Facilitating the New and Teaching the Inexistent - A Podcast Interview with Workshops Work

Facilitating the New and Teaching the Inexistent with Jason Frasca and Iain Kerr - Workshops Work Podcast 232

We had the privilege to spend a few hours chatting with Myriam Hadnes on all things emergence, innovation, creativity, workshops, and collaboration... the entire conversation was unscripted -- a truly emergent dialogue which, Myriam had the good sense to record and post on her brilliant podcast: Workshops Work.

In the conversation we explored

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Transcript of Podcast 232 - Facilitating the New and Teaching the Inexistent with Jason Frasca and Iain Kerr

Note: Lightly edited for readability...

[00:00:00] Myriam: Hello and welcome to the show. I am curious to what we emerge from this conversation on the topic of facilitation and innovation, maybe public speaking, leading from the back of the room. 

Embodiment, you will create the space for me to be curious. And before we are getting there, always kick off with the same question. When did you start calling yourself a facilitator? And actually do you, who would like to start?  

[00:00:33] Iain: Oh, good question.  Thanks for having us first. Thanks. Great to be here. I don't know if we actually ever really used the word facilitator. 

Our interest is definitely in facilitating an event, an occasion to happen, something to emerge. So we often talk in that language of co-creating, co making co emerging and, how to support it, how to help it, how to assist it. I'd say for, myself, like, when did that start? 

I studied architecture a long time ago and during school, this was in grad school, we formed a reading group. And it was partially out of frustration with the, school we were at, not really doing the things we're super interested in and the reading group was we were reading the French philosophers You to Lose, but that wasn't so important. 

After a while we realized it's also pointless just to read something if we're not doing something with it. And what we wanted to do with it was all of these different interventions in the world that would in a sense facilitate people to change how they interact with the world. So it was always thinking about how do you provoke, promote perturb systems such the different behaviors and outcomes are possible. 

And I. So it was never about like the workshop or just people, but about the whole network of things, tools, objects, environments, behaviors, that kind of stuff.  

[00:02:47] Myriam: Beautiful. What I hear is that it's always outcome focused. So the facilitation of the workshop at just a tool, a way of achieving a higher purpose. 

Like how do you actually use the knowledge that you accumulated through the reading or through a talk or through a lecture?  

[00:03:09] Iain:  It's, I guess like something when things come together and they start to synergize and be more than just the parts they have an identity and an agency, and you're trying to facilitate that in some way and work with it. 

So that, I guess that has been one driving vision of what is it to facilitate. Thank you. How about  

[00:03:43] Myriam: you, Jason?  

[00:03:45] Jason: Yeah, I I, think Ian and I are in are also professors at university and we're part of the innovation entrepreneurship program at Montclair State University. And the courses have been designed from the beginning of which we're the first two full-time faculty in this program. 

Was always experiential. And so the language of facilitator has never really come into play in this environment. But I if we, I. Pull back the curtain on the academic side of it and what's taking place in a classroom and the outcome focus and the emergent experiential experience we want our students to have one might call us facilitators. 

And so I just think it's a matter of maybe some nuance of of, labels or language we prefer to use or we are familiar with in applying into what we see. But I don't I, can't really think of any instances that we really ever have referred to ourselves or I've ever considered myself as a facilitator of the room.

[00:05:16] Iain: It's, usually you're the professor of the room, right? Or you're, teaching. But I think it's like very deliberate on our part not to be. The teacher or the professor, but to agreed to pay attention to the, entirety of the experience and how do you shape it? Yeah Like, how does something emerge? And, there one isn't leading so much as makings poking a certain part of the system, nudging another, blocking another part as you're doing something like that might be called teaching or being at the front of the room in, a workshop. 

[00:06:02] Myriam:  And I, find it fascinating that although you are somehow facilitating learning or logic, knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination, though, You don't wanna put the label of the professor or the teacher, because that's very much from the front of the room. Although facilitators somehow hasn't found its way to academia yet. 

And I wonder actually why, is it because it's too is it to apply it or does it still have the bad connotation of oh, these are the woo people who sit in the circle and ask how you're feeling?  

[00:06:49] Iain: I think for us there's a definite part of why it doesn't exist is has to do with professors in some sense should know something and they're communicating and delivering it. 

And so there's a historical model of what learning is, where it's there's an existing bank of knowledge that the professor. Knows better than anyone and communicates and people are vessels that hold that knowledge and when they have enough of it, they can do something. But for us we're, really interested in creativity and innovation. 

We're interested in things that don't exist till you make them, till you collectively make them. And as they come to exist, at some point you can know something about them, but the knowing comes later. And so you can't, in a sense, profess you can't knowledge that doesn't exist of something non-existent. 

So creativity for us is the process of producing something genuinely new. And at some point somebody could know something about it and somebody could gain expertise. Which I think is very antithetical to most of our education system where we're asking people to just receive preexisting stuff and put it on an exam or something. 

Or apply it in a paper. 

[00:08:37] Myriam: Thank you for putting it in. Concrete words, I just love it. We teach something that doesn't exist yet and it's how can we, in, in these days, how can we actually do anything else? Because in, in days where every major tech company has their own ai, how can a professor ever compete? 

[00:09:04] Myriam: Against an AI powered assistant where students ask a question and get the answer so much faster. So I think you're exploring this space of higher education that actually we need these days where you, if I understand correctly, actually teach students how to be creative and innovative. So how to think for themselves, how to co-create. 

And I wonder whether, or how you can really teach innovation. Can we learn to be innovative? Can we learn to be creative?  

[00:09:48] Iain: Yes. Absolutely is our answer. I and I think we, talk about this a lot, but there's an assumption in that question. Like an implicit one that is historically there when we say can you teach creativity? 

