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Facilitating Complexity: A Pervert's Guide to Exploration

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A talk given at the Melbourne Cynefin meetup. A set of riffs on how to facilitate teams exploring the Complex Domain.

Will Evans explores the convergence of practice and theory using Lean Systems, Design Thinking, DevOps, and LeanUX with global corporations from NYC to Berlin to Singapore. As Chief Design Officer at PraxisFlow, he works with a select group of corporate clients undergoing Lean and Agile transformations across the entire organization. Will is also the Design Thinker-in-Residence at New York University's Stern Graduate School of Management.

Will was previously the Managing Director of TLCLabs, the world's leading Lean Design Innovation consultancy where he brought LeanUX and Design Thinking to large media, finance, and healthcare companies.

Before TLC, he led experience design and research for TheLadders in New York City. He has over 15 years industry experience in service design innovation, user experience strategy and research. His roles include directing UX for social network alanysis & terrorism modeling at AIR Worldwide, UX Architect for social media site Gather.com, and UX Architect for travel search engine Kayak.com. He worked at Lotus/IBM where he was the senior information architect working in Knowledge Management, and for Curl - a DARPA-funded MIT project when he was at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science.

He lives in New York, NY, and drinks far too much coffee. He Co-Founded and Co-Chaired the LeanUX NYC conference now in it’s 6th year, founded the LEAD SUMMIT NYC, and was also the User Experience track chair for the Agile 2013 and Agile 2014 conferences.

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Facilitating Complexity: A Pervert's Guide to Exploration

