Much of the work I do with groups involves drawing on large sheets of paper to work through a challenge and develop collaborative solutions. As you may have guessed already, I’m a strong believer of using visual thinking tools so that everyone in the meeting can literally see the solution emerging. Lately I’ve been integrating additional visual thinking methods into my work that don’t involve pen and paper.
One of these methods is prototyping. Prototyping is using physical objects – popsicle sticks, molding clay, tape, pipecleaners, paper – to create a rough physical model of an idea or solution that you are just beginning to explore. Prototyping seems like an obvious choice for product designers, but it’s just as useful when the team wants to change or create a process or service solution. Prototyping works best if you’ve already done some work with the group developing potential solutions first, either through brainstorming or another idea generation method. Instead of moving directly onto voting action planning, try having the group spend 20 minutes prototyping their solution and see what happens.
Aside from being able to show somebody your solution instead of just telling them about it, the biggest benefit of prototyping is that your brain builds on your original idea while your hands are building with the materials you’ve chosen. While your hands are rolling clay or gluing down pieces of cotton balls onto a sheet of paper, your brain is expanding on and fleshing out your original idea. You’re “building to think,” to use the words of the design-thinking greats at IDEO. The solution you start out with is just a fraction of what you walk away with.
Here’s an example of a simple prototype created in about 20 minutes around a communication challenge:
The second no-drawing-needed visual thinking method I’ve been using is kinesthetic modeling, a process pioneered by John Ward. The tools of kinesthetic modeling can be the same as for prototyping, but the intent is quite different. Kinesthetic modeling is less about building out a solution than finding meaning in whatever it is you’ve built. Explaining what I would ask a group to actually do might help clarify what I mean. For example, I might ask a group to do some kinesthetic modeling around their vision for their organization. I would start by having them select some objects that appeal to them from a pile of odds and ends (think chicken wire, dry beans, etc.). Once they select their objects I would ask them to arrange those objects (in silence) in a way that represents their vision for the team. We would then spend a good amount of time interpreting what was created (it’s helpful to have people interpret their own parts of the model as well as the work of others), which has a way of unearthing some very clear and powerful vision elements.
Here’s a group I worked with recently quietly building their first model. By the next morning we had a clear vision and mission statement based on this model:
If you have a team that is resistant to drawing, tired of working with just pen and paper, or composed of very kinesthetic learners, prototyping and kinesthetic modeling can be good alternatives to unlocking and building out great ideas in your organization.
Lane Change Consulting is a consultancy based in San Francisco specializing in graphic facilitation and team effectiveness. We design and facilitate strategic, collaborative conversations that create clarity, focus and engagement in organizations. We can be reached at email@example.com.