'cause it's imagine like it's something inside of us. Like we have a creative capacity. Some people might have more of it or less of it, but it's a thing perhaps in your brain. And so then some people are like you can't teach that you're just habit. But I think that's in, for us, that's entirely wrong, where it's the new isn't, can't come out of an idea because ideas are inherently conservative. 

The new comes from doing things in the world and which is to say back to your word, facilitating. You have to facilitate the emergence of something genuinely new. Rather than pull it out of your head. So what we teach isn't how to be creative in that sense of something in your head, but we teach processes that you can use that would facilitate the emergence of something new happening in the world that's inherently collaborative with others, with the environment, with tools. 

And so it's like a much more ecosystem view. Much more interactive view of creativity. And I think the last thing to say on that, which is really important to, for us, is that creativity's or innovation's always already around us. It's like spontaneously happening. The universe is self-organizing to make new things that we can join and work with. 

And it's not like you have to lock yourself up in some room and beat your head against the wall till you find like some idea. 

[00:12:11] Myriam: Thank you. It, I almost visualize it as if you can stand there and just grab the ideas and as long as you grab enough and are active enough, something will  

[00:12:23] Jason: emerge.  That, I think that's a common approach, right? That's your brainstorming, that's your sticky note, that's your ideas creativity, the general concept adapt accepted concept of creativity is more and more ideas or combining ideas, right? 

But that's all left to the individual.  

[00:12:51] Jason: all I. Grounded in individualism and creative genius and does not allow the space for true emergence and true novelty and something entirely new, right? We, mentioned this quite often. There's no, if it's genuinely new, there'd be no language or words for it. 


so if you can only think of something that, you know, if your idea can only be something that you've experienced or consumed right then, and it's genuinely new, you wouldn't even, you wouldn't have any words or language to articulate something genuinely new. You need to invent that language as well. 

[00:13:39] Myriam: I love that. And one thing that just came to my mind when I hear the word emergence, and you mention it a couple of times, and the process how ideas and co-creation emerges. One is it requires time and attention, and these are the two resources that are scars. Even more so for the younger generation, where we really compete with all this information, with all the tech, with all the apps. 

So in order to really detect this novelty, maybe also, and this relates to something else that I heard between the lines, that you have to experience a new idea. It's not just the cognitive, but it's the embodiment of, Ooh, something's happening here. There is some substance. So how do you create the space where. 

Students or anyone actually devote time and attention to this process  

[00:14:45] Jason: real quick before I, I would just say it's, not limited to students, right? So we also have a consultancy where we work with industry senior executives, organizations and, things of this nature, right? So where we're wrestling with these two questions what is creativity and innovation and how do you do it? 

[00:15:07] Iain: And so I, I didn't mean to interrupt you, but  It's, important to prequalify that.  It's, in all these cases, like you're saying Miriam, that people are so focused on goals and targets and whatever it might be, you know that to, to do the innovation part, you need to put a pause on that. 

You need to actually stop that. You need to step out of it. You have to create an entire, a different pathway, a different logic, a different space where you can be experimental. You don't have those same time constraints, the formal constraints, and I think it's, that is really hard. But if you don't do that as an organization, as individuals there's no way to really talk about creativity or innovation. 

And so I think that's like the first really important thing is like making space, environment, conditions, time that could afford experimentation and novelty and, then like to what you were saying there, The embodied part, like if it's the new, is something you're gonna sense more than be able to conceptualize, so it's being able to not have to have an idea right away to, in a way put aside that we have to know what it is. So we could sense like a hunch, a possibility, something to follow, and then shift the ecosystem to follow it further, support it more to facilitate its emergence. 

And the, last part there that's really important is like the, we change as we do it. And I think that's another really difficult part for people. They think of an innovator or creative like a God who just takes something out of their head and puts it in the world. It's co-sharing you as you do it and you're becoming the person that can recognize it and engage it, and you're becoming someone different through that process. 

[00:17:40] Myriam: And what skills does it require to walk around along this thin line between not knowing, as you said, we have to embark on something. We don't know the answer yet. We don't know where we are going. And curiosity, because not knowing uncertainty is one of the most fear inducing or stress-inducing components. 

Whereas when we can trigger curiosity, it's basically the same, but it's still, it feels different. One is a push, one is a pull. How do you play with these two  

[00:18:14] Iain: forces? We like in a really practical level, we like, this comes back to the whole workshop thing. We really like to give people experiential models of how you could do this where, and to, in a sense play a, set of games where you experience what is it to not know, to deliberately like block something to follow things, to experiment, to work collectively with other people and material and processes and allow a new logic to emerge that then could be explored. 

But I think it, for us, it's really important that you do exercises to get good at it. What you're getting good at is an embodied process. So you're not, at some point it, starts to be closer to second nature. So it's not I would say either like curiosity or blocking, but you're like, okay, I have a logic, an embodied logic I can experiment with and play with. 

Maybe I've set up an environment to support it. I have others that already who also feel it and understand it. Maybe we have a shared language to talk about this process, but so for us, the workshop is really the, way of facilitating people in to a comfort with this type of process. 

[00:20:14] Myriam: Jason, you look as if you, something is processing in your mind.  

[00:20:19] Jason: Yeah, always. I'm, just processing what Ian was saying. I'm always learning from something he's saying. Yeah, I mean it's, interesting a challenges of facilitator in these experiential workshops  

[00:20:39] Jason: for individuals to articulate their experience in an accurate way if the end of the if, we're dealing in this unknown, that is the goal of the workshop for individuals to experience emergent novelty without knowing At the end, if you ask them to the participants to articulate their experience, say, write a user manual for an alien life force that takes over the planet to articulate what they just experienced, they'll often revert back to ideas. 

