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Priming Your Strategic Planners for Success

I have not finished listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, but there is a huge take away from it that I will be implementing every time I facilitate a meeting in the future. It’s called priming.

Priming is an activity that suggests to our unconscious mind certain ideas that it then begins to work on in the background and also begins to affect our near-future behavior. The example he uses is a series of 10 simple, scrambled 4-word sentences. To the reader (or participants, in the case of strategic planning), it is a straightforward mind game. But for the facilitator, it is a tool for preparing the participants to be more willing to share, more amendable to teamwork, more open to creativity. Some examples might look like this activity below.

Use the following list of words to create, as quickly as possible, a four-word sentence:

  1. box we the ocean open
  2. join yellow fun I the
  3. we out clues for listen
  4. win close allies concert together
  5. bright shares she ideas give

In Gladwell’s example in his book, each sentence had a word that we associate, even indirectly, with old age, and researchers found that people who did the unscramble activity actually walked more slowly than those in the control group. Another group unscrambled words that we associate with politeness, and those who completed the activity were far more likely not to interrupt a conversation than the control group.

In our series of scrambled words, we find words associated with participation and cooperation: open, join, fun, allies, together, shares, and ideas. In all honesty, these sentences are probably a bit too obvious, but you get the idea.

Todd R Christensen Consulting-Priming ActivitySo, priming a group of individuals – who may or, more likely, may not know each other – prior to a 4- to 8- hour strategic planning session can be a huge help. In my future sessions, I will likely introduce such an activity as a “wake up” activity, not as a priming activity. “Before we get started, just to get the synapses firing, let’s do a quick brain activity…” Then, I will project the sentences on a screen, giving just 3-5 seconds per sentence for them to figure them out. I will not ask them to write down their answers… too much work. This is priming, not testing.

I am excited to use this principle in my next meeting.

Any takers? Let me know by filling out the form below:


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