Talent Development 22 Future Readiness

January 10, 2021

Section 3.8 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Future Readiness. Section A reads, “Knowledge of techniques to promote, support, and/or generate innovation and creativity, for example design thinking, brainstorming, and ideation.”

Creativity is essential for forward movement in any organization. Unfortunately, the tools to have high creativity are often not used well, so the end result is muted rather than brilliant.

One of the more misunderstood techniques to bring about creativity is brainstorming.

Do brainstorming right

The technique of “brainstorming” was developed by Alex Osborn in the year 1967. His book “Applied Imagination” laid out a specific set of rules for brainstorming sessions.

Rule 1 – go for a high number of ideas – He suggested that quantity was more important than quality when creating fresh ideas.

Rule 2 – suspend all judgment while coming up with the ideas. This is the rule that most groups find difficult to follow.

The concept of coming up with “wild” or “crazy” ideas allowed a spontaneous flow of new concepts. Even though most of them were impractical or stupid, there were some nuggets among them.

Osborn suggested that people in the group “hitchhike” or create variations of the ideas of others. In doing so, mutations of different ideas would often lead to an actual practical solution that could work.

Some interesting other techniques have come along that put the concept of brainstorming on steroids. One such invention was “Morphological Analysis.”

The Technique of Morphological Analysis

This concept uses brainstorming but in a way that forces the combination of concepts that we would not normally even consider. The technique was developed by Fritz Zwicky in 1969 at Cal Tech.

He would create a matrix of three or four different variables and present them on two axes. For example he might have objects on the x axis. I will use an example here of car, house, hammock, and brick. Then on the y axis he would identify some other concept, let’s say emotions. So, he might have chosen love, sorrow, fear, levity.

Now he would ask people to brainstorm several different ways you might imagine the intersection of the concepts. He would ask questions like “How can we use a car to create levity?” (answer: you might dress it up like a penguin) or “In what ways can we use a brick to create fear?” (answer: using a string, suspend the brick 20 feet above someone’s head and light a match).

The exercise would continue until all of the intersections or “boxes” were full of crazy ideas. Think about how you would use a hammock to generate sorrow. It really stretches the mind beyond the way we normally think.

Here is another technique to get more ideas using brainstorming in a slightly different way.

One, Two, Four, All

My friend David Finger studied the technique made popular by Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz in a structure they call “Liberating Structures.” Here is how David describes how he uses the technique in his work.

Step 1: Define the question that will be answered. This question must be very specific so that everyone answers the same question without interpretation. One question I recently used was, “What feature of Zoom Breakout Rooms is your favorite?”. As you can see, the question is not a monumentally difficult one, in fact it should be one that EVERYONE can come up with an answer for, but that there is no one “right” answer.

Step 2: Ask each person to write down (this is important whether in-person or virtually) their best answer to the question. One answer per person, and it must be written down. (I generally just tell them that part of this process is that they must write it down; I don’t explain why. People comply with simple rules like that fairly quickly, if it’s not a complex instruction.) Maximum time for this is 1 minute.

Step 3: Each person will be paired with another person, and together they will share and discuss their ideas with each other. Within 2 minutes, they need to agree to move forward with ONE of their two ideas. The time limit is necessarily short so they just act without a lot of waffling. They need to decide and move forward.

Step 4: Each pair of people is now put together with another pair of people, and they will each share their agreed-upon move-ahead idea. The way I usually phrase this is, “Between the 4 of you, you have 2 ideas. Work as a team of 4 to decide which ONE idea is the best.” Also, each team of 4 will decide on who will present this one idea to the rest of the group after the decision is made. Maximum time 2 minutes to decide on one idea and assign a spokesperson.

Step 5: Each 4-person team’s spokesperson now reports their ONE idea in an all-participants session. (This is the “All” part.)

Step 6: You now have one top idea from each group of 4 people. Depending on the question and the objective, you can use multi-voting, weighted voting, etc. to choose the one idea to go forward. Alternatively, you can adopt all of the top ideas as things to work on.

The one, two, four, all technique works equally well in a virtual setting as it does in person, so this method of brainstorming may become more popular in the future as a larger portion of the workforce will likely be working from home.

