Serious Fun

Monday, July 8th, 2019

Why is it so hard for adults to play? As soon as we get our first real jobs, using our time productively shoves play off the agenda. But why? Is adulthood really this boring?

Researcher Stuart Brown, MD describes play as “time spent without purpose.” That makes a lot of people very anxious, so we create purpose to fill the time: agonizing over presentations, picking them apart until they become meaningless, or drafting and re-drafting the same speech until we can’t remember what we wanted to say in the first place. We even turn supposedly fun things (like running) into workouts, activity-based problem-solving becomes a workshop, a bunch of like-minded colleagues transform into a workgroup. Why are we all working so hard? What happened to play?

The notion of play is something all animals have as part of our evolutionary drive for survival. Play connects us with others, which helps us increase our tribe and provides safety, and also helps us know we are not alone in the world. But somehow, human adults treat play as a thing to grow out of. In a culture where there is simply no time for non-productive time and where exhaustion (“too busy to sleep!”) and productivity are status symbols, goofing around is seen as, well, child’s play. Yet, adult play is important. It has the opposite effect on the body as stress—it often leads to laughter, which makes your blood pressure go down and your dopamine levels go up. Clearly play is good for your mental health, and vital for your sense of well-being.

Play can also make us more productive. Free time is at the core of creativity and innovation because it creates clear space where ideas are born. Playing and collaboration at work helps with team building and rapid solutioning, and it’s no secret that play is a huge part of the design thinking process. Watching kids play with blocks is the clearest example of how play leads to a better result: if a tower topples over, they don’t rebuild it exactly as it was, they frantically search for the nearest thing to stabilize it and build without fear of failure. In fact, they are never too attached to anything they build because they expect it to fall apart, and know each tumble is only a temporary setback before they scoop up the blocks and try—possibly fail—again. If it didn’t work, they don’t care, because now they can rebuild with wings this time, or five additional storeys, and doing it over is the whole point of the game. Playing helps them figure out how to make something stronger and better.

At Innovation Arts we know that if you can’t have fun with a problem, you will never solve it. In our consulting work we encourage people to draw big on large whiteboards and super-sized pieces of paper rather than perfecting PowerPoint presentations. Similarly, our creative communications work typically starts out with sketches literally on napkins. And through our emergent work around games science, we are building ways to enable collaboration through play in the workplace—convinced as we are of how group energy and productivity surge powerfully when people are purposefully engaged in creating and learning.

Our experience, combined with research into neuroscience, psychology and anthropology, has deepened our understanding of how to design play scenarios to help organisations with a spectrum of challenges from problem solving to bringing culture to life, to facilitating integration between groups. The sweet (fun?) spot is where people come to life in a safe and creative space, where they have permission to express themselves. Just imagine what happens when colleagues are at their most free, their most intimate, their most, well, human.

Don’t take our word for it: call us to arrange a free play-test of our pioneering values game Dilemma! Innovation Arts is the globally recognised hybrid strategy and design consultancy known for its work with some of the world’s leading companies, as well as a range of global NGOs and public sector organisations. Named by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, Innovation Arts has enjoyed over 10 years of helping business leaders to successfully navigate transformational change and organisational challenges within their companies. On the public stage, Innovation Arts works with organisations as diverse as the World Economic Forum and TED where they support the emergence of new ideas through creative collaboration. Innovation Arts’ head office is based in London with satellite operations throughout North America and Europe

Powered by Pictures

Friday, May 24th, 2019
Powering the Change

We were invited in early May to be part of a very important future-building transportation energy event. With a participant list drawn from a wide range of backgrounds it would be a challenge to create a community of shared expectations, visions, and potential solutions, but complex challenges are our favourite kind, so we were delighted to collaborate. The client originally approached us for help designing and delivering a two-hour module of work to take advantage of the breadth of participant expertise, but while scoping the work, we introduced the idea of graphic facilitation and proposed the creation of an InfoMural to illustrate the possibilities of the future mobility ecosystem.

An InfoMural and live scribing can have enormous impact in an event, and is always a fantastic idea. To have someone mapping a conversation real-time can be very powerful. As a focal point in a long conversation it is useful, as a tool for making connections and links between the different topics as they are discussed it is invaluable. Moreover, to watch a conversation appear before your eyes is magical. Our scribes are experts in listening, distilling and illustrating the essential meaning of a conversation, not only to record the content but also to show how distinct ideas fit a whole. The InfoMural functions in the same way as an individual session scribe except that it weaves individual chapters together into a larger visual narrative of the full event with its own beginning, middle and end. The InfoMural can be an agent of change, providing the people in the room with an identity as participants in a larger story of transformation.