I had the idea, even though a moment ago you asked them, could you have ever thought of these outcomes that you just generated? They'll say no and never could have. But then they will. When you ask them to articulate it in writing, they'll revert back to it was an idea. I had an idea. And it's this fascinating challenge as facilitators of experiential workshops to help people truly Understand and see what it was that they did in fact embody through an embodied experience, right? 

And to find that new language that they don't have to articulate that new experience. And so because it is that new thing they, will revert back to what they know and use this label of ideas, generally speaking, or models or processes that they're familiar with as opposed to finding or struggling to articulate that new thing that they just experienced. 

[00:22:36] Iain:  And so that's, like the what we were talking about the other day with.  One way, one important part, you could say there's an unlearning that has to happen, but we like to call that an unwording. Like you have to. Because like we participate so deeply in habits and practices and logics that they've become second nature and our environment supports them. 

So how do we help in a workshop like DE world, somebody from that and, help them re world in a world of that's emergent and embodied and process oriented. And so that's really the task in a way, the challenge. And it  

[00:23:27] Myriam: almost sounds like a catch 22, where on the one hand you want them to embody something, so to define their own language, but then in order to communicate it with the outside world, they do need to go back. 

 So I can see the benefit of it because then they become ambassadors and translators  Of this new whatever has emerged. On the other hand, I think it sounds as if it would continue to restrict us to really develop a new way of communicating these experiences. And I would like to hear your understanding of what embodied really means, because I think many of us, hopefully everyone in the audience can relate to an embodied experience where we have this aha where suddenly it's more than just the cognitive understanding, but this big aha that leads to behavioral transformation. 

[00:24:35] Iain: Without thinking about it I think all of our work comes from what now is called like the inactive tradition, which is a version of thinking about embodiment. Where it has five components where it says you're, first of all, you're embodied, which means you have a, thinking doesn't happen in the head. 

And your body isn't just some support for the head, but you think through your body and what it does like really simple examples would be, for example we talk about the past being behind us. And that's really because we have eyes in the front, and we look forward and we walk forward so that you can see how much of our thinking is already comes from embodiment. 

Like we grasp things we gra we could grasp an idea or I can't quite see what you're saying or hold on a minute. Or like it's a metaphors. The metaphors are coming out of embodiment. The second e is that we're extended through our objects, like you could say books are like part of your memory system your phone. 

We no longer remember phone numbers, for example, because part of our, memory system of our brain, you could say is in an object. We're extended into the world and the world supports what we do which means for creativity you have to change the tools and the things that extend out. So you're embodied, extended, embedded so your environment matters. 

Environment changes how you think and feel. And then the last, I think most important of the ease is the inactive. Like what? We're always doing things, and the doing is leading to the, thinking, the feeling, the engaging. We're not like static beings we're always engaged and interactive. 

It could just be a conversation, but most of it's holding, touching, doing, caring nursing, whatever very meaningful, embodied things. And then the last part is that we're primarily affective beings. Like we feel our way into things. The stuff we'd call thinking is a little tiny part of being human. 

Like we love to talk about it, but most of how we successfully do things and how we negotiate the world and engage is the, part of us is it's felt it's sensed felt, it has a tone and a a valence and some of it turns into emotions and sentiment and sympathies and what have you. 

But for we, we put way too much emphasis on the thinking and it's really this much larger sense of being a body, doing things in a world with tools and environments that make us who we are. 

[00:28:26] Myriam: I would love to double click on this last part and hope that you can put on your consultant heads because there are two things that I find. 

Fascinating in that one is, yes, you mentioned the sensing, the emotions, the feelings, so everything that is part of our understanding and thinking, but it's not this cognitive thinking. And I think especially in the corporate world, especially for those who have reached the higher levels in this machine, yeah, they have learned to dissociate their thinking from their feeling, from their sensing. 

So how, so this is one part. So how can you help unlearn to totally trust your thinking and to basically listen to your gut? And then as a sub-question to that, how do you sell? It doesn't, how do you sell it that it doesn't sound like, woo. At the end of this workshop, you will have ideas that you'll embodied, ideas that you cannot really describe. 

Yeah, it's  

[00:29:42] Jason: apologies for  

[00:29:43] Iain: poking. I think everything you say we experience and have to work through on a daily basis. And we just spent two hours trying to think of like the subtle affective nuance to, for an online learning module we're interested in doing. We didn't really get anywhere. I think we did. 

We got to some I think we, did. But, it was hard. It's super hard and if there's no words, yeah and and the part about I think upper level management and that separation is, it's it's. It's become a critical part of their ecosystem, that they're disembodied and they're separate. 

And how to change that is in incredibly difficult. And I think people's sense of power is connected to that. Where if you suddenly are playing with people in a workshop you could lose face, you could look not so smart, not so great. But you, for us, it's really important that upper level executives need if you're trying to move an organization to be more innovative in, in this way, that's ecosystem and emergent, interrelational and embodied, they have to experience it. 

Like it's not something where, if it's good enough, if they get the argument for it. Because they won't be able to see and process for themselves all of the myriad of small seemingly intangible changes that need to happen. And they'll just go back into that knowledge delivery mode. And so we're always for us, the workshop is the key thing. 

Like people, you have to get people into these experiences because the, knowing comes from the doing in these cases and very hard to directly convince upper level management to do it. But it's central to our work. So we're always figuring out how do we bring these people in? To an experiential space and it could be part of a retreat that's only for some people and not for everyone. 

It could be in a kind of Trojan horse way where you think you're coming for one thing and it moves towards another thing. But you're building trust. You're building a a, an embodied relationship with somebody that then can allow you to bring them to see that they need to do these things. 

