Posts tagged “facilitation”

Facilitation and exercises for creativity and presence

I run different types of workshops with clients and at events and have built up a number of different activities that invite the participants to have a novel moment and then reflect on it to reveal something potentially profound. I’ve written my current favorites, but welcome suggestions, additions, requests for clarification, and so on.

1. The Superpower Intro

  • When starting out a group session, everyone introduces themselves in turn, with their name and their super-power.
  • It’s best not to over-constrain what constitutes a super-power. Some will speak about the thing that brings the group together (e.g., work), some will talk about their personal lives, and so on.

I nicked this exercise from Marissa Louie who used it as a way to kick-off a talk. But you can use this to go in a number of different directions. In my workshops on soft skills, I’ve adopted this warm-up because it often happens that the kinds of things people share as their super-powers are indeed soft skills. It can be a positive way to see all the things that people are good at (actually great at!). Christina Wodtke does a variation where people, in pairs, ask each other for stories about an experience or accomplishment they are proud of, and then tell that person what they think their super-power is.

2. Doodling

There are many ways to doodle, but here’s what I’ve been doing as part of my 100 doodles in 100 days project

  • Get a pen and piece of paper.
  • Close your eyes – or look away – and move the pen. Make a scrawl or a squiggle. Don’t try to make anything happen, just get some marks down.
  • Now look at what you’ve got and try to create something out of it. It can be abstract. Or it might look like something. For fun, you might want to draw eyes and a mouth, animal parts (see Dave Gray’s amazing Squiggle Birds exercise).
  • Don’t take too long, but try to think about when the doodle is done.

This isn’t about producing something good, artistic, or even visually pleasing. It’s about taking an activity that usually is very deliberate, where we are focused on the outcome and trying to do it differently. You can reflect on how it felt to “draw” this way and how you feel about your output.

3. Storytelling Circle

This is an improv game played with 6 – 8 people.

  • Get in a circle. If you are doing the game in a larger group, you can make a semi-circle so that the everyone is facing out to the rest of the group.
  • As with many improv games, get three suggestions from the audience. You might ask for a proper name, the name of a place, a household object, something you might find in a purse, etc.
  • The people in the circle are to tell a story (incorporating those elements) one word a time. Go around and around until you are done!
  • Move quickly and aim to have the sentences the group creates come out almost as quickly as if one person was speaking.
  • One trick is for everyone to be ready to start a new sentence. The almost-default of a run-on sentence isn’t much fun to do or to watch.
  • Don’t throw all your story elements in at once, and try to look for the ending to the story.

I like to do a couple of rounds of this until everyone has gone and then debrief about the experience. What was it like to do this? What were you thinking when you were playing? What did you observe when you were watching?

There are some common responses when I debrief this activity, but I also hear something new every time.

I teach an entire workshop about improv (video, slides). And just for fun, you can see some hilarious improv anti-patterns in this clip.

4. It’s going to be okay

  • Working with a partner, share something you are worried about. It can be something big or something small.
  • The partner says, as authentically as possible “It’s going to be okay.
  • The first person acknowledges that yes, it is.
  • Then switch roles and repeat the exercise.
  • As a group, talk about what happened.

This simple exercise uncovers a lot of complex individual stuff. My objective is to just give people a chance to play with the notion of “it’s going to be okay” which is maybe not that comfortable for everyone. But worry takes you away from the present moment, into the future when some unwanted consequence may occur. And I hope that by playing with it, and seeing how it does or doesn’t work for the individual, people may have some power to try this themselves.

When I’ve led a group through this exercise, some people made it a silly activity (“I’m worried about vampires”), others felt that the response wasn’t sufficient to mollify the concerns they had just given voice to and reported feeling worse, others felt that just expressing the worry gave them some relief, others felt like the exchange was calming. I have been challenged by being asked “Well, what if it’s not going to be okay, like what if it’s cancer?” Of course, the process of coming to grips with death does indeed include acceptance. Oliver Sacks wrote a terrific and touching essay about his own impending death from cancer.