With only a short preparation time available, we knew we had to move fast, and so very quickly we took the design co-created with the sponsors and mobilized the IA team toward creating an unforgettable event. While the Collaboration Consulting team dove into designing the working sessions, the Creative Communications team began sifting through a mountain of research provided to us by the client to get our heads around what the future might look like. What will vehicles look like in 2030 and how will people use them? How will power channel to the many places people want it? Where will the power come from? We generated lots of ideas and consistently iterated until we had settled on a draft design. After a feedback session with the client and several more iterations we prepared a rendering of the InfoMural we’d use as a blueprint to build in large scale on the day. This early, intensive preparation ensured our messages were right, and allowed us the freedom to work quickly and confidently on a day where the InfoMural and graphic capture was consistently photographed and shared by participants. In the client’s communication of the event, the InfoMural featured prominently, and our work has since been shared hundreds of times on social media.

The further out into the future you look, the more difficult it is to imagine. When you try to do it with a group of people, some complain the effort hurts their brains; the larger the group, the bigger the headache. But a picture provides you with a tool to see the future, which gives the team trying to develop a new idea the ability to move back and forth between concrete direction and abstract concepts, absolutely essential when preparing for the future. With words alone, it’s easy to get tangled up in syntax, but with a picture, we can see where we are going, and imagine how to get there from here.

Innovation Arts is the globally recognised hybrid strategy and design consultancy known for its work with some of the world’s leading companies, as well as a range of global NGOs and public sector organisations. Named by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, Innovation Arts has enjoyed over 10 years of helping business leaders to successfully navigate transformational change and organisational challenges within their companies. On the public stage, Innovation Arts works with organisations as diverse as the World Economic Forum and TED where they support the emergence of new ideas through creative collaboration. Innovation Arts’ head office is based in London with satellite operations throughout North America and Europe

A Team of Rivals

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019
Chocolate and Peanut Butter

Recently in the news, the term “compromise” has been much bandied about. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are faced with red lines and walls they are unwilling to cross. Without the ability to compromise, deadlock reigns. But to compromise seems to suggest failure; as a noun “compromise” is an agreement reached once each side makes concessions. It could be said to be an agreement with which no party is happy because each feels they either gave away too much, or received too little. And so, we can naturally expect extremism, that antonym of compromise, to follow. Each side digs in its heels further, making progress impossible. What is unusual, here in 2019, that heel-digging seems almost tribal, the sense that each side’s position is part of their very identity. In the words of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, concession would be, “…an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation.”

Human beings have always organized themselves into tribes, whether along the lines of age, race and sex, or in more modern times gender, politics and football teams. Tribes offer a sense of identity and belonging, reinforcing values and creating support networks. There was a time when one’s “tribe” was generally to be found geographically, or within kin. Now, enabled by the digital revolution and social media, tribes of all kinds can connect anywhere and everywhere. “Finding your tribe,” no matter how specialized, has never been easier.

But tribal thinking and behaviour is usually underpinned by the idea of the binary, the concept of X and “not X,” where X is “people like us” and “Not X” is all the rest. Social psychology refers to these as ingroups and outgroups, giving us vegans and non-vegans, English speakers and non-English speakers, liberals and non-liberals. This binary mindset can lead to social fragmentation, and on a smaller scale “siloed” behaviour in our clients’ organizations—quite a challenge when you are trying to create a cohesive culture.

However, tribalism can offer some advantages: passion, loyalty, identity. You might be Tottenham and I might be Arsenal, but what we can agree together is that football is a great game, we both love it fiercely and will defend it to the death. In We are all Weird, Seth Godin discusses the tendency towards tribalism, challenging marketers and employers to speak in a targeted way to all the different “normals” rather than trying to get people to conform to a single type. As the architects of collaboration our challenge is how to bring all these different normals together to build something. We want to use tribal loyalties and specialisms to create momentum and innovation, without suffering from the resistance created along the binary that puts one’s own tribe above all others, leading to discrimination and animosity.

On a recent DesignSession, it became clear that our client faced exactly this issue. To highlight it, we introduced an exercise that first facilitates the rapid formation of tribes and then—under a position of stress—asks all participants to relinquish the values and identity they have just created. The first part of the exercise is already interesting, asking small groups to align on a number of value judgements, choose totems, find their voice. But the second part of the exercise speaks loudest. After an introduction from each new “tribe,” where they proudly state who they are and what they hold dearest, an ultimatum is given and they must all enter into negotiations on whose set of tribal values and symbols will be adopted by all. In effect, we have asked a diverse set of ingroups to adapt a homogeneous culture at odds with their own, face severe consequences.

