The Skull Session … turning ideas into assets

Grandpa and Andy Chapter 15The Skull Sessions … turning ideas into assets
Brainstorming, skull sessions, or solution sessions are designed to generate multiple options to solving problems or developing growth scenarios.  Team members often have ideas but they never get beyond the thought stage.  Skull session is a tool that can turn ideas into assets.  A skull session is different from a staff meeting.  Staff meetings are agenda driven in order to keep people motivated and focused on the execution of the business plan.  The staff meeting is good for developing and enhancing relationships among the members of the team.

The skull session employs creative and analytical talent in order to develop a business plan.  It is divided into two sessions, a creative and a critical session.  In the creative session, the participants submit ideas without judgment.  It is like throwing a lot of seeds into a garden.  You don’t know what you will get but you’ll see what sprouts and then weed and feed.  In the critical or analytical session, which follows, the participants evaluate the ideas and decide the best idea to solve the problem at hand.  The weeding process: Pick the best sprout and weed out the rest.

Once the participants select the best idea, they develop the plan to implement the idea. This plan may also require a separate or additional creative and analytical session focusing on execution and implementation.  The feeding process: Take the best sprout and provide the best environment to grow.

Every idea spawns both judgmental and creative thought.
Ideas flow from creative juices.  Some thinking energy produces the idea.  It is just an idea until we set judgment upon the idea.   The idea comes from the creative side of the brain while judgments comes from the analytical side of the brain. The judgment will be a function of the information available to make the judgment.

Between the worst bad idea and the ultimate best idea was the seed/foundation for that best idea.

Often, in the creative session, one idea spawns another idea.  Because of the diversification of the participants, a single suggestion can stimulate different responses.   It is important to have a broad foundation in order to spawn the best idea, the best solution.

A skull session is useful when dealing with long range planning or solving problems that have a broad impact on the business.  For example, planning the future direction of a company or product line.  Expansion, diversification, employee motivation, education and retention are some issues.  Skull sessions can be helpful in any business and at any time from start up to scale up.  The size of the business is not important. A new car and an old car still need to fill their fuel tank.  An old business needs to refill its idea and innovation tank on a regular basis.

Personal skull sessions
Personal skull sessions are the personal brainstorming sessions that you have with people in your first circle of influence (family, close friends, spouse, children) or with yourself and your personal board of directors (people with whom you are familiar with their lives and their thinking). Board people answer the question, “how would Lincoln handle this situation” or “what would Jesus say about this decision?”  You can use their wisdom because you have studied their life.  You understand their thinking and how they would deal with the situation that you are now facing.

You can’t choose your family but you can choose friends.  The great thing about a personal board of directors is that you put them on your board.  You determine your sphere of influence (the people around you who influence you). If you need business expertise, study and learn how successful business people think.   If you need life lesson personal growth support, study the lives of people who have overcome life’s challenges.  What you learn from the study becomes the basis for helping you make good decisions.  You will ask yourself, “how would (board member) handle this situation.”

Skull session “how to”
There have been books written on skull sessions and corporate brainstorming.  However, sometimes keeping it simple is a better approach when starting the process.  There are four basics to the skull session:  Mission, Motivation, Participants, and Participation.

               The Mission
The business must determine the problem at hand.  There must be a clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish with a skull session.  The effectiveness or success of the session will depend on how well the facilitator and the participants understand the goal.  If you don’t have a goalpost, then the best the team can do is move the ball around for exercise.  Skull sessions are to score points not for exercise.

               The Motivation
Once the participants understand the mission, they must be motivated.  Motivation will come from how they relate to the mission.  If the mission is vague distant or not relatable, they may not engage.  If they see themselves as part of the solution, they will engage.  They internalize the mission and this releases their creative energy.

               The Participants
There are two categories of participants in a skull session, the facilitator and the audience.  Choosing the right facilitator can make the difference in the functionality and the ultimate results for the session.  The facilitator brings credibility and integrity to the final outcome of the session.

The facilitator by definition is not a lecturer or teacher.  That’s for the professor.  The facilitator’s job is to keep the audience mission-focused and highly motivated.  The facilitator encourages the creativity of the audience.  He keeps the audience focused on the specific session segment.  The audience is either in the creative thinking or critical thinking segment of the skull session.

It is easy for the audience to quickly and inadvertently judge an idea in the creative session.  Critical thinking in the creative segment will squelch creative energy.  There are no more new ideas.  The facilitator must recognize judgmental thinking and keep the audience focused.  Conversely, in the critical segment, the audience must focus on evaluating existing ideas.  Losing focus creates chaos.  The mission is in jeopardy.

The audience is the second category of participants.  It is important to select participants who have an interest in the mission and are motivated to participate.  Look for players and not spectators.  Participants may represent different philosophies, different skill levels and sometimes totally different or unrelated educational, business or interest levels.  Diversity is good so long as it does not bring agendas into either the creative or critical segments.  Agendas distort, dilute or pollute judgment.

               The Participation
The audience is inspired by the mission and motivated by the hope of accomplishing the mission.  There is no room for spectators in a skull session.  A spectator is an empty seat that should be filled with a player.  Often players will be hesitant to present an idea for fear of what other players might think.   That is personal judgment of the idea.  The individual is not purely in the creative mindset.  One very successful facilitator uses a technique where he asks the players to come up with the worst ideas, thus freeing the players from competitive and judgmental thoughts.  In reality, the best idea is the fruit of the seed planted somewhere between the best and worst idea.

What next?
When the skull session is completed, the best idea is now on the table.  The mission was to come up with an idea to solve a problem or define future goals and strategies.  The next step is to develop the plan to execute the best idea.  This is the business plan.

Now that we know where we want to go and when we want to get there, how do we get there?  You develop a business plan in the same way that you decided on what kind of business to build.  You have a new skull session.  This time the mission is to develop the plan to get there.   You decided where you want to go, when you want to get there and now you need to decide how to get there.  That is the execution or implementation part of a business plan.

Every successful business has a business plan that states where they are going, when they expect to get there and how they will get there. Change is certain in business as it is in life.  Change is nothing more than a detour.  Some businesses embrace change and, like approaching a detour, just find another way to get where they are going.  Businesses that resist change stop when they come to a detour.  They never get to their final destination.  We see these businesses fail over time.  Detours may change the how we get there and modify the when we get there but detours do not affect where we are going.

Successful businesses bring minds together and tap into their creative energy.  Successful people bring minds together through personal growth to energize their creative thinking.  Successful people and successful businesses see challenges as learning experiences and detours as an opportunity to explore new territory.

All assets come from an idea but not all ideas become an asset.   The skull session or brainstorming session is nothing more than a tool to be used to turn an idea into an asset. It is a tool that every business and everyone personally should have in their toolbox.  Check your toolbox.  It will be right next to a bunch of old ideas.