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!
While at VizThink, I had the pleasure of seeing Christine Martell in action. Christine is a facilitator who uses photographs to initiative and inspire conversations about a specific organizational challenge and uses the data from her exercises to uncover patterns and assumptions.
At VizThink the first general session of the 2nd day was to use a few different techniques, including Christine’s, to help a not-for-profit called Artrain work through some of their issues. The results of the exercise are posted on Christine’s blog. Very cool stuff! Check it out.
The very first VizThink Conference was held in San Francisco at the end of January. It brought together a community of people who like to “Think Visually”. Obviously this is a very broad term with no clear definition. The risk of keeping it broad like that is that it invites a bunch of people who end up have nothing in common and the whole event is unsatisfying for everyone.
The opposite happened.
Attendees included graphic facilitators, illustrators, infographic creators, photographers, comic artists, teachers, professors, people who like to doodle, mindmappers and on and on and on. There was just enough of a “like mindedness” among the participants that we knew we had something in common, but we weren’t all the same. I’m sure you’ve been to conferences where you recognize 80% of the people and you’ve seen 90% of the talks. Not at VizThink. It was the best conference I’ve ever attended. I would introduce myself to people and 9 times out of 10 would be fascinated by what they were doing and how they were incorporating visual expression in their work.
I went because I was invited to lead one of the workshops, but there were so many good talks going on I had a really hard time deciding which ones to attend. I was almost inclined to leave my slides and some instructions at my own workshop and go check out Scott McCloud’s workshop.
Another workshop that was going on at the same time as mine was by Ryan Coleman. He talked about how to get VizThink communities going on in your own town. He’s successfully put on five of them, and he’s planning a sixth! Here’s the Facebook event, or the wiki page.
If you have a chance to attend VizThink Europe or the next one in North America, you should definitely check it out.
Curious to hear your thoughts on what makes for a great conference. Is it the attendees? The speakers? The food?
My practice as an event designer and facilitator is pretty unique. It’s not the typical way of doing business. I’m part of a team that includes an artist, DJ, website designer, photographer…it’s an experience. People come to the events having never been to one before and can’t quite believe the art, music, the pace of work, etc. In that sense, the experience is very new and “cutting edge.”
However, while the method might be cutting edge, the tools are not. We use simple whiteboards with dry erase markers (made by the fine folks at Kinetic Energies), poster boards, foam core, art supplies, etc. This contrast confuses some people, as they figure we should be using SmartBoards that automatically capture the writing, projectors, internet connections, and lots of other “techie” stuff.
The reason we don’t is because we find that all of that neat stuff becomes a distraction from the task at hand. The projectors, PowerPoint, etc. start to mediate the conversations between people and we feel as though it’s our job to provide the simplest possible environment for the right people to have the right conversations.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Daniel Rose and I live and work in the bustling metropolis of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My living/passion (and topic of this blog) is in helping large groups to solve tough, complex problems by providing event design and facilitation so that the collective wisdom of the group can generate sustainable solutions in a rapid way.
Yeah…that’s kind of a mouthful and in subsequent blogs I’ll delve into what all of that means to me and I hope that you’ll take some time to help me define it. For now I’ll touch on the title of the blog, ie. Whitespace.
Inspired by my good friends at Sente Corporation and Innovation Labs, I’m very intrigued by the idea that by getting diverse opinions and viewpoints together to tackle complex issues, the process of different knowledge sets and assumptions coming together and mixing can be the spark of innovation. That space between people is the whitespace. (Thanks to my friend Lisa Sorsa for sketching out the graphic above.) By creating opportunity for whitespace to exist, interesting conversations can occur, novel ideas can be combined and there is real potential for breakthrough ideas to happen.
The inclination in the corporate or not for profit sectors in North America is to pare down participation in meetings because it seems intuitive that the more opinions you have at the table, the less likely you are to reach consensus. While “consensus” will be the topic for a future post, my belief is that if breakthrough and innovation is the goal, there will be a greater possibility of that occurring if there is a large, diverse crowd contributing to the effort.
Of course, it takes great skill and experience to generate and focus that energy towards valuable, tangible business outcomes and that’s where I come in!
Rather than having a discussion about “out of the box” thinking, I gently suggest to clients that what they really want is to expand the size of the box they’re playing in and by including other people, the whitespace is increased and opportunity for breakthrough innovation increases as well!