Some groups attempt to form coalitions, teaming up with other like-minded tribes, to leverage that as power in negotiations. But even when agreement would be to everyone’s benefit, people are unwilling to let go of the values and identity they created only moments before. Of course, this is powerfully analogous to where participants may find themselves in their day-to-day jobs. Different parts of the organisation may be siloed, or have their own, strong sub-identity or sense of comparative value to the business or organisational goals, and once adopted, those identities are difficult to relinquish. Why?

It’s in our DNA. Anthropology teaches us that humans have a limited capacity for operating in large social groups. One thing we know is true, for example, when we design and facilitate our Design Sessions, is that while a group of eight people will typically work well and cohesively, a group of nine will split into subgroups of four and five. On a larger scale, and thinking ahead to maintaining momentum in your transformation, people can only maintain meaningful close relationships over time with a relatively small community: depending on the study the numbers vary from 150 to almost twice that. In The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell refers to a personality type he calls ‘Connectors’ – those who are successful at bringing these otherwise unconnected groups together. Identifying these people at the start of a programme in a large organisation can be vital.

As we co-create collaborative Design Sessions with our clients, one key step in the process is intentionally leveraging – and intentionally breaking – existing ‘social’ structures within the organisation, and then recreating the networks to inspire collaboration, innovation, and creativity by knowing how to add two ideas together to create an entirely new idea. In our DesignSessions, nobody compromises, we encourage disparate passions and identities to give birth to new concepts. We manage the full group, whether 20 or 120 participants, with all its ingroups, to reveal existing conflict where necessary in order to treat it, but most of all, seeking to leverage the values of all the organisation’s tribes and help everyone collaborate to best effect.

Later in the transformation process, particularly when we are focusing on values, it’s equally important to bring people together to share their different experiences and understanding of organisational behaviours in a controlled and collaborative way (this is when we both agree how much we love football). Thinking back to how tribal behaviour works along the binary, no matter what an organisation’s stated values are, they are often played out differently depending on if someone is ‘management’ or ‘not-management’, customer-facing or not. We use Dilemma, a tool that takes the form of a multiple-choice game for small groups, to discuss what behaviours really exist and why, creating alignment across ‘tribes’ on what the right behaviours should be and agreement on how to achieve that going forwards.

No matter what you want to bring your people together to achieve, recognising how tribal tendencies work in your organisation is the first step to turning them to your advantage.

Innovation Arts is the globally recognised hybrid strategy and design consultancy known for its work with some of the world’s leading companies, as well as a range of global NGOs and public sector organisations. Named by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, Innovation Arts has enjoyed over 10 years of helping business leaders to successfully navigate transformational change and organisational challenges within their companies. On the public stage, Innovation Arts works with organisations as diverse as the World Economic Forum and TED where they support the emergence of new ideas through creative collaboration. Innovation Arts’ head office is based in London with satellite operations throughout North America and Europe

Planning for disruption: An A,B,C

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Claire is featured in this month’s issue of The HR Director Magazine speaking about how organisations can prepare themselves for disruption and harness the potential of innovation in order to maximise the opportunity it presents. You can read the article in print or online at the link provided below.

Read the full article…

Planning for disruption: An A,B,C

Designing for a Brexit future

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

The UK Referendum result on Brexit has provided us with only one certainty: uncertainty. In the midst of uncertainty, our experience shows that traditional approaches to strategic planning can be downright dangerous. One pitfall is to take a binary view: assuming that the future is either open to precise predictions, or that it is completely unpredictable, and therefore will produce only unpredictable outcomes. Underestimating uncertainty can lead to strategies that neither defend against threats nor take advantage of the opportunities that uncertainty may provide.

In our last blog,we wrote about the questions our clients are asking us about navigating the future as the UK plans to exit the European Union, acknowledging that accepting the uncertainty and asking questions is the right place to start. But we also know that facing uncertainty can be very stressful for organizations and the people within them, because it can be difficult to make decisions and judgments in those conditions. It is a time when we have no playbook to follow; we must rely upon our imaginations and creativity as a source of inspiration to cope with what could happen, which is why working together can produce far better results than going it alone.

