They are from other disciplines, other departments, other universities. They are interested in a domain that is not exactly your science. It may be a neighboring branch of science with obvious parallels or overlaps but still with an approach that is different from yours, or it might be from a very different universe, a science that is 180 degrees away, with subject matter and methodology foreign to you. These are the people we want you to be talking with.
Over time, we’ve worked out that the optimal length of one of our innovation workshops is five days. That gives ample time for participants – strangers when they walk in the door – to feel each other out, find some common (and uncommon) ground and begin to trust each other, intellectually. It also takes time to unpick the challenge area. The exercise of defining the scope of the challenge together, as a group, informs a broader perspective and helps to avoid making assumptions about the problem. But that takes time.
It is interesting that in this day and age of climate change we are all very aware of the discussions about “energy conservation” and we make a concerted effort to turn off the lights of an empty office, to walk rather than drive to the shop, and turn down our house temperature by a degree or two. But what about our own physical and mental energy conservation?
If there is a revolving group of strangers who come and go and stand on the side of the room and watch and listen – and chat amongst themselves – it’s a bit unnerving for the participants, who start to feel in a fishbowl and get self-conscious, which effects their ability to express themselves freely. It’s remarkable how our process will help people will begin to trust each other and take intellectual risks. The presence of an observer can thwart that, instantly, unraveling the trust that we’ve spent two days building.
KI’s Sandpits and Ideas Labs are very intense and immersive, bringing together people of diverse backgrounds and disciplines in order to generate ideas for radically novel research proposals. KI has developed a process that helps these extreme ideas emerge, but there’s another very important component to the success of these workshops: the collection of participants in the room. Here’s how we counsel our clients to organize a group for one of these events.
Before you can find out how to make something work, you need to find out what’s in the way, what’s keeping it from working. This exploration can unlock the puzzle of resistance by getting at a root problem, or uncovering an aspect of the problem not thoroughly considered before. This will move your thinking from the problem as presented to the problem as understood.
We have a tool for this, it’s called Webbing.