Working with People who Think Outside the Box

Interview with IdeaConnection Facilitator Sue Adams
Prior to taking up a role in business development with IdeaConnection, Sue Adams was a Facilitator on a large number of challenges. With a business background that stretches from banking to public administration she was ideally suited for the rigours of guiding teams of innovative individuals and enjoyed an impressive track record of success.

Here she talks about her fascination with working with highly creative and intelligent people and how she helped them to achieve.

photo of Sue AdamsThe role of the Facilitator is essentially to keep the teams on track, to lead the creative environment, of course, if you're looking at it from a functional prospective, and to ensure that the funnel of ideas becomes a deliverable at the end of twelve weeks. How you get from A to B is the very interesting part because no two challenges are the same and no two groups of people operate the same way.

Deliverables are never the same so it's a constant dynamic of change and getting the best out of people because these highly creative and highly intelligent people all operate a little bit differently.

I think the skills you have to bring to the table as a Facilitator are to be a very good listener and to bring out the best in people. Often people that don't say much in the beginning end up being the biggest contributors in the end because they themselves are good listeners. Rather than try and drag information out of them in the beginning it's an evolutionary process where everybody's learning from everybody as we go, and there are such interesting technology intersections too where, for example you sometimes have engineering experts with biochemists etc.

When you have those technology intersections amazing things happen in terms of collaboration and creativity and invention or innovation which is not always invention. Innovation is bringing ideas from different disciplines and finding where the overlaps are and where the synergies are. It's fascinating.

I'd like to talk a little bit about that in a moment but I am also interested in what you said there about the quiet contributors. How do you get them to speak up and play a more prominent role?

I don't know how I do that. I just do it intuitively. You know people… we're such complex communicators. I mean I read somewhere that fifty-five percent of our communication is body language and thirty-eight percent is voice and tone and only seven percent is words and content. So I'm left with about half of the communication model of a human being when we do these virtual meetings but there's still a lot there in the voice and tone. We are very complex in how we communicate and I pick up on it in a way I can't explain.

Also, on every team it becomes very obvious very early on who the leader is going to be and it's interesting to watch that unfold. The leader is often not the best equipped person to be the leader; they're the person that likes to hear themselves talk sometimes. They believe they are the strongest team contributor. Then it's that quiet person that doesn't say much that suddenly interjects with one of two sentences and they are quite pivotal to turn the conversation around. It's very intelligent small comments; that's sometimes where you pick up on where the real understanding comes from.

As a Facilitator what personally do you find rewarding about it? What excites you the most about these problem solving challenges?

I'm excited about it because we are doing something where we're harnessing the power of crowdsourcing but we remove the inherent weaknesses of crowdsourcing, which is the lack of confidentiality around the problem itself, which is of course proprietary for lots of companies.

We also mitigate the perspective of the problem solver believing that they're one of hundreds of people submitting a solution. Everybody in their own mind, whether they like it or not, every time they do something there's a mental evaluation, "Will I succeed or will I not?" When you assume that your probability of success is low you don't give the same effort. That’s something we can avoid by going to the crowd of people that have expertise in an area and hand-selecting the best and putting them together on teams.

We take that crowdsourcing model and refine it to a point where we have people believing that they're in a team environment that has strength; that has the ability to solve this problem hands-down. It is very exciting to allow corporations to harness intelligence outside of the four walls of their company and to not have it be a threat to the people that are working there. Essentially, it connects the entire world to solve problems.

What does it feel like to have a ring-side seat watching creativity as it happens, where ingenious solutions are arrived at in such a short space of time?

That ring-side seat is amazing because I appreciate the process and what's happening there. It's an astounding position to be in. I feel privileged actually to be able to part of something that's bigger than I am.

When you are asked what your profession is, most people can say, "Well I'm a nurse. I'm a lawyer. I'm a teacher. I'm a painter. I'm a whatever, a pilot." I don’t have a word that I can say what I do. I have to give people a little story because what we do is so new, and it excites me that this is a powerful tool that some of the leading corporations of the world are using.

It's actually a privilege to work as a Facilitator and to work with such intelligent people that want to think outside the box, that see innovation as a means to solving challenges of our future world.

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