It used to be that predicting the future was fairly straightforward for many organizations; by looking at current trends and evaluating the existing landscape, they could make educated guesses about the future, as if the graph would continue in a straight line. However, because of the necessary confidentiality and evolving nature of the Brexit negotiations, there are multiple uncertainties circling, each with its own rich store of conceivable outcomes. Furthermore, it can be difficult to lead in such probabilistic situations: no one wants to hear, “there’s a 68 percent chance we won’t go out of business,” from their boss. No approach will make the challenges of uncertainty go away, but by using collaborative design thinking, scenario planning, and rapidly testing possible hypotheses to explore the challenge in depth, we can help prepare leaders to make more confident strategic decisions when opportunities and or threats from disruption present themselves.

What is Design Thinking with Innovation Arts?

When we work with an executive team on a collaborative design session, we stress the importance of working together as a high-performing team (like those of an emergency room, Everest climbing expeditions or Formula One pit crews) to cope with new information. This relies upon building knowledge of an unfamiliar landscape, exploring the need for collaboration and trust, and seeking out opportunities for innovation, to help anticipate what will be necessary to make the right decisions before the actual need arises. Moreover, we like to work with large groups of 50 or more so we can explore as widely as possible, test and discard many different options before narrowing in on the right solution we can build together to embrace what comes.

Navigating an uncertain future with an approach that is often new to the team can be unsettling. However, the Innovation Arts process is designed to deliver against the objectives we set together with the sponsor team at the start of the process. Your main question might be, “how do we plan for Brexit?” but by working together, we will also uncover a myriad of other relevant questions that will influence your future direction. Using a rapid-iterative, collaborative approach based on the design thinking methodology, we will uncover the forces driving your current organizational approach as well as the likely probable futures to identify how your system will respond. A useful analogy is how the various harmonies of a complex piece of music would sound if one or more different chords are struck.

In a collaborative design session with a client facing Brexit questions, we would encourage them to engage in a scenarios exercise, which would allow them to explore their response to the plausible but unexpected outcomes of the negotiations that might affect their business. In the case of Brexit, this would likely mean understanding which of their structures, frameworks, initiatives and timeframes will be most impacted by Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. After working with the organization’s major stakeholders to understand the basic trends and driving forces in the industry, we would use the information to unearth the key uncertainties in the disrupted landscape. We’d then take the driving forces to the extreme: drastically reduced time frames, radical numbers, dramatic actions—for example, is it possible that a process that today takes twelve months could, in the future, be completed within five days? What would enable that to happen? With whom would you have to work and what would need to be in place? Think about it like training at high altitude for the marathon you plan to run at sea level—similarly, working through a scenarios exercise is about maximizing fitness and readiness for the run ahead. The next step in the process is to work backward to close the gap between that imagined future and the way we work today to start readying ourselves for any eventuality.

Working collaboratively on a thorny problem is an ideal way to get a team prepared for a future they can’t quite envision.

The Innovation Arts process allows an executive team to practice making decisions based on available knowledge, and to build and test flexible systems to manage future events. Even if a team doesn’t know what to expect from the changing environment, working together will prepare them to face any challenge, identifying what to have ready to cope with any new situation (technology, cash reserves, new ways of working, effective communication systems, etc.). By practicing as a high performing team in a scenarios exercise with IA, executive teams who do not normally work together can have the chance to work through the tough questions and make the challenging decisions an uncertain future will inspire, making them more fit and ready to cope when the actual need arises.

For any company working in, or doing business with the UK, this is a deeply turbulent time, full of emotion and predictions about what might happen next. But it is also an exciting time, packed with new opportunities waiting to be explored. It will be impossible to guess the outcome of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, but with careful planning and forethought, major surprises or unexpected disruptions can be avoided, and that is where we can help.

If you have questions about how your organization can use collaborative design thinking exercises to be better prepared for Brexit and would like to work with our team, please contact us at encore@innovation-arts.com.

Innovation Arts is a hybrid strategy consultancy and design agency. Innovation Arts brings a fresh and highly effective approach to stimulating ‘group genius’ through design practices that stretch people’s thinking and initiate ideas. 
Described by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, the Innovation Arts team is a mixture of strategists, management consultants, designers, advertisers, branding and communications experts and artists, all skilled in helping organisations make change happen. It’s a unique blend that helps an organisation think differently about the challenges it’s facing, as well as address them.
Based on their experience of working repeatedly with some of the leading FTSE100 and Fortune 100 companies, governments and civil society organisations, their clients engage them because they deliver systemic, high-quality, sustainable outcomes with less risk, more certainty and in a fraction of the time compared to conventional approaches.

Employing a Millennial Generation

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Sarah is featured this week in leading professional title HR News talking about the issues around employing a millennial generation and how organisations need to shape up in order to capture best talent.

Read the full article…

Employing a Millennial Generation

Fewer than 1 in 10 businesses have cultures that are understood. Why does this matter and how to address it?

