020: Facilitating like a start-up (within the context of a global organisation)

There’s a Mark Zuckerberg quote that says “Move fast and break things...

…Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough”. Without context, the quote doesn’t mean anything. It’s a cliché, a college poster – something you’d find pinned on the wall of a Shoreditch start-up rather than the foyer of an Asset Management house or Global Private Bank.

What I think the sentiment is conveying is that in order to be innovative, you must challenge the norm, disrupt the status quo and question the rules in order to create the ‘new’. At an intellectual level, senior executives ‘get this’ concept. What got you here, won’t get you there (and all that). In a recent 2017 survey by KPMG of around 1,300 Global CEOs, 77% want their business to be a disrupter, 75% are open to collaboration and 69% are pursuing innovation-led transformation as a route to growth. Therefore, there’s no lack of encouraging rhetoric regarding transformation at a strategic level – it’s how that translates to the bottom line that’s the issue.

Hence there’s comfort in importing a successful process from a global brand that everyone recognises. Large organisations can reassure nervous shareholders with the promising narrative of “We’ve adopted the Google Ventures lean methodology. It champions design thinking – putting customers at the core of our innovations”. All hail the Emperor.
But he wears no clothes.

Whilst I believe that solid design and delivery should follow a process, I don’t believe that it’s the process that yields results. Importantly, it shouldn’t be process alone that you obsess over. And here’s why.

I have an old car that I tinker with. The cylinders fire in the sequence 1,3,4,2. One cycle of the engine turns the crank 360 degrees full circle. Those cylinders fire in that sequence alone. It’s fixed. Rigid. It never changes. So the output is also 100% the same. A fixed process alone that dictates the exact tools, for the exact number of people, resource and time will only yield a finite (and small) number of outputs. I see masses of internal (sadly complex) processes reduce innovation to a series of linear steps and tick boxes. There is little opportunity to experiment and prototype. The creative talent of ALL staff (not just the marketers) are usurped by the need to adhere to procedure and ensure checks are made. And digging deeper, the project leads tell the same tale of how they went about the facilitation of the project – time after time, doing the same thing. 1,3,4,2…
A good creative process should be filled with opportunities to expand thinking and embrace differing perspectives. But the process in and of itself wont yield ‘an answer’. It is people following the process, whose imaginations are ignited by it, that will create new ideas for you. So what is the secret? How do adhere to a 1,3,4,2 process at scale without arriving at the same output?

I have three suggestions.

1. Get specific – really specific – about the problem you want to solve and why your efforts matter to that customer. Great project facilitation will start with a clearly defined and scoped problem statement. Good facilitators will have a range of tools and techniques to ask powerful questions about your ambition. They should provoke your immediate thinking and challenge any pre-conceptions about the project, the market and the status quo. It’s unlikely your challenge is unique to you alone; somebody else or somewhere else it’s been solved. Time should be invested on scoping the brief thoroughly before you get people in the room on day one. I’ve sat at the back of too many sessions that were a surprise to the invitees for me to believe that more work needs to be done here.

2. When you get people in the room, co-create and agree your start-up behaviours. This is your attitudinal North Star for that session, project and potentially beyond. The way people interact with each other, the tools, the activities and the problem will dictate the quality of their creative thinking and the quality of the ideas they have. Start-ups understand this implicitly as it’s likely to be a handful of people who are rallying around a personal frustration they want to fix; they’re aligned by a higher purpose of wanting to make things better. But they’re very clear on what that behaviour is and why. In global organisations of 250k ppl or more, it’s unlikely everyone in your project is motivated or aligned about the same things. Brilliant facilitation invests in creating that rallying cry. To continue my engine analogy, if I take the lubricating oil from my engine, the cylinders will run only a few times before overheating and seizing up. It’s the same with process. The behaviours of your team are the lubricants of that process. Being innovative is not a mental activity, but a practical one. In order to ‘move fast and break things’ your project team will need to work in different ways and use creative tools that require them to move with agility and vitality – not sitting at their desks, in silence, thinking hard.

3. Finally, when more than two of you are engaged in a conversation at any time in the project process, one of them has to be the facilitator. It’s both art and science, but in simple terms, s/he’s responsible in that moment for capturing the output of the conversation and landing the next steps for the process. Without that discipline, there is no project momentum. Ideas fall into the abyss of another day in the corporate tower and nothing gets done.

I appreciate there is far more to embedding a culture of creativity in large organisations than the three tactics above, but the Genius Box team have extensive experience of facilitating large projects for global super brands. Although our process engine contained the same 4 cylinders, we never chose the same firing sequence.

Nor should you.