wall—affects performance on a variety of mental tasks. They tested 600 subjects when surrounded by red, blue or neutral colors—in both real and virtual environments.

The differences were striking. Test-takers in the red environments, were much better at skills that required accuracy and attention to detail, such as catching spelling mistakes or keeping random numbers in short-term memory.

Though people in the blue group performed worse on short-term memory tasks, they did far better on tasks requiring some imagination, such as coming up with creative uses for a brick or designing a children’s toy. In fact, subjects in the blue environment generated twice as many “creative outputs” as subjects in the red one.

Why? According to the scientists, the color blue automatically triggers associations with openness and sky, while red makes us think of danger and stop signs. (Such associations are culturally mediated, of course; Chinese, for instance, tend to associate red with prosperity and good luck.)

It’s not just color. A similar effect seems to hold for any light, airy space. In 2006, Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota’s school of management, studied the relationship between ceiling height and thinking style. She demonstrated that, when people are in a high-ceilinged room, they’re significantly better at seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated subjects. In one experiment, undergraduates came up with nearly 25% more connections between different sports, such as chess and basketball, when sitting in a loft-like space than in a room with an 8-foot ceiling. Instead of focusing on particulars, they were better able to zoom out and see what various things had in common.

Although we’re only starting to grasp how the insides of buildings influence the insides of the mind, it’s possible to begin prescribing different kinds of spaces for different tasks. If we’re performing a job that requires accuracy and focus (say, copy editing a manuscript), we should seek out confined spaces with a red color scheme. But for tasks that require a little bit of creativity, we seem to benefit from high ceilings, lots of windows and bright blue walls that match the sky.

One day, we might be able to firmly ground the forms of architecture in their mental functions.