Workshops, brainstorms, call them what you will; the art of gathering a group of people to help the collective imagination focus on new ways of seeing. Yet so often, the potential of precious time together goes to waste. Like a kaleidoscope, a great workshop is all in the twist…
Short couple of paragraphs on workshops
Show the GIF of the Kaleidoscope
This technique is for creating a basic workshop Kaleidoscope, managing both information and imaginations to create a focussed working method. It can work for either individual or group work, but it’s certainly in the latter situation that you will find it most effective. After all, it’s hard to surprise yourself if you know what’s coming.
This method was originally based on the three environmental flow triggers described by Steven Kotler in his book The Rise of the Supermen, a book about His reference to flow (of course) builds on the near-legendary ‘Flow’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly),
Those original three triggers, High Consequences, Rich Environment and Embodiment, have expanded in iteration over time, incorporating functions of each trigger in the other two, plus pulling in experience from both work with Smithery and the creation of Artefact Cards.
Using each of these three triggers in rotation as a primary, secondary and tertiary priorities throughout a three-step process allows constant reinforcement of the conditions within a design.
The three (modified) triggers can be summarised up as follows:
STARTING: People have a clear idea what is expected of them, how it challenges them, and the consequences if they don’t deliver.
EXPLORING: They are being asked to work within a context where they have access to either new, unpredictable or complex information.
MAKING: They are asked to work with their whole bodies – moving or creating in physical space, with methods and materials that fully occupy them.
The key outcome when scene setting is for everyone to have a clear and focussed idea of what the problem to be solved is; what it is we have to do, by when, to share with who, and at what level of detail.
Primary Trigger – Consequences
You should identify for people why this is hard, important, and skirts along the edge of their abilities (yet not too far beyond). Of course, it doesn’t just have to be something ‘difficult’. Time can be a great way to focus the mind; something you know you can do, but in half the time you might normally have. Alternatively, ask people to work with an unfamiliar method in doing a familiar task.
Secondary Trigger – Environment
Find a way to create a new world around people. For example, ‘pretending’ (creating a scenario in which people can quickly lose themselves) allows participants to drop the objections they might normally come up with, and concentrate on a purer version of the problem at hand. In order to do this most effectively, introduce new threats, unknown information, analogous comparison or anything else that makes it clear this is no longer ‘the routine day’.
Tertiary Trigger – Embodiment
Finally, creating a commonly-agreed version of the problem people will work on is important (especially for group work). Having everyone write down a version of the task as they understand it gives people something to work against, gives the facilitator a view of the team’s goal, and uses the physicality of having ‘something to point to’ a way to advance their ideas moving forwards. Having everyone write it down can be key here; not only does it reinforce understanding for the individuals, but it means that any differences between interpretations can be explored.
During the exploration period of working, the aim is to supply people with a rich, diverse source of inspiration from which to pull. This should introduce novelty, unpredictability, or complexity, in any combination you wish. The more people have to play with, the more they will create unique, interesting solutions.
Primary Trigger – Environment
Novelty should be centred on bringing something to the table that either hasn’t been seen before, or isn’t associated with the task at hand. Use of metaphor and analogy helps here. Unpredictability may be the things you expose people to, or the way you run the group; reveal the next task as people go, to maintain an edge in the atmosphere. Complexity is used to give people a large amount of information (plus that which they bring themselves) and encourage the understanding that things are the less binary and more dialogic; people must bear in mind that more than one thing is true.
Secondary Trigger – Embodiment
If all this material is delivered conceptually, or digitally, people will struggle more to see what it is they are working on. By creating physical manifestations of all information to work ‘within’, individuals or group can quickly and adeptly begin to spot patterns; the peripheral vision that exists when staring at a table or wall of ideas becomes massively important, as people make the links between the seemingly unconnected.
Tertiary Trigger – Consequences
At this stage, the urgency of the problem itself takes a little bit of a back seat; if people are too anxious, they won’t let their minds loosen up enough to explore effectively. To help them deal with this, you can use the initial problem statement to generate questions to use when interrogating the other information e.g. ‘What other sectors does this look like?’, ‘Who else has this problem?’, ‘Where might we find this sort of customer?’.
As you move towards conclusion, you want people to quickly turn their creative energy into something they can point to as ‘progress’. It could be a proposal, a pitch, a prototype, or most usefully perhaps a combination of all three. What is it, what does it do for people, how can we make it happen… seek to create something that demands resolution on it’s future existence.
Primary Trigger – Embodiment
By getting either the individual or team wholly concentrated on the creative process, you can very quickly build a version of what it is you’d propose to others. Getting people to do this in a physical way means that all hands, eyes and minds are engaged in the process of synthesising the necessary information into material forms that others can see. You bring something new, physical and tangible into the world. This method of working has an additional benefit; by refraining from burning excess energy in non-essentially work (e.g. making PowerPoint pretty) you can maximise efficiency of the working process.
Secondary Trigger – Consequences
During this period of working, you should continually refer back to the problem as identified in scene-setting; how does what we are making answer the question? Anything that doesn’t directly go to addressing the question should be treated in one of two ways; is it either extraneous, and should be removed, or it tells us something important about the initial question, might could suggest a reframing of the problem itself.
Tertiary Trigger – Environment
Finally, you will find that the individual or group will start to filter out the distractions themselves, and peel away the parts of the rich environment they created in order to just use the pieces that really matter. If there are things from the rich environment that were previously considered fundamental in the journey, but now have been left by the wayside, you can perhaps look back and question why they dropped away.