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

Claire is featured this week in leading professional title HR News talking about why fewer than 1 in 10 businesses have cultures that are understood.  Claire explores why this matters and how to address it as an HR professional.

Read the full article here.

Fewer than 1 in 10 businesses have cultures that are understood. Why does this matter and how to address it?

 

Brexit: Finding Opportunity in Uncertainty

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

You won’t be surprised to hear that Brexit crops up regularly in conversations with our clients, both UK-based and in other parts of the European Union.

So far, we have only seen immediately visible, short-term effects, such as the fall in the value of the pound, and the diversion of the majority of UK Government time and energy into the legislation required to leave the EU. We all have our own opinions on the likely longer term political and macro-economic repercussions of Brexit, but in fact for our clients the most pressing concerns are closer to home, with the decision likely to influence all elements of their business, from strategy and talent through to finance and regulation.

Of course with the process of exiting the EU being ongoing, largely confidential and subject to a great degree of uncertainty, our clients have more questions than answers right now. But asking the right questions is always an excellent place to start when tackling complex challenges. We would love to write a blog post that provided all the answers, but the truth is that none of us has them today, and at Innovation Arts we certainly don’t have off the peg solutions for you and your organisation. However, we do have some broad responses that may be useful as you consider the risks, opportunities and uncertainty that Brexit presents:

  1. “We are worried about Brexit: we expect it to affect our business (sales, import costs, organisation structure) negatively but it’s so complex we don’t really know how to tackle it, so we’ve done nothing. Where and when should planning start?”

Brexit is a supply side shock and, depending on how policies are managed at a national level, its effects could be felt positively or negatively on individual businesses, nationally and throughout the even more complex global system. One of the reasons our clients feel overwhelmed by this is that it seems impossible to separate the disruptive effects on their organisation with the wider (as yet unknown) effects. But putting focus on the smaller system of your organisation or industry where you are the experts can have major benefits at this stage. The best way to tackle complexity, in our experience, is to break it down into its constituent parts and their interdependencies before attempting to define solutions, so we advise starting there. 

  1. “We see the chance of a really positive outcome for our business if Brexit’s effects on sterling and on trade policies go our way. How do we ready ourselves to exploit those opportunities as they arise, even though we can’t count on them for sure?”

When disruption strikes, looking for ways to exploit opportunities should go hand in hand with risk mitigation. Because the implications of Brexit will touch many parts of your organisation, as well as your supply chain, we would suggest the best way to be in a position to strike while the iron is hot when the opportunity arises is to put action plans in place now, and review them regularly as the situation evolves. To ensure your plans are as good as you can get them, and watertight, use collaborative processes both within your organisation and with your trusted extended enterprise.

  1. We simply don’t have enough information about what Brexit will look like yet (hard, soft, Norwegian?). How can we go into planning blind?”

We have been following the discussions around Brexit impact assessments/sectoral analyses with interest.  In our experience, when you are framing a complex challenge, the ability to feed divergent thinking with relevant, curated, contextual information is a necessary and robust foundation for when you progress to the more convergent thinking needed for architecting a solution. Of course in an ideal world this kind of thinking would have happened before taking the decision in the first place…

At a corporate level, you still have access to the specific knowledge and insights of your own organisation that with the right kind of design thinking will enable you to consider possible future scenarios, assess them and plan knowledgeably for them.

  1. The uncertainty itself is our biggest issue. How can our risk mitigation / opportunity exploitation allow for so many different possible outcomes?”

Right now there is a lot of speculation on what might happen. There are those that hold out hope that Article 50 could be reversed, others that demand that the Brexit process is seen through no matter if it happens without a deal, and others still who think the negotiation period could be extended through to 2021 or beyond. Is the most likely outcome somewhere in the middle? Perhaps. What we know is that although there is uncertainty, there are only a limited number of broad possible outcomes. But whatever that outcome eventually is, your response to it will still require you to leverage the expertise within your own organisation. By establishing and addressing your fitness to respond now, and by using scenario planning to develop detailed responses to the scenarios you can envisage, your business will be in the best shape to respond when more is known.

  1. “We need to focus on our business right now. It would divert a lot of time and money to put a project in place to plan for what Brexit might bring. Is it worth the time and effort of dedicating resources at this stage?”

Traditional ways of doing this would consume a lot of FTE hours yes, but there are ways to effectively condense this work into short focused bursts, allowing you to accelerate your understanding and strategic planning whilst still staying focused on your day to day business and other initiatives. By bringing together the key stakeholders, leaders and decision-makers from across your business, having them rapidly explore and refine the scenarios of both the future and the transition to it, collaboratively, we can quickly help you define the key imperatives together and settle upon a course of action.

