Productive Thinking in Groups

There’s a mandate in the corporate world that’s been called the Innovation Imperative. In just about any major organization, people hear it several times a day: Innovate or Die.

It’s assumed that people will know what being innovative actually means. And how to do it.

So employees are routinely herded into innovation sessions, where they’re expected to generate new thinking about products or services, corporate structures, or production processes. More often than not, they walk out of those sessions having accomplished very little.

Imagine someone saying to you, “Ok, go run the marathon.” Unless you’d trained for a marathon before, you wouldn’t have a clue what to do first. You wouldn’t know how to train, how to develop yourself, how to eat, how to avoid injuries, or even how to effectively measure your progress.

And yet, that’s exactly the approach most organizations take when they ask people to put their brains into high gear and think differently.

Whether you want to produce high quality running or high quality thinking, you have to learn how. No matter how athletic you are or how big your brain is, you can improve your performance exponentially by taking a structured approach to the task.

PhidippidesIf you’re a marathoner, your routine will include running sprints and endurance, uphill and flat. You’ll do muscle training, you’ll eat differently, and you’ll learn the importance of vaseline and strategically placed bandaids. If you’re smart, you’ll also get a coach. As a result of all those structures, routines, and coaching, hundreds of thousands of modern-day marathoners accomplish the same 26 mile feat that killed a strapping young Greek warrior named Phidippides. Most of them are older than Phidippides was. And it’s a good bet that a large number of them run faster than Phidippides did. How is it possible that middle-aged business men and women can perform better than a young warrior? It’s because they learned how.

We can do the same for people who need to think more creatively and more productively. We’ve developed structures, sub-routines, and a system of coaching that helps people think better. Guaranteed.

When groups of people need to think better, they are more likely to succeed when a skillful facilitator leads them through a structured process. Like a coach in the world of sports, a skillful facilitator is someone who’s studied the game, understands the pitfalls and how to correct for them, and can bring out the talents of each player so the team performs to its potential.

On two fronts, the academic research is clear: When people learn and use thinking structures and skills, they can generate more ideas, better ideas, more often. And when groups of people are well-facilitated through a structured thinking process, they are more productive.

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