How do you get 25 people to draft one question in one hour and live to tell the tale?

This was the challenge I faced recently when I was asked to design and deliver a 2-day workshop that would be the starting point for a 2-year policy initiative.  Undertaking what is essentially a drafting exercise with 25 people had the potential to get pretty ugly and really bogged down. 

As I mulled over how to structure an exercise to get the group where it needed to go, I kept stumbling up against how to encourage creativity, keep people engaged and avoid the natural tendency for some voices to dominate the discussion.  Further, what could I do to make it fun and dynamic?  How could I get people out of their seats without causing chaos in a small room?

I have had great success leading groups to consensus using the Technology of Participation methods taught by ICA Associates.  I have used their index card technique to help groups develop vision statements, identify operational issues and decide on the elements of implementation plans.  I’d also been reading Gamestorming – a Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers.  The authors of this great resource book see anything movable, like cards, as great “mobile artifacts” – something that carries meaning and can be moved around easily to introduce randomness; randomness is important because it drives creativity by tricking the mind into looking for new and different patterns.

All that got me thinking – I figured that using cards would increase the chances for everyone to participate and would create ideas that could be shuffled, regrouped, and leveraged to drive to consensus in 60 minutes.  Here’s what I did:

Step 1:  In small groups of 4-5 participants, individuals reflected on information that was presented earlier in the day and then shared their ideas about the common themes or essential elements of the policy challenge at hand.

Step 2:  After a short discussion, each table created their first cut at a question to describe the end state they wanted to create through their policy work.  The question had to begin with:  “How can we…”  Groups were encouraged to do this quickly and NOT to seek perfection.

Step 3:  Once happy with what they had developed, they put boxes around the main elements or blocks of meaning in the draft question eliminating the conjunctions, pronouns, prepositions and articles.

Step 4Each element block was then placed on one or two coloured index cards and placed on a blank mural posted on a wall. 

These 4 steps took about 20 minutes to complete and produced 4 rough outlines of the draft question.

Step 5:  Silently, participants looked at each question, and its elements, and thought about their different meanings.  When ready, anyone could step forward and take elements from each question to begin creating one new question.  As each element was moved and placed, the person moving the card explained their rationale to the group.  If others disagreed, they could make a counter move and explain why. 

Step 6:  The draft question was reviewed and confirmed.  Times up – done in 60 minutes or so.

We came back to this initial question several times over the course of the 2-day workshop and continued to make adjustments as our understanding of the issues deepened.  The draft question was left on cards so that the group was able to add new cards and shuffle ideas around to clarify its meaning and focus

By the end of the workshop, the group had a strong question to take forward that everyone in the group felt they owned.

Immigrating to the World of Social Media


When I started working for government in late 1989, I had never experienced email, or worked much with PCs.  Word-processing in university was via the mainframe.  Yet, within three years – by around 1993 – everyone had a PC; and email had evolved to a much easier platform than the complicated system on dumb terminals that I started with.

I wholeheartedly embraced this revolution – quickly becoming the “go-to-gal” for any number of software related tasks and questions.  I created complex macro-driven spreadsheets and gorgeous slide presentations for my bosses – that were, incidentally, put onto overhead transparencies!

So, I have been quite perplexed with the internal resistance I have felt as I have begun to adopt various social media tools for my business and watched as my pre-teen daughters sign up for any number of chat sites. 

Though I am not quite prepared to brand social media as the “rock’n’roll” of my generation, I definitely feel a strong generational gap.  An “a-ha” moment came when I raced out to get a book to teach me how to Twitter!  While it was a good read, I quickly saw the irony in this approach – type “learn to use Twitter” into your search engine and you get over 1 billion hits!

My oh so savvy advisors at Copeland Communications, explained it this way – those of my generation are, to some extent, technology immigrants whereas our children are technology natives.  Even better is the now classic quote from Douglas Adams.  Writing way, way back in 1999, Adams said this about our ability to adapt to technological change:

“1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.”

Looked at from this perspective, it is much easier cut myself some slack and accept that learning the ways of this new world will take time, patience, persistence and curiosity.

What has your experience been bringing social media into your life?

Blogging is Like Sharing a Piece of Pie

It seemed eerie that last night, on the eve of launching my new website and blog, I should stumble upon the following passage in William Gibson’s, Pattern Recognition:

“Musicians, today…put new compositions out on the web, like pies set to cool on a window ledge, and wait for other people to anonymously rework them.  Ten will be all wrong, but the eleventh will be genius.  And free.  It’s as though the creative process is no longer contained within an individual skull, if indeed it ever was.  Everything, today, is to some extent the reflection of something else.”

The free exchange of ideas and knowledge on the web has expanded my ability to find the best sources of information and has greatly enriched what I am able to offer my clients.  I’m excited to be entering this global collaboration and to put my “compositions” on the window ledge for your thoughts, reflections and reworkings.

Facilitation is like flying passengers through fog

When I work with groups, I am always struck by the faith they place in me to get them where they need to go.  They put themselves in my hands for an hour, a day or sometimes several days.  Often they are required to work through complex exercises to address business challenges with ambiguous or limited information.  I have wondered what that must feel like?  How are they able to remain confident that we will get to our destination regardless of the difficulties we may face or the detours we may need to take?

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