We invited a senior innovation manager from a global food corporation to do an exercise:

“Hold your entire situation in your mind, as though you were standing on a balcony looking down on the its entire scope. Now make a model of your situation using the materials on the table.”

She made this:

We asked, "Would you tell us the story of your model?"

The tall cones are business units or teams. Some have existed a long time. They have many accomplishments, and among some there is a warm and caring culture (the yarn) and good communication (the copper wire).

At bottom right is a new group. It is isolated from the others, and doesn’t participate in the same culture and communication network as the others.

We asked, “That one by itself is very prickly. Why are those spikes there?”

She answered, “Well, I think people perceive that group as being unwelcoming or stand-offish.”

“Who put those spikes there? Who is creating that perception?”

She was quiet for a few seconds. “Well…. It’s my group….”

We then invited her to transform her model

We said, “Try changing your model so it feels like it represents a better situation. Don’t overthink it; let your hands lead the way.” 

She made this:

Her transformation story

“I removed the spikes.

I see that it’s up to me to take action to dispel the perception that we want to be distant from the main culture, and in fact we want to participate in it.”

“Then I moved our group to be with the others, making them all closer together and making the whole group wrapped in yarn and wire. I think it is very possible that when we move into participation with the older groups, we could be a catalyst for the growth of a stronger culture and better communication to develop between all of the groups.

“I’m not sure what it’s going to take to actually do that, but I can see it must be done. And done in a way that preserves, defends, the qualities that make my new group unique and promising.

We’ve talked [in this workshop] about taking an experimental approach to complex questions. Now I think I know what my complex question is. We need to cook up some experiments.”

Event: Create in Complexity workshop, IIT Institute of Design

Photo credit: Marc Rettig

Embracing a situation's full complexity, then using methods that integrate strategic and intuitive ways of seeing, can lead to powerful perspectives we might otherwise have missed.