Innovation Arts is a hybrid strategy consultancy and design agency. Innovation Arts brings a fresh and highly effective approach to stimulating ‘group genius’ through design practices that stretch people’s thinking and initiate ideas. 
Described by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, the Innovation Arts team is a mixture of strategists, management consultants, designers, advertisers, branding and communications experts and artists, all skilled in helping organisations make change happen. It’s a unique blend that helps an organisation think differently about the challenges it’s facing, as well as address them.
Based on their experience of working repeatedly with some of the leading FTSE100 and Fortune 100 companies, governments and civil society organisations, their clients engage them because they deliver systemic, high-quality, sustainable outcomes with less risk, more certainty and in a fraction of the time compared to conventional approaches.

 

A Day in the Life of a Scribe

Monday, November 13th, 2017

If you haven’t come across a scribe before, then we hope this will provide insight into how an Innovation Arts graphic facilitator works. If you have seen our work at an event or a conference, this might answer some of the questions we are often asked about this fascinating and vibrant discipline.

The primary function of scribing is to visually capture a conversation into a clearer and more digestible form. The visual map of a discussion aids those present by providing visual interest and capturing the flow of ideas, so the participants can see what they are saying. It works afterward to help those who weren’t there access the overall themes and shape of the session. Visual capture brings the messaging to life and makes it more approachable and memorable, particularly to those who employ a more “right-brained” way of learning. A mixture of iconography, graphic forms and metaphors instantly bring meaning to the words, and visualizing complex messaging and strategic thinking also helps to align people in a way that simply talking can’t. This is most useful when graphic facilitation is employed to capture a group discussion as it breaks down the barriers of language and terminology, different levels of understanding and engagement. Ultimately, we know through research that people are most susceptible to learning when they are in a “childlike” state, and the playful medium of drawing stimulates this, enabling the audience to access their collective inner child.

A typical day in the life of a scribe goes something like this…

It’s the first day of a three-day conference so it’s an early start. I wear comfortable shoes and do a few stretches to ensure I’ll be ready to spend the whole day on my feet. I have a healthy breakfast and check my emails on the way into work. Among the messages in my inbox is a client request to graphically capture their wedding (this is not the first wedding I have scribed)!

The three-day conference I’m headed to today is located in central London and involves the construction sector, a sector I am familiar with because our team has had a lot of experience across a wide range of disciplines. We have scribed everything from child soldier experiences and talks about music in schools, to economic conferences outlining the latest trends in the industry, business strategy collaborative decision-making events where the content is being created as it is being scribed. Besides large media events such as TED Global or Wired’s annual Innovation Lectures, we have also scribed private and public events ranging from business leadership away days to global banking summits. Ultimately, the nature of the content makes no difference, because no matter what it is being discussed, we are experts in listening, understanding, and presenting the messaging in a way that everyone can understand and be excited by. That is why scribing is such a powerful tool.

There are many different reasons for using graphic facilitation, and many different contexts in which it can be employed. Primarily, scribing is a tool to break down the complexity of strategic conversations. The visual content acts as a record of that moment in time, which could afterward be used as a piece of communications for a larger audience who were not present at the event. Sometimes, the scribing will be developed into an infographic, an annotated illustration (what we call a “rich picture”), animations, storyboards, etc. Our scribing lives on in large murals at the London Transport Museum, and the offices of News UK, and Microsoft.

In preparation for the construction event today, we have spent the past few days speaking with the client about their agenda, speakers and content, and getting a feel for the images and metaphors that will both reflect the intent of the discussions and resonate with the audience. We also research the speakers, their style and presentations so that we are comfortable with the content once the session is underway. Sometimes, a shorter event conference will only allow a brief research period, but however much time we are given is enough, as the real art of scribing comes from listening and making connections between the different discussion points to track the conversation. For clients who want to achieve a specific outcome or output, we will spend a much greater period of time in preparation to ensure we can help them achieve their objectives.

I arrive at the venue around two hours before the session begins to prepare the area where the scribing will take place. This time it’s a large ballroom including a stage and seating for 1,000 people. I will be scribing on my favorite medium, a white board system called MovingWalls, portable, erasable white work walls on wheels, which are easy to transport and link together to make a wall several meters in length. My tool of choice is a whiteboard marker, and I tend to carry an array of different types to ensure I’ve got a good supply for the entire job. The Innovation Arts style is usually monochrome, but it depends on what is right for the session.

