So what needs to be changed, enhanced or just plain improved? From a facilitation perspective it has got to be around helping people to generate better ideas. Don’t get me wrong, classic brainstorming is valuable (the old), but so often the technique of ‘just say what’s on your mind’ results in ‘same old, same old’ ideas being generated.
In his book Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making Sam Kaner speaks of two types of ideation practices:
- Familiar Ideation: this occurs when the group shares ‘in the box’ ideas, which are sanctioned by experience, culture, expertise and what is known. This is where people feel most comfortable with the process, but ideas tend to be similar to those heard before.
- Creative Ideation: this occurs when the group is committed to going beyond the obvious or the easy, where new ideas are brought up and explored; one idea sparks new ideas. Unfamiliar ideas will have advantages and disadvantages. This requires creative methods that enable participants to go beyond the ordinary, the usual, or the ‘tried and true.’
The most simple way to use metaphor is to take any object and to ask the group “what are the characteristics of this object?” For example, showing an ‘apple’ might produced comments like “it’s red, it’s nutritious and good for the body, it tastes fresh, it’s easy to hold, it’s organic, it’s got a core, etc.” Once the characteristics have been defined go back to the your topic. For example, if the group needs to brainstorm ideas on how to improve the efficiency of our snow tires we then ask, looking at our defined characteristics, "how is improving efficiency like ‘something good for the body'?" Ideas that may come up include ‘they enable safer driving; they are easy to put on and take off the wheels; etc.” I find that the object you choose should be one that has some characteristics that are easy to relate to the topic being addressed.
Another method for using metaphors was created by a colleague of mine, Tom Heck, who runs the International Association of Teamwork Facilitators. He creates Metaphor Cards from pictures that he cuts out of a magazine. He creates about 30 cards, by pasting pictures on card stock. He then has the group engage in one or more of the following activities:
Frontloading - Before the start of the discussion (or the activity) ask everyone to pick a card (or two) that represents the theme they want to work on (invest in). A variation – ask the group to select the one card that represents what they believe best represents the topic they’re about to discuss.
Follow-up - After ‘familiar’ brainstorming, ask everyone to select a card (or two) and have them define one characteristic they see in the picture. Have them use that characteristic as a metaphor for defining a potential idea for the discussion topic.
Random Card - The facilitator holds the cards in their hands so that the participants cannot see the images. Participants are asked to choose one card randomly and then be prepared to share with the group WHAT new ideas this card evokes related to the discussion topic.
Note: if you don’t want to cut out pictures to make cards, just buy postcards with provocative images (how provocative will of course depend on your audience!)
The best thing I like about using metaphors to generate ideas is that it forces people to think out of the box, but most of all, it generates a lot of laughter and fun. The perfect holiday gift we facilitators can give to the groups we facilitate!