A Brain Trust is a facilitated workshop in which the participants share, in a one hour-turn, their challenges, and the others are giving structured feedback. The presented challenge can be about anything. In our case, it was a professional challenge. Everything started from the Knowledge Entrepreneurs community founded by Achim Rothe, who organized more than 10 Online Salons. Many people aggregated and talked about how to be involved in knowledge Entrepreneurship.
A knowledge entrepreneur is a person who gains an income by sharing his expertise. All participants were coming from that background. There were similar traits and similar aspirations.
In a total time of about 9 hours, we had six different sessions. Each of us presented their challenge and received an intense avalanche of feedback.
The Brain Trust Session’s structure
About 10 minutes: the presenter introduces their challenge. Spoken, no visual aids used besides few exceptions. Screen sharing helps to support your idea.
About 10 minutes: Silent feedback, the Brain Trusters write their feedback in a shared collaborative document. (we did not repeat this step for all presenters, we went directly to the live discussion
About 40 minutes (with the flexibility of going beyond the time limit), Live discussion. The presenter listens to each of the Brain Trusters’ feedback. Usually, a conversation starts. There is a lot of note-taking going on during this phase.
The benefits of the Brain Trust Sessions
I was the last one to present. Thanks to my peers’ diversity in age, cultural background, professional field, and attitude, I gathered an astounding amount of valuable feedback.
When you are called to give suggestions and comments to a stranger’s challenge, you might find some obstacles and risks.
We declared the rules at the beginning:
- Radical Candor, no authority involved.
- Permission to be direct
On the one hand, this is a strategic advantage that allows the feedback givers to compress in that relatively short individual session the best of their knowledge to be put at the presenter’s service.
On the other hand, you risk not having time to give enough human touch to your communication, and you could come out on the harsh side of the spectrum.
I made full use of this opportunity to be direct. I compressed many crucial and foundational topics in my feedback and role-played the Contrarian, trying to provide alternate perspectives to the group.
Both extremes have been touched due to my experimentation: not all participants accepted the radical candor comfortably, while others were enthusiastically grateful for the direct and transparent approach.
A Brain Trust is a place where you can propose a different type of challenges:
- You are stuck in your career.
- You need to make a difficult decision in life.
- You want to change your job role.
- You don’t know how to leverage your experience.
- You see things not working in your professional approach, and you have no clue how to improve them.
- You want to explore a different way of earning a living, and you need a starting point.
- You have a creative idea you want to transform into a business.
- You want to express yourself creatively or artistically, but you don’t know how to leverage that.
None of the content of our session will become public in any way, so I am generalizing to give you a sense of what kind of challenges could be brought on the Brain Trusters’ table.
Suffice to say, in our case, and they shared a common creative and entrepreneurial trait while coming from very diverse professional and cultural backgrounds.
Diversity in a Brain Trust is a powerful asset as it is in Collective Intelligence. Although it might sound weird to the inexperienced, putting yourself in the middle of people diverse from your field promotes the emergence of blindspots, original points of view, and the uncovering of exciting ideas you didn’t think about.
Opportunities for improvement
That experience made me reflect deeply about the rules of the games and how they can lead to force, maybe too much, the capacity of those participants who are not willing or equipped to sustain an intense, heavy, compressed session of radical feedback on their ideas.
Facilitators of Brain Trust-types of workshop need to be aware of this feature’s potential and the risks it brings to the group.
Achim has been excellent in all aspects: calm, empathic, measured, balanced. He orchestrated our long hours together in such a light way that I felt them passing by in an eye-blink. He was able to integrate such a diverse group of people by including them in a meaningful way and carefully respecting each person’s diversity. That is an excellent example of facilitating Collective Intelligence. We need more people like Achim in the World.
The outcomes and the implications
Meeting bright and motivated people like those I had the honor to meet never ends in just a meeting. At the end of the workshop, I could feel the bonding and the trust created.
Each of us collected pages and pages of ideas, notes, comments, resources, critiques, references, and whatnot.
Each of us committed with the group to tangible goals on which we will call to be accountable.
Achim proposed the “3; 3; 3;” activity in which each participant states their:
- Three days goal
- Three weeks goal
- Three months goal
That made our one day and a half work during our precious weekend not only a fantastic way to grow as a person and as a professional but also the beginning of a personalized project and a small, connected community.
We will remain in touch to check on each other’s goals at the time we have planned. Spontaneous collaborations started, to get help on each project. It will allow creating even more tangible opportunities in the future.
I subscribed to the Brain Trust with doubts and fears, and I’ve ended up getting unstack on my projects while finding a close circle of trusted people.
The value provided by Knowledge Entrepreneur’s Brain Trust was incommensurable.
“Nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or interesting, or great ever came out of imitations. The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”— Anna Quindlen