We are often asked, “How do we scribe? Is it difficult to listen, capture the information, and then turn it into an illustrated InfoMural with the key messages? How are you always so sharp with the content?” The only way I can explain is that it is a craft you learn and perfect over time. Although I have done a lot of preparation for every scribe I’ve done, just before the presenter starts my mind stills and I listen carefully to her speech. As an avid rock climber, I used to jump off cliffs for fun—to do this successfully, you can’t walk up to the edge of a cliff and over-think it, you need to empty your mind and take the leap. That’s similar to how I approach the start of every scribing job.

Sessions vary, and if it’s a complex one there will be new information delivered every few seconds. It’s an intense experience, and scribes try to simplify the content by drawing from the mental image bank each of us cultivates, working from muscle memory. The strongest image that links to the information will shoot to the front of my mind, and I commit that to the board. It’s difficult to explain how any creative process happens, but experience, creativity and imagination have helped me and our team of scribes build up a vast bank of visuals in our heads, so we know we can draw the right picture, quickly.

The theme of the conference provides me with a nice frame for the InfoMural on which I hang the content, in this case the journey of the event. Metaphors help to clarify the content and add visual interest, and can come from anywhere, from a carefully considered likeness, or a sponsor’s recent safari holiday, to a nearby magazine illustration which, once contemplated, seems wonderfully right for the situation. At the end of the day, with the InfoMural a third of the way completed, I meet up with the client sponsors for a debrief to chat about the outcomes of the day and prepare for the next day’s session. It’s important that the space on the InfoMural is planned in my mind so I leave enough room for all the speakers throughout the event, and for more ideas and connections to emerge as the content develops.

The final task of the day is to take a call from an American client who wants Innovation Arts to come to Atlanta to scribe their large international conference. We talk about the event and their expectations and arrange a Skype call for early next week.

I get home and decompress with a family dinner, and a quick run with the dog. The next day I will do this all over again—what a great job!

Innovation Arts is a hybrid strategy consultancy and design agency. Innovation Arts brings a fresh and highly effective approach to stimulating ‘group genius’ through design practices that stretch people’s thinking and initiate ideas. 
Described by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, the Innovation Arts team is a mixture of strategists, management consultants, designers, advertisers, branding and communications experts and artists, all skilled in helping organisations make change happen. It’s a unique blend that helps an organisation think differently about the challenges it’s facing, as well as address them.
Based on their experience of working repeatedly with some of the leading FTSE100 and Fortune 100 companies, governments and civil society organisations, their clients engage them because they deliver systemic, high-quality, sustainable outcomes with less risk, more certainty and in a fraction of the time compared to conventional approaches.

What’s really important to you? Three things we know about Values Statements.

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

We recently addressed the topic of values in a post about how companies engage with their corporate values. This week, to recognize World Values Day on 19th October (https://www.worldvaluesday.com), we would like to take a step back and ask how values are chosen – what’s really important to you? Through our work with clients grappling with lived values in their organisations, and those whose lived values are an asset, here are three things we’ve learned about values statements:

1.   If your values statement is aspirational but doesn’t reflect your people, it’s nothing but words

Like many companies, yours probably has a set of values to inspire employees and serve as a code of honor. Corporate values statements are a great thing, because they can clarify a company’s identity and serve as a rallying point for its people. But values themselves do not drive your business, rather, they drive the people within the business. No matter how they were written or by whom, they are not based on the people who run the company, they are in the fabric of everyone who works there—from executive team to new hire. Here’s the question: if your company does have a compelling values statement, how truly meaningful it is to your people? Are your company values powerful tools embodied in everything you do, or are they just words?

Here is a real-world example: when I first started work in the early days of the dotcom boom, retail giant Walmart came to 80-person strategy event at my then-employer’s workshop space in Chicago. In those days, our clients typically spared no expense to bring a team to our offices, including business class flights, luxurious hotels and expensive dinners at fine restaurants. The works. Walmart, on the other hand, flew its party up from Arkansas on a budget airline and stayed two-to-a-room at a bargain hotel a few blocks from our office so they could walk to the workshop each morning. They catered the event through Walmart’s store deli (think tubs of potato salad and vats of barbecue), and in the evening the participants headed out together for a modest supper within a strict budget.

Why? At the time, Walmart was the single largest retail company in the world by several degrees. It’s not that they didn’t have the money for a more comfortable trip, it’s not that they didn’t have the power. It’s because their company values—a simple message of putting the customer first, personal responsibility, and teamwork—obliged them to adhere to a certain code of conduct. Expressing those values didn’t stop at store-brand cola and walking to work, it also meant that when it came time to develop a solution for an important strategic initiative, the workshop team in Chicago included representatives from all levels of the organization, including a woman who worked the checkout at one of their stores. Walmart had adopted that approach since Sam Walton opened his first store in 1962 in order to keep their promise to provide the lowest prices to its customers. The employees we spoke to about it at the time seemed to accept that attitude at face value, because they were doing things “The Walmart Way,” and it chimed with their own personal value code.

