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Interesting ideas often come from bringing two commonplace ideas together to create a unique concept and developing that concept. “Knowledgestorming” is a group brainstorming technique that can help you and your team to uncover breakthrough ideas.

Interesting ideas often come from bringing two commonplace ideas together to create a unique concept and developing that concept:

Training + Brainstorming = KnowledgeStorming

Brainstorming ­- at least the ideation portion of brainstorming -­ is about pushing people to stretch their minds and devise ideas. It is about bringing together the knowledge, experience and ideas of a variety of people in order to come up with ideas that those people would be unlikely to dream up individually. It is also about creating an atmosphere which encourages people to be daring with their thinking, and suggest ideas that they might shy away from in more formal environments.

Professional training ­- at least in the traditional sense -­ is about giving people knowledge which they can use in order to perform certain tasks better. Training can combine lecturing, reading, hands-on trials (either in real life or using simulators) and testing in order to transfer the knowledge from the trainer to the trainees.

Clearly, traditional training is effective for teaching specific tasks, such as how to use software tools, how to operate a machine tool, how to enter the company’s accounts into the accounting system and so on.

KnowledgeStorming, on the other hand, is about stretching people’s minds through sharing knowledge, experience and ideas, in order to create a highly customized organic form of training. KnowledgeStorming is effective when you are training a group of people to apply a tool, practice or strategy to their organization. While traditional training is effective for training people how to use a specific software product, KnowledgeStorming would be an effective means of training people how to apply the software in their company’s operations.

An example: KnowledgeStorming with a team of salespeople

Consider training a sales team of 12 people. One approach is to have an experienced, successful sales professional explain her techniques to the team. This can, of course, be highly effective. After all, a successful salesperson clearly knows a few things about selling stuff. E-learning tools, books and training videos individually and in combination can also be effective.

An alternative would be to use KnowledgeStorming. For example, a sales director observes that her sales people are getting many leads, but they are not closing as many sales as they should. She decides to train them using KnowledgeStorming.

The first step is to bring the entire team together for a half day. Begin by discussing what KnowledgeStorming is about. Then spend a little time discussing the issue of closing sales. Make sure that the discussion does not go off-topic.

Once people are thinking about sales and closing them, ask everyone to brainstorm problems that prevent them from closing sales. All participants should shout out problems while a facilitator writes them down. All problems should be written down and there should be no criticizing of any problems suggested. Allow about 20-30 minutes for this part of the process. Then select the key problems and compile them into three big problems, or sets of related problems.

The next step is to divide the team into three groups of four people. Each group then brainstorms ideas that would resolve their set of problems. Once this is done, they select the best solutions and share them with the entire team. With the help of a facilitator, the best solutions from each group are written on a white board. These are finally compiled into a set of solutions which is then developed into a new approach to closing sales. At this time the first training session should end.

The importance of follow-up

Already, members of the sales force will have had many ideas about improving their closing skills. Individuals will have ideas about solving their own specific problems, and the group will have a new approach to work with.

Nevertheless, a follow-up session should be held within one or two days. This allows the salespeople to think about their ideas and the new approach to closing sales. During the follow-up session, any afterthoughts are added to the new approach and the approach can be further refined, perhaps with a step-by-step plan for closing sales. The plan can be tested initially in role-playing scenarios (where one person plays a salesperson and the other a prospective customer) for further refinement.

Finally, of course, the new plan must be tested in the field. Another follow-up session should be held to review the results and further refine the sales plan, if necessary.

Conclusion

KnowledgeStorming has the advantage in that it uses your own teams’ combined knowledge and experience (which is normally substantial). Moreover, it is necessarily highly customized to meet your specific needs. As a result, it can be a highly effective addition to your set of professional training tools.

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the founder of Bwiti bvba, a Belgian-based company that helps organizations to become more innovative and more creative. He writes and edits Report103, a weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention in business, and operates the JPB.com website.

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