5. Designer is Present

  • People get into pairs and move so that they are sitting directly across from each other. Their knees shouldn’t be touching but they should be close.
  • Without staring, each pair looks quietly at each other for 60 seconds.
  • Without debriefing or discussing, everyone stands up and moves around for a moment to “shake it off” and then sits down to resume for an additional 60 seconds.
  • As a group, debrief the experience.

This activity comes from the performance artist Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, a show at MoMA where as part of a retrospective of her career she performed a new piece where she sat silently facing individual museum-goers, all day, day after day, for several months. An excellent documentary about the show is reviewed here.

I have since learned that you can find versions of this exercise in dance and in couples therapy.

You can also read more about presence in an article I co-wrote about noticing. For more on this workshop, watch the video and check out the slides.

6. Reframing Bad ideas

  • Each person is given two sticky notes.
  • On the first sticky note, write or draw the worst idea for a product or service. Something that is dangerous, immoral, bad for business. I often give the example of “candy for breakfast.”
  • Pass the sticky note to someone else. It doesn’t have to be a direct swap, as long as everyone has someone else’s bad idea.
  • On the second sticky note, design the circumstances whereby the bad idea you’ve received becomes a good idea. I’ll offer the scenario where colony collapse disorder has disrupted the food supply enough that children aren’t getting enough sugar through regular sources and breakfast candy is the result.
  • Have people share the idea they were given and the way they successfully reframed it.

I stole this exercise from Mathew Lincez. I use it in combination with “It’s going to be okay” to illustrate our capacity for reframing and as part of a workshop on creativity called the Power of Bad Ideas (article, slides, video).

Phoenix Design Summit: Facilitating for good

While we often have the chance to facilitate ideation and strategy sessions for our clients, I recently got to bring those skills to a different context. I had the fortune of facilitating for social good a few weeks ago at the Phoenix Design Summit, an extension of the AIGA Design For Good initiative focused on using design to ignite, accelerate and amplify social change. Previous summits have been held in Birmingham, Aspen, and Savannah.

The Phoenix summit was focused on three different areas that significantly impact our future (broadly) and youth (specifically): Education, Health & Wellness, and the Arts. Three teams of designers and local champions spent three days using design thinking to tackle these challenges. I worked with Team Activating Arts, eight volunteers including designers, arts advocates and conscious entrepreneurs.

On Day 1 all the teams took field trips to organizations and sites related to their topic. We visited three different Arts-focused organizations around the metro area including Free Arts of Arizona that provides healing art experiences to abused and homeless children, the Phoenix Center for the Arts which offers arts and theatre classes in a fantastic old building in central Phoenix, and the ASU Art Museum where we visited the Miracle Report exhibit and Emerge: Redesigning the Future.

The team captured observations, insights, questions, and passions on sticky notes as we debriefed on the visits and identified common strengths, challenges and opportunities for overlap. One idea present at every site we visited was a commitment to the incredible value of art making. Everyone we spoke to emphasized the process of art being just as important as the end product.

On Day 2 we reconvened and set out to make meaning of the mess and clarify the team’s vision: Wouldn’t it be sweet to create systems for Arizona Arts organizations to bring together their unique talents to create opportunities?

Of all three teams, ours clearly had an advantage in delivering a solution that truly modeled community engagement because we had a representative from the Phoenix Center for the Arts on our team. This truly made the difference in being able to create a plan with a champion who has the passion and means to implement it. As the team spent the second day brainstorming what kinds of problems they could solve, they were able to focus on activating alliances and engagement among various arts organizations and citizens with the help of our key stakeholder, Joseph. The end of the day brought convergence and a rapid Pecha Kucha-style presentation by each of the 3 teams about their progress so far. Team Activating Arts offered both long term strategies and short term tactics that were actionable for the local arts community.

Day 3 was all about action and implementation. A key element (and challenge) of the Summit was the concept of community engagement. While our creative team was overflowing with solutions, they understood that the outcome of the summit would be most valuable if it enabled the community to generate their own solutions (rather than a small group of designers determining what they should be). So the team devised a 3-part strategy for facilitating community engagement with Phoenix arts organization that is being spearheaded by Joseph, someone with the resources and passion to see it through.

Part 1: Organize a Phoenix Art Summit in October to engage the local Arts organizations and community (this summit will be hosted by Joseph and is modeled after the very summit we participated in!)