[00:33:07] Myriam: How do you get an organization to experience innovation? Because you mentioned that it, it goes beyond words and. An organization is made off of people, so it's a network. On top is the leadership, and I think if this what you're trying to, it is disruptive in a way that you have to invent then different intelligences and if a leader in a workshop feels uncomfortable of playing because they might lose face, they might feel uncomfortable because they're not the best, then suddenly there's a new, it really questions the entire system of how someone actually reached the top of an organization. 

So to allow a different way of thinking, a different way of understanding and processing information. Then suddenly questions, are you actually the correct. Are you the right leader to lead this innovation?  

[00:34:17] Jason:  Like authority and ownership are anti creative. Approaches. Owning, something expert in something is a closed approach. 

It people, many people don't want to sacrifice their ego for for potentially something unknown that they don't have the answer to. It's it's definitely a challenge of sometimes egos in the room, in the workshops to, to pry them from that, those foundational pillars in which they've built their entire career upon. 

[00:35:13] Iain: It, would mean sometimes that they have to abandon who and what they were in order to move into some new entirely different direction.  

[00:35:15] Myriam: And then it's facilitation to make them feel safe in this process.  

[00:35:19] Iain:  And the big part is to get, I think with leadership is to see that organiza, like any type of organization, any type of dynamic system, ecosystem, the it's not led by one person. 

There's no actual leader per se. Most of the time that the behavior of an organization is like emergent because of the entire system and that what we're doing is we're tweaking and pushing and nudging and pulling, changing parts of the environment, but we're in it and we're out of it. 

And so it's, moving from a type of. I don't know, command and control model of leadership to seeing this kind of coem emergent where you have to lead the whole, because the behaviors that even individuals have is because they're part of a system. They're not like, or they're not like coming out of the essence of somebody. 

But how, we behave, how we perceive is because we're part of this thing, including the, people who are in leadership. So it's, I think it's really important like to gear these workshops. So that part of what you were saying, Jason, is the understanding that comes at the end is understanding that that kinda linear model doesn't exist. 

Is central to so much of what leadership is. 

Thank you.  

[00:37:21] Myriam: I, feel inspired by the bookshelf that is behind you. For those who only listen to the podcast, it's a very non-linear bookshelf. And which reminds me that you, Ian you mentioned you have a background in architecture, and I don't remember Jason's background, but I think architecture is a wonderful example. 

How the context and environment actually shape our behavior or thinking and everything that happens actually inside of an organization thinking of rooms with a lot of windows or open space as opposed to. Big walls, no windows and static tables and chairs. So how do you apply your backgrounds in, architecture, namely to the design of your workshops and your innovation approach? 

[00:38:29] Iain: Yeah, I mean I think that maybe just to say a word about the bookshelf since it's so interesting 'cause it's a good example of working with students about how to make something new that you can't know. So what we did is each student designed a connector that it can hold the boards of wood, but we blocked Like the standard angles of design, like 90 degrees. 

So if you think of a bookshelf, it's made of 90 degree angles, parallel pieces. So we just said what are the standard logics of, it's 90, 45, 30. So we just said, you can make any connector. It's gotta hold up this dimension of wood. It should work in more than one plane. But we don't care what it is it, could be anything. 

And the students, three D printed those and then we just collectively played with how it could all go together without really thinking about its relation to books and, then we put it on the wall and then we basically start to ask the books like, what could you do with this? So the it was it's genuinely on a very simple level, it's like an emergent form, emergent engagement. 

And it's, it proppe it promotes or affords when people use it, they're asking for us the really important question. Not what is it, how should it be properly used, but what could I do with it? What's possible because of this angle or that angle? And that's like really important to everything we do. 

[00:40:41] Jason:  And I think that's born of our process,  right?  Our, meta model for innovation. The blocking right to understand what exists in order to leave it behind. If we can't think of the new right, then we must not do what's being done. In order to get to somewhere new. And the more we block what exists, the more novelty will generate  

[00:41:05] Iain: from that outcome. 

[00:41:07] Jason: And so this is a process that the students went through and understanding wood and angles and the software that they could design, the, these brackets with these connectors with or three d printing and what those materials afford. And the exploration of dumping a pile of wood on the floor in the middle of the room in the students. 

Then starting to experiment with how they could use those connectors with the wood and what things they could build and make. Not knowing in advance, not predetermining it, not answering the question, but physically doing engaging and embodied experience of making. Making  

[00:41:51] Iain: his thinking.  Like how could it meet the wall? 

How could it meet your body? How could it meet a coffee cup?  What are all the ways, which I think gets into your other question then, which was like, about architecture. So I think back to that premise of in the inactive model we use, the environment's always shaping us, like profoundly. 

So our thoughts are code generated from our tools and our habits and our space. So we're really we're always looking at with organizations. How are there spaces organized? Both the physical ones, but also the lay, the organizational layout of logic of jobs and all of that going together and then we bring that into the workshops where there we very deliberately lay out the space, organize the space to allow for the modeling of the right ways of interacting in dynamics. 

It could be as simple as that in a workshop we want everyone to be able to step back and see what everyone else has done, but like in an organic way where if you just say like some word to pause, everybody, they immediately step back in a way they can see everybody's. Every team's stuck and if you had for example, if you organize it to have a front of the room, that won't happen. 

Because so it's things like that, like we pay a lot of attention and organize the physical space to meet the process and the kind of game we're doing the exercise. And we might not often we won't have chairs for big parts of it so that, or it's like the size of the table really matters. 

