Tag Archives: book review

Looking at the “ins” & “cons”

When designing large collaborative sessions with complex topics it is almost always the case that there is a big variance between the few people who know a lot about the topic and a few who have little to no context and everyone else falls somewhere in between. Sponsors are generally very anxious to do a lot of “education” around the project so that everyone gets up to speed. Usually this results in a desire to do a 3 hour PowerPoint presentation. This makes me cringe. (I don’t understand how the same people who complain about sitting through 3 hour presentations end up with a desire to present one.) I try to explain that people don’t learn well this way and the information will not stick. 

I started reading a book recently that has really helped me hammer my argument home. Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams by Mitchel Resnick of MIT talks about the difference between instructional learning and constructional learning. He argues that by telling people what you think they need to know, the results are mediocre at best. By having people create something on their own (or with small groups), the concepts are much more likely to stick. It’s a learn-by-doing approach.

With the type of work that I’m in, this concept wasn’t new to me, but the fact that I can now summarize the concept in a framework that clients really seem to get, was a valuable insight for me. I think most people know this as well, but with a lack of a better tool than PowerPoint to use for “education”, it seems to be the default. Suggesting the “instructional/constructional” framework to clients seems to introduce the contrast between socratic methods and constructional methods. They suddenly see “the other side”. By giving the other side a name, it’s easier to convince them of the benefits of giving it a try. Like the old saying goes, “A fish doesn’t understand water until it experiences air.”

I’m curious to know if anyone else has had this type of experience; where you don’t necessarily learn a new concept, but learn a new way to express it that seems to have a lot of resonance. Please comment!


Zag – What I got out of it

Thanks to Len from Hypenotic who let me borrow Zag – The #1 Strategy of High Performance Brands. Marty Neumeier wrote it. He’s the guy who wrote The Brand Gap. I like to read. However, when I read I’m constantly thinking about how I can use the material in my job as a collaborative event designer. So rather than review Zag and identify highlights of the book, I figured I would share some of my thoughts on how I might use some of the content or exercises from the book in a workshop that I would design. Part of the reason I won’t summarize the book is that it’s less than 170 pages so it’s pretty much a summary all on its own.

What I will mention is that the title of the book alludes to his belief that in order to truly stand out in a cluttered market, you have to Zag when everyone else is Zigging. He actually describes it as “finding the whitespace”, ie. the title of this blog! If you’d like to read it first and then come back to this posting, I’ll wait….

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John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity – Part I

Summary: Graphic designer and computer scientist John Maeda proposes ten laws for simplifying complex systems in business and life-but mostly in product design. Maeda’s upbeat explanations usefully break down the power of less-fewer features, fewer buttons and fewer distractions-while providing practical strategies for harnessing that power. (Amazon.com)

Maeda’s book discusses 10 key principles moving from the tangible to the abstract. His first principle of “Reduce” has three components:

Shrink: the smaller the object the more forgiving we are as users.
Hide: make the complexity go away, like a swiss army knife
Embody: once a product has been shrunk and features taken away embed a real or perceived sense of value in the product

So as a designer and facilitator of collaborative work events, the Hide concept really stands out for me, and here’s why: 

When getting 40 or 50 people to put their heads together and come up with something brilliant I try to make the session design as unobtrusive as possible while making the group activities as clear as possible. Participants have only what they need to do the task at hand and nothing more. As more information or tools is required, I introduce it and take away that which is no longer necessary (the Hide component).

The other two components (Shrink and Embody) are a bit more of a challenge to apply to a face to face collaborative event (but they were put to good use on the iPod shuffle), but it’s the process of finding a way to apply concepts such as those to face to face sessions that results in innovative new practices in my line of work and pushes the boundaries on what groups can do when working together.

So, I promise a future posting on how I was able to incorporate the “Shrink” component into a session. If the real skill in design is removing as much as possible rather than adding as much as possible, what