7 Questions You Have to Ask

Some 20+ years ago, I was brought in to facilitate an innovation project for the BBC – television. Early into the session, one of the participants, who I had noticed to be seething with anger, finally burst out in response to a comment I made: “That’s not the way you do TV! We’ve been doing the best TV in the world for dozens of years, who are you to tell us we should be doing it differently?”. Good question, I thought to myself. What DOES give me this authority? It got me thinking about the sources of authority that we, and others in the innovation-facilitator role, exercise in sessions and projects we facilitate.

First point to clarify was, that I was not there to TELL THEM what to do, but to enable them to discover novel ways of going about their activities, making use of their professional knowledge and skills. But still, what makes one worthy of their trust? When I pooled my colleagues for their answers to what gives them the sense of authority to facilitate an innovation process, I received a wide range of replies, all the way to “my baritone voice” (which, unfortunately, I do not at all share). We noticed that there was a difference between what was PERCEIVED as bestowing authority (voice, looks, title) and what facilitators felt actually gave them real authority. But, since authority describes a relationship between (at least) two parties, what is seen as subjective can play as important a role as what one deems to be objective.

When you are tasked with leading a team to innovate, be they clients or teammates, ask yourself what you are basing your authority on. And when you engage someone else to do the job, ask yourself why you are willing to entrust this challenge in her or his hands. This short list can help you decide.

1) Is it my my job/role to be in front of you?

2) Do I have expert knowledge of innovation processes? Have I been trained in a method for this task?

3) Do I believe it can be done? Am I (reasonably) fearless facing participants and task?

4) Have I done it before, repeatedly? (Experience!);

a. done it in your field, in others;

b. done it with people like you? With others?

5) Am I able, and do I have the patience, to listen to you carefully and respectfully?

6) Do I myself have a certain ability to innovate?

7)Do I CARE? (About you, task, results, their impact?)


No one scores perfectly on all parameters, nor does one need to. My advice:

1) When selecting someone to lead you, test them according to these factors, decide, and once positive – trust them and go for it.

2) When assuming the task – review your sources of authority, strengthen where you can, emphasize those you shine on, don’t pretend where you don’t and make the most of the former while leaning on others to overcome the latter.


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