2.   Values cannot be pushed in from the outside

Values, in a true sense, are basic, fundamental and enduring and mean something to the people who articulate them. They must be internalized, and importantly, this does not mean they can be pushed in from the outside. Morality and ethics are central to the issue: think of your personal values and the decisions they compel you to make. Start by drawing up a list of what you personally treasure—don’t be constrained by words like, “integrity,” or “respect,” but think of action words and phrases that mean something to you. Making family a priority? Maintaining lasting friendships? Doing work you are proud of? We each have different fundamental values; that’s why writing values statements for an entire organization is so tricky; how can five or six core values have meaning for thousands of individuals?

Innovation Arts has taken many different approaches with our clients in order to help shine a light on their organization’s true values, from company-wide Barratt Surveys as well as from delivering facilitated consultation and discussions during Employee Values Weeks to allowing a significant proportion of an organization to articulate for themselves what they really hold true. It may be that you have already defined your values, yet somehow, they don’t seem to be mobilizing your organization in the direction you would expect. Often, the trouble with values statements is not the values themselves but the corporate language chosen to express them, which can be so openly worded as to be vague. To play a meaningful role in creating an enduring organization, corporate values must be simply expressed and derived from fundamental philosophy about what constitutes the good for people both inside and outside the company.

When we performed our own values exercise at Innovation Arts, our team came up with some unique individual values. And, like most companies, we also defined the values that we share, and that link us to the clients with whom we work. These values are also easily translatable into specific behaviors that bring them to life in our organization, which is an excellent test of their worth. Over the years, we have discovered that if our clients can’t relate to our values then—given how closely we work together—we may not be a good fit for them:

Intellect: You learn rapidly and eagerly

Imagination: You create new ideas that prove useful

Impact: You accomplish amazing amounts of important work

High Performance: You care intensely about the success of (y)our business

Honesty: You are true to yourself and others

Humor: You take (y)our work seriously and yourself less so

3.   Values statements should easily translate into everyday behaviors

If your organization has the right values—core values that cannot be compromised; aspirational values the company will need in the future but currently lacks; behavioral and social standards required of any employee; and accidental values that have arisen from the common interests or personalities of employees (i.e. “fun”)—they have to be integrated into everything. From the first interview to last day of work, employees should be constantly reminded that values form the basis for each decision and action the company makes.

From our work on corporate values, we know that values discussions are best had by small teams; better if they can include a cross-section of the organization. Better still if they involve the CEO, any founders still with the company, and a handful of employees who have to make a lot of on-the-ground decisions. When you are working out how to really embed your values in culture and process, leadership and employee collaborative work can be vital to agree on nuances and behaviors, and how they work in practice to reinforce your strategy and objectives. We engage entire organizations on bringing values and behaviors to life in practice with our custom-designed game Dilemma,® which is the perfect venue for having meaningful conversations about values. Do you stick to your values no matter what, or do you cut corners because there is no one there to see? It’s the discussion about those decisions that ultimately proves to be the most valuable part of the experience. What do your company’s values really mean to you? What do they mean to your colleagues?

Thinking back to that event with Walmart many years ago, seeing their corporate values in action was an exciting part of working with them. When they talk about customer service and respect, they mean it. Remember the checkout lady? At the end of three days of high-stakes design and collaboration, she drafted the final plan the entire group—including the senior management team—signed up to develop. From company cheers to employee training and benefits, the retail giant’s management constantly stresses its values not only for their employees, but for themselves. What does that mean for you?

Innovation Arts is a hybrid strategy consultancy and design agency. Innovation Arts brings a fresh and highly effective approach to stimulating ‘group genius’ through design practices that stretch people’s thinking and initiate ideas. 
Described by GQ as the ‘management consultant of the future’, the Innovation Arts team is a mixture of strategists, management consultants, designers, advertisers, branding and communications experts and artists, all skilled in helping organisations make change happen. It’s a unique blend that helps an organisation think differently about the challenges it’s facing, as well as address them.
Based on their experience of working repeatedly with some of the leading FTSE100 and Fortune 100 companies, governments and civil society organisations, their clients engage them because they deliver systemic, high-quality, sustainable outcomes with less risk, more certainty and in a fraction of the time compared to conventional approaches.
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