If you go to often if you have a workshop in a hotel type space and they have those big round convention tables, but those tables are designed that if I'm at one side, I can't reach over to whatever you might be doing. So it, immediately stops. It doesn't have the affordance of allowing us to work on something together. 

So if, we're ever in that kind of environment where like those tables have to go we need some, you need a surface. It could be anything is better than that table where you can all overlap and all be active together. And if you don't have that, the behavior and the, relationships and the thinking completely change. 

And if you have chairs at that moment, for example, somebody in a way can opt out. They can sit down. And, the important part of the standing is even you start to sink your motions to other people's. Not, you're not thinking about it, but you just start. Like the way we can look at each other and physically all three of us here sink ourselves. 

And I think that really is an important part of for us for facilitating is we want like the right kind of embodied dynamics and the subtlety of a chair and a table and where it goes in a room make all the difference.  

[00:46:02] Myriam: Because as you described, a chair or a table does prime or nudge participants even if it's unconscious. 

 So the way how you allocate the chairs implies what kind of interaction you expect.  

[00:46:17] Iain:  And often you're like, so often you'll be in rooms that have been set up like some type of classroom so they're always more, I. They have a front and a backness to them, and they are, I, they're not suited to everybody looking at everybody in something that's more like a donut. 

So it's it's, the rooms are already shaping how we, our habits and practices. And they also key us into how we think we should behave in a very subtle level. Like you're, oh, I'm back in the classroom. I this is the behavior I should have. And so even at that level, it's really important. 

[00:47:13] Myriam:  It's like  we were the one to create something that feels more like a, campfire where everyone puts on bricks into the fire. Or like the eye of a storm where everything comes from the outside, into the inside where you have the density maybe of information or inside is the highest.  

[00:47:35] Iain:  All of those things are like, and at different points in the workshop. 

The room really needs to change so we'll, use things like everybody getting up for a coffee or a, snack or some pause to actually physically rechange the room so we're ready for the next 'cause it, we'll require a different kind of physical architecture in a way  

[00:48:07] Myriam: to then also prime. 

Okay. Something is changing, needs a different way of looking at things I cannot get used to. There's no time for habit.  

[00:48:15] Iain:  That reminds  

[00:48:18] Jason: me of something else we like to do, which is the randomness of the people.  

[00:48:26] Myriam: Tell me more about randomness  

[00:48:28] Iain: people  

[00:48:30] Jason: When coming into a room together. When coming into a room will naturally flock and congregate to  

[00:48:36] Iain: people they know or even they feel like they know. Or have  

[00:48:41] Jason: made some, even just small connection in the hall around pouring a cup of coffee. But the barrier's already broken. Like the ice is already thawed. Even just enough so that I feel comfortable or maybe I don't feel comfortable at all, either one, but two to assimilate with that person in, in, in the room. 

And so we'll naturally, oh, we just met at the coffee station a moment ago. We're both looking for a place to sit. We'll both naturally start and there's some sort of rapport relationship already starting to form there. And that's okay. We allow that all to happen. But before  

[00:49:19] Iain: starting the actual experience of the workshop,  

[00:49:24] Jason: we'll then just naturally count people off to break them apart so that you are very likely to be next to and working with someone you have no history with  

[00:49:36] Iain: whatsoever. 

Just so the habits and patterns. You can't bring your previous ones of how you defer, how you engage, but you're allowing the occasion to build new habits and relations and synergies between people.

[00:50:04] Myriam: General questions in a very open way and see what comes up. So what makes a workshop fail according to your experience? 

[00:50:28] Iain: I think people have, the first really important thing is people have to have a genuine experience, like embodied emergent experience of novelty that isn't coming from ideation the and so getting, and this is just like talking about one type of workshop we do, but for that type of workshop, it's, that's what really matters and that, it's emergent, participatory. 

So we, put a lot of effort as we facilitate to make sure, like there's no time, for example, to spend ideating at length. Which could happen if you have a lot of time. If I if we say you've got 10 minutes to do something, you could spend eight minutes talking. But if you only have one minute and there's like a task that takes two minutes to do, you have to go to it. 

The one big thing that can fail is if there isn't an embodied, emergent collective novelty produced. And so that's what we, in a way, what I would say most of our effort as facilitators to helping facilitate and usually the way that fails. Has a lot to do with time. I think if there's like things that could derail it in terms of, so there's not enough time or people want to squish it into too short a time. 

And so we're always in a sense fighting to hold enough time. Because every time it'll be different contextually, right? And if, and you need sometimes you could, we can do it the way teams are working. It'll take just say five iterations of something. But sometimes like it, there's a couple teams that are going in a different direction and it's gonna take another five rounds so to, so we're always like, for us, the eye and the prize is getting that emergent novelty to happen. And if that doesn't happen, it's that's the big failure. Wouldn't you say? I think that's, yeah, I think excuse  

[00:53:26] Jason: me, we script with no expectation of the script being completely executed, it's more of a, rough outline, but if it's truly emergent we're at the mercy of the group in the room. And it, like Ian is saying, sometimes it's a little bit more challenging for the individuals in the room to truly get to that genuine. Emergent novelty experience, the unknown. 

And we we, flex with that. And so time constraints definitely come into play sometimes. Which I think gets back to something that was said earlier around speed and, one of the biggest challenges with senior executives or organizations and it was another part earlier, which is innovation is slow. 

Like it takes time. Everybody wants it fast. That's why ideas work really well because they're a dime a dozen and they're, accessible and the approaches that prefer volume. You can do volume even in a short period of time. Mixing and combining ideas you can do fairly quickly. 

But if you truly, genuinely wanna invest in. Emergent novelty and innovation and ecosystems and environments to be organic and spontaneous. Like it takes time. You have to understand the system.  

