— Jenny Neill

What I Learned Moderating Innochat

Jumping into a chat on Twitter can be a little bit like being in a hive mind. Many Twitter chats exist to allow people from all over the world to connect with others who share a common hobby, educational, or business interest. These online discussions can sometimes simply amplify an existing media echo chamber. Good ones, though, serve to elevate a conversation beyond merely the dissemination of information.

Innochat, the one I played guest moderator for on November 17, focuses on the “what” and “how” of innovation. Participants have discussed a broad range of topics in just the past six months, including Gamification – the Future of Innovation?, The Impact of Information Overload on Innovation, Storytelling & Innovation, and Patent Office Logistics Around the World.

I chose to frame the discussion I led with some reflections on what it means to gain in translation, an intentional riff on the theme of TEDxRainier11 which I’d just attended.

International and Diverse
I’ve known since my first encounter with the Innocats (a nickname for regular participants) that they came from a diversity of locales. Last Thursday’s chat included Tweeters from nine states in the U.S., three provinces of Canada, and two regions of the United Kingdom. We also had folks from Colombia, Germany, and Portugal chiming in.

The professions and passions of the Innocats are equally as varied. Technology consultants, career coaches, creativity specialists, entrepreneurs, and even a jazz singer provided their wit and wisdom in answering the questions I asked.

Educational and About Education
From the get-go, the discussion was informative. My first question (“What would you do if you could do anything?”) elicited responses that included references to Zen koans and the paradox of choice.

I was reminded of many possible ways to open my mind when looking for new ideas. Taking a walk, playing music, even cleaning the kitchen were all suggested as ways an individual might shift his or her frame of mind. We also touched on the notion of getting outside a comfort zone be it through travel or by attending a class or industry event outside one’s own profession.

Another TED talk, this time one by Sir Ken Robinson, was highlighted in reference to the importance of transforming education to better prepare people to innovate in business and civic society. Robinson’s Bring on the learning revolution! challenges long-held dogmas about the way children get educated. He argues that it’s time to use all the tools available to encourage children to discover their natural talents and to develop those. Robinson’s principle arguments apply to adult training as well.

Our discussion again touched on Zen concepts with chatter about the idea that cultivating “a beginner’s mind” helps many professionals, even medical doctors, to keep learning. As an example of how one physician strove to remain teachable after establishing a successful practice, Renee Hopkins suggested reading Coaching a Surgeon.

Giggles and Inspiration
Gather enough Tweeters for a chat about any subject and soon they will attempt to make clever quips in 140 characters or less. Innocats are no different on this point and last week’s questions brought out some interesting references to humor.

Leave it to Kevin McFarthing, one of the Innocats from “across the pond,” to bring in a reference to Monty Python early on in response to my first question.

Setting aside mentions of Robin Williams and Eric Idle, laughter and comedy came up often in the back-and-forth banter throughout our hour together. As Drew Marshall one of the Innochat organizers so aptly put it, “I love comedy, too. It is a sly way to get to the truth of things. It can sneak up on an unwitting audience.”

Keeping It Fun and Creative
Our chat turned to vices like chocolate, scotch, and rum at moments of levity. Gwen Ishmael’s offhand remark about “reading too many fortune cookies lately” led to a more serious discussion. We mused about how writing fortunes could prompt creativity or be an innovative marketing tool, as it was for Linda Naiman who used some of these prophetic treats to promote a book.

Playing a game, like foosball or an icebreaker like “two truths and a lie,” was suggested as a way to prepare for a brainstorming session. Other ideas included involving a group in trying to solve a ridiculous problem such as how to cut the nails of a hippopotamus. Many described using storytelling exercises or sing-alongs as creativity catalysts as well.

We didn’t manage to solve any of the world’s more pressing problems. However, combining our suggestions led to one possible solution for shifting working contexts for children and adults alike:

A kindergarten set in nature with a focus on comedy and the arts with time set aside for Twitter.

Now, who is going to write up the business plan?

All joking aside we agreed that innovation practices, in business or philanthropy, benefit from:

  • Actively cultivating a healthy curiosity.
  • Listening fully and with an open mind to answers when we ask questions.
  • Applying techniques from the arts to spark greater creativity.
  • Maintaining humility in order to remain teachable.