Let’s talk… …about talking.

October 13, 2017


It occurred to me recently that much of my work - a large majority of it, in fact - involves talking. And, while I know there is also quite a lot of thinking, research and design work too, the visible piece of the iceberg is the talking.

Usually this talking takes the form of workshop facilitation, meetings, collaborations, or sessions where myself and my colleagues present our ideas, use storytelling and verbal imagery to illustrate sometimes complex interactions and designs. So, even for this borderline introvert, talking is key to what I do, and critical to how effective we are as creatives and user advocates in promoting our ideas.

So, you can perhaps imagine my reaction to an email from a colleague about a facilitation technique that is based on the premise of NOT TALKING AT ALL.

It’s called the Lightning Decision Jam (with the side note that the author enthusiastically encourages all readers to come up with a better name). The key concept was formed from the observation that unstructured discussion or dialogue is often extremely unproductive. I confess, I have been involved in lots and lots (and lots) of unstructured conversation. I would even go so far as to say that many creatives and designers would find the idea of structured discussion anathematic. And a facilitated session with NO DISCUSSION AT ALL. Heresy of the highest order!

But we gave it a go. Why? Because new effective tools often come from surprising sources. And we always have to be open and try things out. And there’s another reason. Sometimes in our work we find ourselves in little silos of our own making - headphones on and digging deep to deliver something on deadline. Taking two hours on a Friday afternoon to get together with like-minded colleagues to try out something new and something innovative (and, frankly, a bit weird) is an instant remedy to the delivery doldrums. It strikes sparks.

So, how does this whole Lightning Decision Jam work? It’s actually pretty simple - but harder to actually follow. It’s very similar to many other facilitated ideation or design thinking sessions. Start with a big fuzzy problem you need to solve, and take the participants through a series of brainstorming and solutioning phases until you get to a list of coherent tasks that could start to build a solution within a short time frame. The big difference? No discussion. None at all. No seeking of approvals. No nods for collaborative idea building. No looks to the boss to see what he or she’s talking about. Nada.

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And I can honestly say, as a long-time facilitator fairly adept at herding all manner of cats, I have never had a more difficult challenge than telling a room full of smart, funny, creative, collaborative, brilliantly verbose people that they are not allowed to discuss their ideas. But, once we went through the process we all realized something. We went almost effortlessly from brainstorming issues on post-it notes, to ideating possible solutions, prioritizing those solution ideas, then scribing a series of tasks to get started… all without a single word being spoken. It was eerie, and kind of wonderful.

The biggest problem we encountered?
Not being able to discuss the best option for making the post-it notes stay stuck the walls
[Peel them sideway – Ed ].

For details of this fascinating approach to design thinking problem solving, check out:


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