[00:55:12] Iain: I have to,   And I think one really key I think it's, like a philosophical position for us is with a workshop is that for us, a workshop isn't like a set of mini lectures and demonstrations or we'll, tell you something that we think is true and then we'll get you to experience it. 

We, for us, what's really important is that the general conceptual outcomes are generated by the participants. So, that they will, we will facilitate. An emergent experience from a certain perspective. And then we will facilitate the unpacking of it where they are collectively generating the knowledge. 

And we, never want to be in that position where it's many lectures and demonstrations and so the, second big way it can fail is that it's, very hard to facilitate the emergence of novel habits and practices and knowing as Jason was saying earlier, so you can bring people through an experience, but they'll look at it through the lens and through the habits they already have. 

So the, second challenge after getting them through it is we want them to have a way of reflecting back on what they did that comes to this new understanding, but it ha it can't be like we're forcing them to it in any way. And so that's I think really important. We don't wanna force it or fake it or at the end just give people a lecture. 

'cause then there would be no reason to have had the experience in some way.  

[00:57:34] Myriam: And then it wouldn't be novel in the first place. Because if then you would assume that you have the answer already.  Which is something that you said in the beginning that Yeah, you teach something that doesn't exist yet. 

 So it's a different form of teaching and there's so much to unpack. On the one hand this time component, where on the one hand if I understand you correctly, there's, you cannot give too much time because then it will be a discussion and they will derail and they will be off task. And this kind of sharpness  

Of ideation is lost. On the other hand, you need sufficient time for things to emerge. And then yes, innovation takes time and is slow, but the moment a good idea comes up, it's very fast.  

[00:58:26] Iain:  So there's all sorts of different types of time. So maybe  

[00:58:31] Jason: we could let you in on a little secret, since it's just the three of us talking and no one else is gonna hear this. 

[00:58:37] Iain: But  

[00:58:37] Jason: we are always manipulating time in a workshop. Always right. And so we'll tell people they have five minutes, but we actually only give them four. We'll say they're, we're gonna do X number of rounds, but we actually do a completely different  

[00:58:53] Iain: number of rounds.  

[00:58:55] Jason: We're constantly manipulating time to account for like you're saying not allow for too much ideation, but allow for enough time for making, doing right, physically embodying the thing. 

And we're we'll run the clock, we'll say five it'll be four. The room's nowhere near where it should be. We'll add two or three more. We're gonna stop at round five now. Let's do it two more round. Like this is all time that we're all, we're constantly flexing with organically emergently in the moment and  

[00:59:34] Iain: according to what's taking place. 

And I think the other really important thing there is. We a as the workshop progresses, we let people know that that or we make sure they notice that the rules are bending or that the rules are bending to evolve with what's emerging. Because we want people, this is one thing we're trying to demonstrate and allow people to understand that that there's a feedback loop between the experience and the process changing. 

[01:00:20] Myriam: What I love about that it made me jump on my chair a bit. As a behavioral economist, it was all about the impact of the last round. Yeah, in a finite game. So in game theory, there's always the problem of the finite round and then players will behave differently because they know, okay, it's the last time we play. 

So the only way to change that, to manipulate that is to introduce a random stop of the game so that it comes close to something that feels infinite.  And what you're doing by just adding another two rounds or changing the protocol is basically avoiding participants to anticipate and say, okay, that's the last round. 

[01:01:19] Iain: We are doing this. So I can either be a little bit lazy or a little bit slow or something that might not  add.  I remember doing a workshop a long time ago in Italy with art students graduate art program, and there was one guy and he. Got it. He got exactly what you're saying. There's gonna be a finite round. 

And he's I love how you're doing this. It's all emergent. It's co-developing. But he was playing the system where he was going to keep his best idea and then introduce it in this last round. And but it was again, like derailing stop, no emergent process. But that's where you, have to have a set of rules that are, can take into account. 

And for us, these involve, like Jason was saying earlier certain things get blocked. And those we will not go back to this or we will not do that, or that's not possible. And those always become like these enabling engines like that, that push things. Into the new and, they become like a kind of self-policing criteria. 

So people will always they might unconsciously go back to something, but then they know we need another round because it didn't we went back into what we said we wouldn't do. It's like organically. It's so we don't have to be the ones like acting like God where it's like, sorry, this isn't what we wanted. 

But the, process itself tells people like in a non-judgmental way, like we went backwards. 

[01:03:28] Myriam:  It's like the. Rule IUs cannot walk backwards.  

[01:03:33] Iain:  It's an IMU rule. That's nice.  

[01:03:39] Myriam: And what you just said, remind me of the second point that I wanted to unwrap is you mentioned that a failure of a workshop is when there is not this novelty that emerged and it sounds like a lot of responsibility actually on your shoulders. 

And so there are two question. One is, how do you define novelty? Because depending on the group and their context, new and innovation can mean something very different. As for you you've, hosted so many innovation workshops that there's still something new and maybe this organization is very proud of reinventing the wheel that works for them. 

So how do you, measure that and how do you stay away from. Implicitly or unconsciously putting this pressure on the group and actually judging them for not being novel enough.  

[01:04:38] Jason: One of my favorite things to wrestle is that, with that word new, right? Like new to who? New to you. Me new to them. 

Who's to say what new is? 

[01:04:54] Iain: Like that in and of itself is like a very deep, like  spot barrel.   

[01:04:55] Jason: We can roll around.  

[01:04:58] Iain: But I think what what happens when you do enough of the workshops and correct me if I'm wrong,   

But we see the patterns emerge, right? And they always tend to follow the same sorts of patterns through the experience that people will general, like 99% of the time will follow the first three rounds. 