  1. WILL EVANS @semanticwill Melbourne, Australia
  2. “Forapartfrominquiry,apartfromthepraxis, individualscannotbetrulyhuman.Knowledgeemerges onlythroughinventionandre-invention,throughthe restless,impatient,continuing,hopefulinquiryhuman beingspursueintheworld,withtheworld,andwitheach other.”-PauloFreire,PedagogyoftheOppressed
  3. Outline for Tonight § Assumptions § Boundaries § Context § Framing § Divergence § Externalization § Convergence § Dissent § Take-Aways
  4. Assumption 1 We allexist (beingness) with(in) system(s).
  5. Assumption 2 Weareallresponsibleforthedesign, development,andmaintenceof systemsthat createvalue.
  6. Assumption 3 Weareinthistocreate. Specifically wearein this tocreatevalue– thatis tocreate things the solve problems for customers for which they are willing to exchangesomevalue.
  7. On Doubt “Ifamanwillbeginwithcertainties,heshall endindoubts;butifhewillbecontenttobegin withdoubts,heshallendincertainties.” -SirFrancisBacon
  8. LeanUX Kata Whoisthecustomer? Whatistheirproblem? Whatdoyouknowandhowdoyouknowit? Whatareyourassumptions? Howwillyoutestthem? Howwillyouconsumeuncertainty? Whatareyourconstraints? Whatareyourfreedoms? Whatisyourverynextexperiment? From “Exploration versus Exploitation in Design-Driven Enterprises,” Will Evans
  9. On Praxis Our process by which theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, realized, reified and reflected in & through action. Facilitationisultimatelyaboutguidingagents throughthepraxisofpurposefulaction.
  10. Ontological Design OntologicalDesignisthedesignofwaysofbeing -notjustthepurposefulcreationofmental scafolding,butratherfacilitatingtheevolutionof humancapabilitywithinsocialsystems. Socialsystemsfocussedoncatalyzing,facilitating, andenablingsituatedandembodiedhuman cognitionandaction.
  11. Problem Setting Facilitation Thinkaboutthelastsession,meeting,brainstormingmeeting thatyouheld. Thinkaboutwhatthepurposeofthatsessionwas.Who facilitatedit?Whywereyouthere?Whatdecisionshadtobe made?
  12. Problematizing Facilitation • On post-its • 1ideaperpost-it • 3 words • AllCaps
  13. Question One Writeonapost-itsilently: Whatproblemaroseduringfacilitation,which preventedthegroupfrommovingforward,for whichtherewasasimple,easysolutionthat everyonecouldsee? 1minute
  14. Question Two Writeonapost-itsilently: Whatproblemaroseduringfacilitation,which preventedthegroupfrommovingforward,which requiredsomeonewithdeepexpertise? 1minute
  15. Question Three Writeonapost-itsilently: Whatproblemaroseduringfacilitation,which preventedthegroupfrommovingforward,which requiredthemeetingtogathermoredatabeforea positive Outcomecouldbeachieved? 1minute
  16. Question Four Writeonapost-itsilently: Whatproblemaroseduringfacilitation,which causedthewholesessiontogosideways,where therewasnoclearoutcome,nogoal,andpeople just Feltliketheywerethrashing? 1minute.
  17. Setting Boundaries THEREwasawall.Itdidnotlookimportant.Itwas builtofuncutrocksroughlymortared.Anadultcould lookrightoverit,andevenachildcouldclimbit.Where itcrossedtheroadway,insteadofhavingagateit degeneratedintomeregeometry,aline,anideaof boundary.Buttheideawasreal.Itwasimportant.For sevengenerationstherehadbeennothingintheworld moreimportantthanthatwall. Likeallwallsitwasambiguous,two-faced.Whatwas insideitandwhatwasoutsideitdependeduponwhich sideofityouwereon. -UrsulaLeGuinTheDispossessed
  18. Setting Boundaries § Beontime § Nolaptops orcellphones § Respecteachother(Don’tdominateconversations,Don’t talkoversomeone). § Writeyourquestions onpost-its § ChathamHouseRules § Followinstructions § Nolaptops orcellphones. Meta: “Is there anyreasonyoucan’tbe 100%presentforthe entiretyof the next90 minutes?.” “The purpose of this sessionis to create Options,notsolutions.” “Do we have the rightpeople inthe room?”
  19. Sensemaking Systems ““Ultimately,allorganizationsaresocio- technicalsystemsinwhichthemannerof externaladaptationandthesolutionofinternal integrationproblemsareinterdependent” -EdgarSchein From “Organizational Leadership and Culture,” Edgar Schein
  20. Discuss Problems Withthepeopleatyourtable,presentallthe problemsthatpeoplecameupwithontheirpost- its. Trytoquicklyprocessallthepost-itswhilegiving enoughtimeforpeopletounderstandthenature oftheproblem.
  21. Exploring Complexity
  22. Exploring Complexity From “Exploration versus Exploitation in Design-Driven Enterprises,” Will Evans
  23. On Context “The notion of context has been adapted to computing from its original use referring to language, which is reflected in the structure of the word itself: con(with) text, either written or oral, intended to be interpreted by one or more people. The text is not an encapsulated representations of meaning, but rather a cue that allows the anticipated audience to construct appropriate meaning.” - Terry Winograd
  24. Three Horizons View From “Exploration versus Exploitation in Design-Driven Enterprises,” Will Evans
  25. Dispositions to Domain Wardley, Simon, “OnPioneers, Settlers, TownPlannersandTheft.”
  26. Situational Dynamics Wardley, Simon, “OnPioneers, Settlers, TownPlannersandTheft.”
  27. CONTEXTUAL AWARENESS What are requisite variety of dispositions and practices for pioneers (heretics*), as well as the processes and methods deployed which are fundementally different in the Complex Domain?
  28. CONTEXTUAL AWARENESS What are requisite variety of dispositions and practices for pioneers (heretics*), as well as the processes and methods deployed which are fundementally different in the Complex Domain? It’s about the movement between domains, and the interactions between teams and across domains where novelty can turn into capability.
  29. CONTEXTUAL AWARENESS What are requisite variety of dispositions and practices for pioneers (heretics*), as well as the processes and methods deployed which are fundementally different in the Complex Domain? It’s about the movement between domains, and the interactions between teams and across domains where novelty can turn into capability. Exploration is expensive, and must be managed through the appropriate application of constraints.
  30. Mapping Spend 10 minutes clustering all the problems together that seem to be similar. All the ones where the problem / solution was relatively obvious Ones that required an expert to help out Ones that needed more information, more data, perhaps some experimentation Ones that seemed completely hopeless, no one knew what to do, why they were there, what the goal was.