Part 2: Create an umbrella organization for all of the Arizona Arts organizations that allows them to share valuable resources and collaborate more efficiently (potential output of summit)

Part 3: Promote Everyday Art in Phoenix (the team went wild ideating dozens of specific activities for this initiative and even implemented a few of them for their final presentation)

By day’s end the team had created a summit agenda, a detailed “how to host your own summit” workbook and guide for Joseph to use in planning, and a Phoenix Art Summit website to collect information from interested individuals and organizations. In this way the team’s solution resonated with what we heard during our site visits, that the process of art making is just as important as the product. The Art summit is a process, a creative vehicle for generating outcomes that are meaningful and engaging to those they seek to impact, align, and serve.

 

I was extremely impressed with the team’s relentless creative efforts over the three days. I was also inspired as they committed to continuing to help Joseph in the future and being authentic participants in nurturing a cohesive arts community to support the youth of Phoenix and Arizona. If you are in the Phoenix area and in interested in the arts, please check out these organizations and sign up for summit announcements. And perhaps I will see you in Phoenix in October!

*for more eye candy and images of stickie notes, please visit the summit Flickr page here.

This Week @ Portigal

The Portigal team is on the road and in the air this week. We have lots happening on the home front, stateside and abroad!

  • Steve is already in Lisbon and gearing up for his sold-out workshop (as well as a short talk) for User Experience Lisbon.
  • Tamara is digging into the results of a co-analysis session we hosted with our clients last week and preparing the final deliverable for our research with gamers.
  • Tamara is heading to Phoenix later this week to facilitate for social good at the Phoenix Design Summit.
  • We shared ours, will you share yours? We have launched the War Stories series and are now accepting your submissions about the not-so-glorious side of fieldwork!

What we are consuming: Risk!, Sagres, The Universal Traveller, La Damiana

With a name like Murder, it’s got to be good…

Business strategist Nilofer Merchant presented her branded “MurderBoarding” process at the IxDA SF monthly meeting last night.

While brainstorming generates lots of ideas, you still have to discern the right choices to win. AND you have to get a group of people to believe that IT is the right solution.

The opposite of whiteboarding, the MurderBoarding™ decision process ensures teams creatively generate many potential options before “killing off” options one-by-one until there is single best solution for a specific organization and situation.

Merchant is certainly right that companies often have as much difficulty dealing with the aftermath of idea generation – What do we do now? – as the divergent exploration itself. There’s no question that for many organizations, moving forward from idea generation in a grounded way is a challenge, and it’s great that Merchant has structured a process for establishing decision-making criteria and prioritizing ideas for development. We’ve had to create this type of process too, and have increasingly been working with our clients from research through ideation to evaluating and prioritizing ideation results through the lens of what we’ve helped them learn about their customers.

Merchant’s book, The New How, just came out a month ago, and it’s quite possible that her presentation was intended to serve as a teaser for the book, rather than a standalone piece, but at the conclusion of the talk I felt like I was still waiting for it to start – for me, there was a bit of the “no there, there” feeling to it.

When a process comes along with a provocative new name like MurderBoarding, it can be both affirming and disappointing to find out it’s more or less in line with what you’ve already been doing.

It’s a bit like looking at the ingredients list on your sports drink and realizing that “Electrolytes” are just salt.

If you’d like to know more about our approach to generating ideas (if not murdering them), check out Steve’s BayCHI presentation, Well We Did All This Research…now what?, or catch it live at the Interaction10 conference next month in Savannah.

Turn It On Again

Stephen Anderson’s musings on collaboration and attribution reminded me that a project we worked on for BIC has gone live:

From Business Week

[BIC is] designing disposable cartridges for fuel cells, a kind of power supply that could someday eliminate the need to constantly recharge mobile phones or laptop computers. Electronics makers are drawn to fuel cells because today’s rechargeable batteries can’t keep up with the demands users place on portable gadgets.

Bic’s big adventure with fuel cells began in 2002. Ken Cooper, the company’s U.S.-based director of strategic business development, was in a New Haven (Conn.) drugstore and spotted a cordless travel hair dryer with a tiny motor that ran on butane. This got Cooper thinking about fuel cells for handheld gadgets-a hot topic in consumer electronics circles. Few companies in the world package as much fuel every day as Bic does in its butane lighters, he reasoned. So Cooper decided Bic should take a gamble and develop fuel-cell cartridges that are “lighter-like, pocketable, yet safe.”