Using an organized approach like the one, two, four, all technique or Morphological analysis creates a richer and more lively brainstorming session that allows the best ideas to move forward. Just remember to keep it light and have fun with your creativity sessions.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

Talent Development 21 Data and Analytics

December 30, 2020

Section 3.7 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Data & Analytics. Section A reads, “Skill in selecting and/or using data visualization techniques, for example flow charts, graphs, plots, word clouds, and heat maps.”

The old cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words is really true. This is especially true when a lot of data is involved or there is a level of complexity.

Trying to explain the relationship between different concepts can be tricky in words, but the mind can quickly absorb a large amount of data immediately in a picture and draw a conclusion. This clarity of thought saves a lot of time in training, and it helps to keep people fresh.

Death by PowerPoint

Many trainers practice “Death by PowerPoint,” where they show numerous slides with a lot of words and then read the words to the audience, sometimes turning their back on the audience to read the screen.  People zone out quickly.

A real example

Let me share an example of a picture being more powerful than a word description. I compared the level of trust in an entire organization from data gathered at different levels in the organization.

I measured trust as perceived by the top leaders in the organization, the middle managers, the supervisors, and the lead operators.

First I will try to describe my observations in words, then I will show that a quick glance at a chart makes the whole concept much easier to absorb.

I asked leaders at several levels in an organization to rate their company on how much trust there is. The rating was 1 = low trust and 10 = high trust.

I then noted that leaders at the top of the organization (senior leaders) rated trust much higher than lower levels. People at lower levels perceived less trust in the organization.

A strange anomaly

At the Supervisor and Group Leader levels, a curious “hole” in the data began to emerge in the area of 5-6.

I puzzled over this hole in the data for quite a while. I now believe that when confronted with the challenge to identify the level of trust on a scale of 1-10, most people immediately considered 5 or 6 to be “average” (whatever that meant to them).

Then they thought, “well, we are somewhat better or worse than average,” so that gave rise to a cluster of votes lower than 5-6 and a cluster that were higher.

That word picture is pretty difficult to follow and remember, but a chart showing the same data is rather easy to interpret. The digits represent the number of people at each level that voted for a particular trust rating.

A chart spells it out more clearly








I hope you agree that this single diagram makes the complex situation much easier to understand and remember.

With the COVID 19 Pandemic of 2020, it is even more important to use visualization techniques. We are living in a hybrid world, with some people at the office and most people still working from home or satellite locations.  Even if the vaccines are effective in controlling the virus in the future, most futurists predict we will never go back to a full in-person workforce. 

There will likely always be a significant portion of people working from home. For these people, the ability to show concepts graphically will be increasingly important.

When you develop training programs, make sure to include visual aids that are easy to digest. Also, go easy on the number of words used to keep people from zoning out.


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014).

In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.


Talent Development 20 Measuring Engagement

December 19, 2020

Section 3.3 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Organization Development & Culture. Section E reads, “Skill in assessing and evaluating employee engagement.”

I have seen dozens of instruments that purport to measure employee engagement. Some of these are simple 10 question surveys, and others are complex blockage surveys that try to identify what is getting in the way of full engagement.

Defining Engagement

We need to start with the definition of engagement. There are entire books that attempt to describe engagement and how to increase it.

I like the simple approach with the following definition: “To what extent do all people in the group understand the vision for an ideal future state, and how focused is their energy on achieving that vision”?

You can make it more complex than that, but I don’t think that is necessary.

If you buy into my theory, there is a very simple test that will allow you to find out how engaged any group is. It takes only a few minutes, and you do not need to have a complex survey instrument to do it.

Measure Engagement Directly

Take a three by five card and walk around listening to what people are talking about. If you hear someone griping about working conditions or what an idiot the person at the next work station is, put a hash mark on the left side of the card and walk on.

When you hear someone talking about something that relates to what the group is trying to accomplish, then put a hash mark on the right side of the card and continue walking.

In only half an hour or less you will begin to see a pattern emerge on the card.

If the left side of the card is littered with hash marks and only a few or none on the right side, then the group is not engaged.

On the other hand, if most of the hash marks are on the right side of the card, it is an indication of a highly engaged group.

This System Also Tests for Trust

This method also works to measure the level of trust within a group. If most people are focused on the vision and the important work to be done, then it is an indication of a high trust group.

If most people are myopic and focused in on each other and protecting their turf, then it is an indication of a low trust group.

I hope you can appreciate the correlation between trust and engagement. When you find a group that has high trust in all directions, I promise that you will find a highly engaged group of workers.

The relationship is as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.