Whether the challenge is related to digital strategy, business transformation, growth strategy, cost cutting, or software solution implementation, a key ingredient to accomplish so much in a few days is bringing together all of the right people – sometimes well over 100 people representing the client’s entire ecosystem of the problem statement.
Sound like chaos? It is…by design…literally. Let me explain.
Critical to our ability to tap into the collective genius of the group is our patented process and the fact that there is both an art and a science to what we do. Although our “signature” is the graphic facilitation (“Art”), our methodology is built on many disciplines from many different fields. The originators of this method, Matt and Gail Taylor, were an architect and Montessori teacher respectively. Back in the late ‘70’s, they recognised the traditional approach to problem solving was no longer effective and that a radically different approach was needed to solve complex problems. They brilliantly sewed together this method pulling from many existing disciplines. The power of our process is due to the additive effect of all of them together, 1 + 1 + 1 = 10.
At the heart of our methodology is Design Thinking. Design Thinking has experienced a surge in popularity over the last few years, but the roots go back many decades, to at least the 1960s. A couple of the key Design Thinking principles built into our methodology include:
- Empathy – putting on the hat of the customer, client, other key stakeholders to really understand what is important and not important
- Starting with divergent thinking – generating as many ideas as we can, expanding the realm of the possible (Scan); followed by convergent thinking, testing and prototyping potential solutions in a time-boxed iterative fashion (Focus); paving the way for the “a’ha” moment and final decision-making (Act). Steve Jobs once said “The design process is messy…until it’s not”. That describes perfectly the experience our participants go through during every event!
But you can’t bring 50-100+ people together and rely on Design Thinking alone. Whole Systems Thinking is why we work with our clients to bring their whole system into the room – not only within their organisation, but also customers, suppliers, partners, and yes, sometimes even competitors. Einstein is quoted as saying “You can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created those problems”. Whole Systems Thinking recognises this, and encourages the examining of the interrelationships of the parts of a system, rather than the individual parts themselves.
With so many personalities in the room, and knowing that everyone learns a little bit differently, the principles of Accelerated Learning are also foundational to our methodology. Accelerated Learning is a method that greatly increases people’s capacity to learn, problem-solve and create by engaging both the analytical and emotional brain, the conscious and unconscious mind. It’s why we have graphic artists capture conversations visually. It’s why we ensure creative play is built into both the process and the environment. These elements and more support my favourite ASE axiom “If you can’t have fun with a problem, you will never solve it”.
There’s also complexity and chaos theory involved. Complexity theory was founded as an attempt to rationalise behaviour of large complex systems (National Economy, Organisation Ecosystems). Given the turbulent business environment of today, a relevant question companies face today is how can they influence change in such a chaotic environment? A couple of key principles at play include:
- Creative disorganisation – creativity, novelty, diversity lie at the edge of chaos. Facilitate that. Don’t fear it. Definitely don’t avoid it by trying to control it.
- Self-organisation – amazing things can happen even when no one individual is in charge! Just watch bees in action and flocks of birds in flight. We set the conditions for self-organisation to effectively take root, before, during, and after every event.
Over the years as I’ve learned more and more about these principles behind our methodology, the more I realise to what extent there really is both an art – and a science – to what we do. Although there are many other elements embedded within our methodology, I hope this brief description of four of the big foundational building blocks provides a glimpse of this.