I know Ken worked with a series of small consultancies over that period. From our workshop, I remember strongly that fuel cells were a key takeway. But was that concept extant before the workshop, or did we generate it? I honestly can’t remember, and ultimately, (as Stephen addresses) it’s not a worthwhile pursuit to frame it that way. In most of our engagements we are trying to inform and inspire talented business people to develop and refine ideas and move them further along, and seeing this story in BusinessWeek 6 years later confirms that indeed we did.

You Say You Want a Revolution . . .

Alan Cooper spoke earlier this week at a meeting of the San Francisco Interaction Design Association chapter. Cooper talked about programming as a craft, and Interaction Designers as potential facilitators of that craft within the business world.

Cooper is advocating what he calls an “insurgency of quality,” which he describes as being about how software design and production processes can and should be evolving-specifically, increasing the time spent refining products before they’re released as “finished.”

It’s an old carpenters’ adage to “measure twice, cut once.” The current software production model Cooper is speaking out against might be described as: measure once, cut once, ship once, repeat all steps for version 2.

Based on the insurgency Cooper is advocating, in which Interaction Designers and Programmers would take more time to get it right before a product goes to market, the development model would become: measure twice, cut twice (e.g. validate and iterate), ship once. The idea being that what gets shipped would be of higher quality then what generally gets produced in the current way, which prioritizes time-to-market.

We work with a lot of clients who are operating within very tight timelines. I’d be curious to know what kinds of successes and failures Cooper and his firm’s consultants have been having with their clients in trying to implement this new development model on actual projects. Are the Cooper folks finding that client organizations are ready, willing and able to add more development time to the front end? If not, what kinds of strategies are working and not working in trying to encourage that kind of change?

A lot of theoretical revolutions break down or dissolve when they meet real world complexities and constraints. It would be great to have some stories detailing how the ideas Cooper is advocating are getting played out in real project engagements.

And the pundits cry “Lo, let there be a time of No Flip Charts”


Johnnie Moore calls for No Flipcharts

I would like to propose an International No Flip Chart Week. During this period, no one will leap up in the middle of meetings and attempt to capture what’s being discussed on a flip chart

I apologize for ripping on Johnnie specifically (as he is just my own personal tipping point of annoyance), but I’m getting sick of the rhetoric of New Thinking that the blogosphere (and the world of consultants) is bloated with. The formula is simple: take an widely held belief or established behavior and lead off with a screeching pronouncement about how it is untrue, dangerous or wasn’t ever true, or shouldn’t be true or used any more.

Flip Charts are BAD!

They are? I think the frustration is misplaced when directed at a tool. Meeting that are poorly facilitated, with unclear agendas, bad content, different unarticulated motivations for participation, and underskilled attendees – those are the problems we need to focus on. Not by forcing people to use or not use a tool because that tool automatically equates to bad behavior? I’ve been in my share of meetings, and I can’t really think of how the flip chart was ever to blame, or provided a temptation for a behavior that we wanted to avoid.

I mean, sure, you’ve got the dickhead who uses the marker and flip chart to control the meeting. But shouldn’t we get the dickhead out of the meeting (or, better yet, get me out of having to meet with the dickhead) rather than get rid of the flip chart?

So here’s my new proposal. Let’s get rid of the floors in meeting rooms. Haven’t you ever been in a painful meeting where there are no creative ideas or innovative discussion taking place? What else is there to do but tap your toes on the floor! I say, let’s get rid of the floors. Now when the meeting is going south you will have no other choice but step up (carefully) and use your own facilitation skills to get the group headed in the right direction.

You won’t ever be called on the carpet in front of the team, because there will be no carpet! There will be no floor! No floors! No floors! NO FLOORS! I urge you to join me in the new business movement, no floors, don’t settle for the bottom, move to the top, the floors have got to go back to the basement where they belong. And tell ’em who sent you – Steve Portigal with the Steve Portigal NO FLOORS movement. I am a genius. Please hire me. No floors!

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