Of an experience, one of these experiential workshops that we do several of them actually, I should say. They will do, they will follow this pattern that every other human before them in these workshops has taken, right? And so then after some number of rounds, it starts to become more novel  and unique. 

We, we block things.  The, honestly it's not, like every time you do a workshop, it's radically something radically new emerges, but surprisingly often, like far more often than not. Because it's a, the, it's process driven. It gets to somewhere that we haven't experienced before either. 

And, I think the important part for us is that people start to understand that they did a process. So judging how truly novel the thing isn't so important as that they see that it exceeded. The first thing is that it exceeded what they could have ideated that they, could have all sat down and brainstormed and thought. 

But that it also exceeded the, standard, like you could say, paradigms or frameworks or logics for that space that an expert might have known about that. It's it's going to some new logic. It might not we're not interested in if they could work it out. But that they've, come to a new space that it's, I think the challenge for us is no matter how many times you do it, you feel like it might not work because we, you, if it's genuinely emerging, it involves novelty. 

We can't, there's no guarantee, there's no so there's a lot of I don't know, anxiety. There's a lot of emotion that you have to put aside to, do this kind of workshop well and you have to yourself trust the process because there can be those moments where you subtly want to just be like, just go do that now, don't do that. 

I know that's gonna be bad. But you have to hold yourself back and just be like that's fine. In, in the end I don't know, like I think we make a, we try to make a process that doesn't involve like that type of judgment of God. Is it good, is it bad? But so that there's no place for that. 

Just, is it different? But to have that criteria be one that's held by the room. And that PE teams, you're working in teams, but you're working as a, meta collective as well. And at some point you switch from being, for example, in something like you could think of as a competition between teams, where you could be like one team is better, smarter, whatever, to There's this kind of collective emergence of a new framework that no, no team could say they own. 

Just like no individual could say, I came up with it. And I think that's a really big part of what we're trying to do. So that you realize the role of competition and you also realize the role of this kind of collective emergence and how you need both. So for us that's like a super, like carefully done thing where judgment has to shift from like good and bad. 

A va a type of value judgment to a I would say like a curiosity judgment. Is this genuinely different? Not is it better or worse? Do I like it or dislike it? But is it different? And if it getting people to move to that habit and that practice of like, where you could stay with a difference and then, and keep its difference alive. 


[01:10:36] Myriam: Does it provoke new thinking? Does it create wonder?  

[01:10:42] Iain:  I later that there should be I think that's like another thing you could fail at a workshop. If people don't have a sense of wonder at some point. Because you could make something new and just be like, that's just a pile of shed. 

It's different, but I but you want to have that sense of  And  

[01:11:09] Myriam: I think that's similar to a conversation I. I recognize a good conversation. I have many conversations, as you can imagine. As soon as in my mind there's a question coming up. So what?  And I'm like, okay, this is about to fail, to change something. 

And I think for a workshop it's similar if the question comes up. So what? Yeah, then it's a big red flag and warning sign.  

[01:11:36] Iain:   

[01:11:39] Myriam: And I have one, one provocative question that I'll park here for just one moment. And first want to clarify or ask, you said that if the group realizes that they have achieved more, that they could have, achieved through ideation, and I would love to be very explicit here. 

So what is the alternative to ideation? Ideation as opposed to what?  

[01:12:14] Iain: So what, I guess maybe just what do we mean by ideation? And in this case we mean like, the classical model we have for a lot of creativity is you, work on the getting a new idea, a totally different idea, then you figure out how to realize it. 

And the realization might have a few iterations and a test, but that's we're going to figure it out in advance, as in some type of idea concept. But that's as you were saying, Jason, it's like very conservative inherently because it relies on what you know and what we mean by an emergent process that exceeds that is that you, don't. 

Start with an idea of what it should be. But you start with an experiment that usually, as you were saying, Jason blocks something. It's we, don't wanna do this. We refuse to do that. What else is possible? And the, process, which is like embodied and environmental and goes through doing, leads you to come up with an, a novel approach that you can theorize and conceptualize. 

So there's ideas then that emerge, but that those are ideas that you couldn't have had at the beginning. But, so it's not, I think it's an important thing. A lot of people think or one of the patterns of thought people fall into is like we're saying ideation is bad. Don't, think anymore, don't have ideas, but it's, to see that, to have a genuinely new idea and a genuinely new framework, you have to pass through a phase of experimentation that's not idea driven, is it? 

[01:14:30] Myriam: A kind of prototyping. So to create something with our hands or to draw something, that is not a bullet list or a wall of sticky notes,  

[01:14:41] Iain: I def it has to involve doing. To get out of that strong, i framework of ideation the form it takes can be any number of things we like to I think the really important part, like we like to look at is How an evolution things come about. 

Where if you think of the classical example of like how the dinosaur turned into the bird. Dinosaurs weren't sitting around ideating and brainstorming, like, how can we evolve into other creatures? They were just like, does this afford me that I stay alive and have offspring? 

And wings emerged from that not to produce flight, but the, feather emerged to sequester toxins, but it had the unintended ability because it was hollow to hold heat, which then led to get to it getting bigger, which. Led to it holding pigment, which led to birds being sexy, not birds, but dinosaurs have lots of feathers and be sexy. 

But it was like these unintended possibilities of the stuff and the practice. And so you all human inventions involve the same process at multiple points, plus people realizing it and thinking about it. So if you think of penicillin it's leaving some Petri dishes out and unintentionally fungi land there and kill some bacteria and you think, what else could it do? 

And it was like 20 years later through other unintended things, or the microwave was an unintended outcome of radar and so we, we do these processes, but. We go backwards and then say, we had the idea all along, as you were saying earlier, and it's really getting people to see that they use an experimental, iterative process of finding unintended possibilities. 

