Evoking Integration Synthesis and Innovation
The most important intellectual skill for successful facilitators is the ability to integrate conflicting ideas to produce innovative syntheses [as shown by, for example, Carte, et al. (1996)]. This skill can then be joined with skills in motivating teams to create a collaborative atmosphere which values integration and innovation. A number of resources can help you develop these abilities. Some are shown in the graphic below.
The most basic is learning to identify, question and replace limiting assumptions. Some assumptions are easy to recognize and abandon. For example, many creativity workshops begin with puzzles such as nine dots arranged in a set of three rows. Your challenge is to draw four “straight” lines which go through the middle of all of the dots without taking the marker off the pad. Try the nine-dot puzzle. You solve this puzzle when you abandon your assumption that you have to stay inside the imaginary box formed by the nine dots. In fact, the nine-dot puzzle is the origin of the phrase “thinking outside the box.”
Replacing the “stay inside the the box” assumption is easy in this puzzle. The task of the group facilitator is help the group replace limiting assumptions which are much more difficult to abandon. If you can learn how to do it, solutions arise to all sorts of sticky problems throughout business and policy. Emery Roe shows how in his book Narrative Policy Analysis. Whenever you’re in a situation where science shows no clear answer and people are polarized about which way to go, assume any solution is blocked by restricting assumptions. Look for a more basic stabilizing assumption which permits innovation. We’ve used the method to resolve entrenched farmer-environmentalist disputes (one result was a ground-breaking water quality authority where both farmers and environmentalists work together to improve water quality.
A common limiting assumption for farmers is that they should produce commmodities. Alternate assumptions which permit innovation are: Produce products, not commodities. Let’s see the buyers what they want.
A couple of excellent sources on stimulating your ability to integrate, synthesize and just be more creative are:
A Whack on the Side of the Head by von Oech
Six Thinking Hats by de Bono.von Oech suggests “a whack on the side of the head” to shake us out of routine patterns. “Whacks” provide a way to look at a problem or an idea differently, and von Oech offers a range of exercises, such as
- looking for the relationship between two things you thought were unconnected, like a spiral galaxy and a spinning ice skater,”
- or asking yourself a question you never thought of before: “if camels are the ‘ships of the desert’, why aren’t tugboats ‘the camels of the sea’?”
- or always looking for the second right answer, never settle for just the first one,
- or playing the fool. Let your non-judging side come out.
Six Hats by de Bono takes the latter approach farther by proposing six metaphorical hats. In a group, we can put on or take off one of these hats to indicate the type of thinking being used. You’ve probably experienced this when a facilitator moved a group from brainstorming to evaluation. But brainstorming and evaluation are just two of six possible thinking styles.
White Hat thinking covers facts, figures, information needs and gaps. “I think we need some white hat thinking at this point…” means Let’s drop the arguments and proposals, and look at the data base.”
Red Hat thinking covers intuition, feelings and emotions. The red hat allows the thinker to put forward an intuition without any need to justify it.
The Black Hat is the hat of judgment and caution. The black hat is used to point out why a suggestion does not fit the facts, the available experience, the system in use, or the policy that is being followed. The black hat must always be logical. It is a crucial hat to employ at the right time, but often over-used in Western culture.
The Yellow Hat is for optimism and the logical positive view of things. It looks for feasibility and how something can be done. It looks for benefits, but they must be logically based.
The Green Hat is the hat of creativity, alternatives, proposals, what is interesting, provocations and changes.
The Blue Hat is the overview or process control hat. It looks not at the subject itself but at the ‘thinking’ about the subject. “Putting on my blue hat, I feel we should do some more green hat thinking at this point.” In technical terms, the blue hat is concerned with meta-cognition.
If you want to get further into types of thinking and learning, you’ll want to look at:
More sites on evoking creativity in your group:
Becoming adept at evoking integration and innovation is just one aspect of learning to transform systems. Look into the other areas:
- Motivating Teams
- Conceptual Pluralism
- Communication Beyond Words
- Learning Systems and Systems Learning
- Holistic Decision-Making
Facilitating groups is a holistic process.
Each of the above “skills” is one view of the process.
If you’re ready, get into the process itself.The quickest way to develop skills in integrating and synthesizing is to find someone who is successful in helping groups create new systems and learn from them.
Don’t go, read this cartoon.