  31. Constraints Just as the constraints of syntax allow meaning to be expressed, constraints on behavior thus make meaningful actions possible. -Alicia Juarrero From “Enabling Constraints,” Alicia Juarrero, LeanUX15
  32. Constraints • Within different groups, introduce new constraints related to context, channel, customer, budget, timeframe to spur new ideas. • Introducing different contexts can catalyze exaptative innovation (application of a solution from one context into a totally new context). Example: “You team’s solution cannot rely upon digital devices, smart phones, or the internet. Only analog solutions you can buy at a hardware store.” “Your concept cannot use language or words to provide affordance to the customer/user.” “Your concept should be something the team can execute in 5 days.”
  33. “Thereseemstobesomepurposeful correlationbetweenculturesthat seektocontrolvariabilityin throughtthroughtheimpositionof rigidgrammaticalstructures,and thedeathofthosecultures.” -JabeBloom
  34. Framing “A frame is, simplistically, a point of view; often, and particularly in technical situations, this point of view is deemed “irrelevant” or “biasing” because it implicitly references a non-objective way of considering a situation or idea. But a frame – while certainly subjective and often biasing – is of critical use to the designer, as it is something that is shaped over the long-term aggregation of thoughts and experiences.” - Jon Kolko
  35. Timeboxing The first constraint to apply in facilitating co-creative activities in the complex domain is time. It is better to have 4 cycles of 10 minutes than 1 60 minute cycle.
  36. Externalization By taking ideas, concepts, perspectives out of the cognitive domain (your head), removing it from the linguistic realm (oral/aural/ talk), and making it tangible in the physical world in one cohesive visual structure (post-it, sketch, wall), designers are freed of the natural memory limitations of the brain and teams can begin to map visualizations to internal patterns and mental models. Example: Sketch concepts that solve for the problem. No bulleted lists, no sentences. Just sketches that solve the problem. If it’s not in the sketch, the element doesn’t exist.
  37. Divergence Abduction goes upon the hope that there is sufficient affinity between the reasoner’s mind and nature’s to render guessing not altogether hopeless, provided each guess is checked by comparison with observation… The effort should therefore be to make each hypothesis…as near an even bet as possible.” - Charles Pierce Example: Quantity over quality. Generate at least 6 different concepts that solve for the problem. Each concept must be unique.
  38. Assent and Expansion In the first few rounds of critique, only positive aspects of the concepts can be commented on. Similar to Improve’s “Yes, and…” Absolutely nothing negative can be said. Only positive additions to the design. Example: “Highlight two concepts you absolutely love, or elements that you would steal, integrate into your own concept.”
  39. Cognitive Displacement In the second round of generative ideation, it’s important to seed the ideas of one person into the head of another. The easiest way to do this is through “Cognitive Displacement,” or having a person pitch a designed concept they have not created. Example: “Hand your concept to the person to your left. You cannot explain it and you cannot look them in the eye. They have 5 minutes to pitch your concept back to you.” This allows the person who’s work is being presented to check their concept for coherence and identify gaps in their communication. It also has the benefit of building empathy.
  40. Convergence Convergence is the slow contraction of available options through the application of constraints and the checking for coherence. Does a concept or designed element make sense? How does it solve the problem? Of all possible options, which are most elegant. Example: Youhave4 minutes,using coloureddots,to indicateonlythedesignsandelementsthat shouldbecarriedforwardto thenextround.Thesemaybeintegratedwithother concepts,withweakerideasfalling behind.
  41. Ritual Dissent From ” Everything is fragmented—The art of “ritual dissent”, David Snowden, Cognitive Edge “Acomplexproblemisnotthesumofits parts.Itcannotbebrokendownwith eachsolutionaggregated;itmustbe solvedasawhole.Anotherissueisthatof entrainment,especiallyinconsensus- seekingenvironments.Themoretimewe spendinagroup,themoregroupthink setsin,andwecancreateourown reality,onlytosufferarudeawakening whenweengagewiththeexternal world.” -DaveSnowden
  42. Ritual Dissent • Theapproachinvolvesaspokesperson(forateam)presentinga seriesofconceptstoagroupofstakeholderswholistensinsilence. • Spokespersononlyhas5minutestoprepare,5minutestopresent • Teammustimaginetheyareagroupofstakeholdershearingapitch tofundanewinitiativetobeaddedtotheportfolio • Noquestionscanbeaskedofthespokesperson • Spokespersonmustfaceawayfromstakeholders,andlistenwhilst takingnotes.Theycannotchallengeanycritique. • Stakeholdersmustfindallthethingswrongwiththeconcept,whyit solvesnoproblem,theproblemisnotworthsolving,theconceptis notelegant,requirestoomanyresources,etc… • Absolutelynothingpositivecanbesaidaboutthesolution • Onlydissenttheconcept,notthepeople. From “Ritual Dissent,” David Snowden, Cognitive Edge
  43. Design Studio Process 1. FramingtheProblem 2. SoloIdeation(Silent,8Concepts)5minutes 3. GenerativeCritique(Yes,and…)5minutes 4. Steal&Integrate 5. SoloIdeation(Silent,1Concept,5minutes)5minutes 6. CognitiveDisplacement(Pitchanother’sconcept)5Minutes 7. SoloIdeation(1Concept,10minutes) 8. Transference&Seeding 9. Synthesis(TeamDesign,1Concept)30minutes 10. RitualDissent(OnlyNegative)10Minutes 11. ActiveDecisionMaking(Ignore,Innovate,Remove,BestPractice)10Minutes 12. KillYourBabies 13. FinalDesign,RitualAssent60minutes. From “The Design Studio Methodology,” Will Evans
  44. Itishardlypossibletooverratethe value…ofplacinghumanbeingsin contactwithpersonsdissimilarto themselves,withmodesofthought andactionunlikethosewithwhich theyarefamiliar. -JohnStewartMill
  45. Final Thoughts § Startwiththecontext. § ConcreteExperience,ReflectiveObservation, Abstraction,ActiveExperimentation § Startbyexplicitlystatingfreedoms,removingtacit constraints § Clearlyarticulatetheproblem § TightCycles,Timeboxed § Adjacencies&Exaptations § Displacement&Coherence § Optionality&Experimentation
  46. COLOPHON All typefaces are from Heoffler & Jones. § Header Text is in Vitesse Black § Body Text is in Quarto Medium § Labels are in Quarto Medium Italic
  47. WILL EVANS @semanticwill Melbourne, Australia