The Innovation Blog

Ideation Skills: Active Listening and Headlining

Posted by Creative Realities on August 26, 2010

In the last Ideation Skills post, we discussed Passive Listening, the problematic way people typically tend to listen in creative problem solving meetings.  Here I will outline two simple techniques to enhance your ability to listen, generate ideas, and communicate your ideas to the group.  These two skills will make you a creative problem solving meeting All-Star in no time.

Listening Skill: Active Listening. As the name implies, Active Listening is the opposite of Passive Listening.  Instead of leaning back in your chair and doing nothing while somebody else talks, use your pad.  At Creative Realities, we hand out specially designed Think Pads to every participant in a creative problem solving session and encourage them to capture notes, random ideas, even doodles.  That's right, contratry to what you were always told in school, doodling is a great thing to do while listening because it activates different areas of your brain and stimulates ideas.  Since, the brain can only hold about 4-7 ideas at one time, jotting thoughts down on the pad as they come, even if you are not sure why they came to you, is a great way to make sure you do not lose any thoughts.  You may miss a few details the speaker says while you are writing, but by the time the speaker is done talking, you will have a repository of thought stimulators you can work from. 

The key is allowing yourself the permission to "drop out."  As I explained in the last post, it is impossible to stay at maximum attention AND generate ideas for the entire meeting anyway, so in order to ideate as productively as possible, do not attempt to hang on every word.  When something that is said triggers a thought, let it come, explore it in your own head, capture it on your pad, then tune back in to the speaker.  You will find that you more than double your output of ideas when using this technique.

active listening

Speaking Skill: HEADLINE YOUR THOUGHTS.  Since we know that people listen most closely in the first few seconds you begin to offer an idea, communicate your main point as soon as possible.  Too often when we offer an idea, particularly one of those wacky, "out there" ideas we are unsure about, we start by qualifying it, then explain what gave us the idea, then list a few caveats, then predict the reaction of the group, then mention how much coffee we've had, and finally deliver the punchline.  By the time you get to your idea, you've lost half the group who started thinking about how much coffee they've had, or one of the other things you said.

Keep it short and sweet.  We ramble when we are uncomfortable with an idea.  A long preamble is usually an attempt to demonstrate to the group: "contrary to what I am about to say, I am not crazy."  Those ideas that make us uncomfortable are the ones that are truly new and most worth persuing in a brainstorming meeting.  So when you have that absurd, wild and crazy idea, serve it up as a headline, and watch how everyone in the room does a double take to make sure they heard it right.  You just bought yourself some additional attention time beyond the standard 6 seconds.  Now you can elaborate and explain that your idea is not so crazy after all.

-By Chris Dolan, Associate Business Innovationist

Topics: Chris Dolan, active listening, headlining, critical ideation skills, creative problem solving skills