And that's the, so it's not prototyping comes later, like when you have the a quasi microwave, like then you want to prototype and make it better. But before prototyping is a type of probing. And playing, maybe playing. What else can it do? What happens if we don't let it do this? Where could we go with it? 

And that's a really big part of like you're saying, like doing things, working with our hands. All of that. 

[01:17:56] Myriam: I promised the last provocative question from dhi. So you you spoke a lot about process and that it's all in the process. So what role do you play in it as facilitators? So how much is actually the skill, the mastery of the facilitation as opposed to the process? Or can, anyone do it? 

[01:18:23] Iain: How would you wanna start answering that? It's, that's the big question. It is. I think  

[01:18:28] Jason: it's, I think if anyone can do it right that's, the beauty of a process, right? That if you're aware of the process and the capability of the process, you can engage with that process and leverage it, right? 

And, do something meaningful with it. I think the role of the facilitator is to, as in this case in particular, because ideation, solving problems the dilution of creativity and innovation are so ingrained in humanity that it requires a facilitator, a workshop, but an experience to move beyond those ingrained habits and approaches to spotlight alternative processes and approaches to do something special, right? 

Like we don't like we, we don't need organizations, companies profiting through widgets  

[01:19:46] Iain: and just more crap. It doesn't work in 2023

[01:19:50] Jason: We need to do something bigger. We all should be accepting a larger role of responsibility in in humanity based on the existential challenges that are before all of us. 

And I think as facilitators, for lack of a better word, to spotlight these alternative approaches, to do something bigger and better is the role to hold the  

[01:20:23] Myriam: mirror. What's that? To hold the mirror in front of the group, basically. Also to reflect back what they're  

[01:20:29] Iain: doing. So I would it just coming to the nuts and bolts of what you're saying, I think it's like what we're trying to do is a type of scaffolding. 

Where we're trying to help a group. Shift from one set of habits and practices, environments and tools and embodied logics to another. And so you do need, the process is not enough in this case. And you do need facilitators to help Ed because you're tr you're, noticing where you need more of a nudge and a poke and a change. 

But which brings to the second part, like when an organization shifts to working with these ways that allow for genuine novelty to emerge, you need people to have new roles. And those roles are to help facilitate the, new. And you have to wear different hats at different times. So you're not getting away from that. 

People are necessary like that. You can blindly follow a process the process becomes like a, structuring element. And part of that process is how people take on new roles. And I, and one of the critical roles, like I like to call it that we're doing and facilitating, and that people do when they're working in these emergent ways, is you need to have people that are the, like the ambassador of difference. 

So as difference emerges, people have to champion it and have to support it so it, it can grow and stabilize, but you have to keep it from going back, like Jason's saying, into the old, into widgets. You have to, in a way ask what does it need? What does the emerging new need. 

And, so people are, there's all these new roles, these new capacities, these new skills, these new, environments. And the process is just one part of it. But the process is cataly like to take away from a workshop to see that, like my habits and practices before of let's get in a room and ideate, or I'll write ideas in my journal. 

That process isn't the most helpful, but there's other ones that will move you much deeper into emergence and novelty and that we have to then add new roles and skills and environments and all of that.  

[01:23:30] Myriam: This makes sense. Do I have time for a final question?  

[01:23:35] Iain: Fire away.  

[01:23:36] Myriam: What's your, what remains your number one facilitation challenge? 

[01:23:44] Iain: It's that one. Yeah,  

[01:23:45] Jason: it's the, yeah, it's the one we talked about earlier, which is to get people to  

[01:23:50] Iain: articulate what they experienced.  

[01:23:54] Jason: To get people to be able to either verbally or written, communicate the process, the steps they took to get to the unknown novel outcome that they experienced. 

[01:24:13] Iain: I think that's definitely our number one  

[01:24:15] Jason: challenge that we've been wrestling with, because it doesn't ma some it, it doesn't matter sometimes how much you wrestle with that. They will still, some people will still always revert back to the label  

[01:24:31] Iain: of an idea or it's like the people are really familiar with. 

Various processes. It might be, say, design thinking where you empathize, ideate, prototype, and make so you, shoehorn the new into that process that and it so it could be like the god model, ideate plan and make. It could be design thinking, empathize, ideate, prototype, make it could be any number of others, but you're like, oh this new experience is a version of that. 

Which really shortly you can imagine after leaving the workshop will be like, oh, I learned some new design thinking tools, or, I learned some new ways to augment the God model. Rather than seeing that there's a that there's a need for a different set of processes to get to something genuinely new and emerge. 

Being able to sit with that difference. And so we put an enormous amount of effort and experimenting and testing to, to figure out how to facilitate that kind of second part of our work of these kind of workshops that are about innovation because that the coaxing and the working towards that is, is hugely challenging. 

 Creating a new way,  

[01:26:08] Myriam: new  

[01:26:08] Iain: language.  That's why we say like it's un world and unworldly not just unlearning and rewiring. Like we wanna people into a different world, a different ethos, a different set of practices and habits and and it's a lot to try and imagine happens in one event, but people should feel it in some sense. 


[01:26:45] Myriam: I'm looking forward to where this challenge and the how might we will lead you. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing. I'll put the links to find you in the show notes. Wonderful. For everyone who's interested to learn more to work with, you can find you. Is there anything that you wanted to share that we haven't touched upon? 

[01:27:16] Iain: I think we always remember two days later, right?   It'll emerge  

[01:27:23] Jason: later. But thank you for this opportunity to have this amazing conversation. You had some  

[01:27:28] Iain: wonderful questions. I.  Thank you. It's been really fun.  

[01:27:34] Myriam: Thank you.

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