"The Pain of Change"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 6/8)
Jay: What are the pain points that you resolve for your clients, and why do they need you to get rid of that pain?
Joran: That's a good question because sometimes it's a little ambiguous. Some of the things that we hear are, we're constantly pivoting and we're unable to manage and respond to change in a timely fashion. That's just if things are moving too fast, right? We call that decision fatigue. Or sometimes even mission or purpose fatigue. Like, we've changed our North Star 10 times this quarter, where are we even headed, right? Misalignment like we talked about in the beginning of the call. Who is setting the North Star? Does the team understand where we're going? Is everybody leaning in the same direction every 90 days? Do we have the right people in the right seats? All of that misalignment can be felt throughout the organization. Innovation wise, they might be feeling irrelevant. They might feel the pressure in the market to come up with new ideas or launch new programs or products. That creative spark might feel like it's gone out. Again, going back to, people are withholding and people aren't bringing those ideas to the table. What can we do about it? What happened? If this has gone on for a long time, there's a culture, they would never describe their own culture as toxic. But you know, they'll say it's uninspired. It's misaligned. We've got a lot of, you know, drama. Whatever, okay, you got some toxic culture, right? If you're an organization experiencing this, you are at great risk of huge churn, losing your top talent, having to spend six months to onboard new talent. Missing out on goals or KPIs and losing money. That's what we listen for, that's what we have our antenna up for.
Learn more by scheduling a free discovery session with Joran Oppelt:
"Three Steps to Visionary Leadership"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 5/8)
Jay: I think you made a fairly compelling case for moving into this style of leadership using visual storytelling, thinking, and tools. Now what do I do? How do I actually make this happen?
Joran: There are three things we talk about in the book Visionary Leadership – three steps you can take. The first step is to take ownership of the problem. You have to take a hard look at your planning and your systems and your processes, the style of communication and leadership, all of that. You have to ask the hard questions.
Does everybody have access to the things they need to become the collaborative, visual thinkers you're expecting them to be? Have you provided them with the necessary onboarding and training? Are you painting done around what success looks like for their specific role and how you see them fitting into your future vision? All of this is important. You have to do step one, take ownership of the problem, it is on you. And if it's not happening, you've gotta own it and start doing better.
The second thing is to break the big thing into smaller things. This can feel overwhelming and it's a lot to do. You know, okay, we've done our customer experience journey, but now we've gotta change these 20 things in the process or in the company. Where do we even start? It's like cleaning out a closet. Take the things out and sort them and organize them and visually stack them and talk about what you're keeping and what you're tossing and is it urgent versus important? And you've gotta lay those things into a plan. You start that by putting things into smaller and smaller buckets. Then you can implement.
Then the third one is really important. It should be the first thing because it's the most important, ask for help. You cannot do this alone. You've gotta let your need for control go and not let it keep you from greatness. We talk a lot about the genius zone, which Gay Hendrix talks about in the Big Leap.
You've got to operate not from a space of competency or excellence, but your zone of genius, right? Which means you've got to delegate, offload some of these things to other people and, you've got to ask for help. That's hard for people. Like we've said, we are not in a culture, especially as men sometimes, and trained for and modeled to ask other people for help. You've got to stop and ask for help. Those scrum masters, those aren't the only people who can put stickies on a wall. Those hip looking creative directors aren't the only people in your organization who can think creatively. Those innovation teams that you've created aren't the only ones who can test and validate ideas and make the business better. All of this stuff has to be scaled throughout and it starts by asking for help.
Jay: One of the things that, as you're talking has come into my mind is this idea of being visionary. And how visionary is a visual tool and how that leads straight towards being able to visualize what it is that you want to achieve. Visual thinking and then needing to have tools and engagement that seems to all tie it together.
Learn more by scheduling a free discovery session with Joran Oppelt:
"The Emotional Side of Change"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 4/8)
Jay: When we talk about leadership, one of the things that leaders have to do is lead their teams and their organizations from where they are to where they're trying to get to. One of the things we know is that change is hard.
I think human beings are wired to resist change. So I want you to comment on the perspective of, “I'm the leader of a business unit or an entire company. I'm hearing what you're telling me that I ought to make things more effective, and that requires me to change.”
Can you talk about the emotional side? If I'm that leader who's got to green light everything moving forward in the business, where am I starting from and where am I gonna end up?
Joran: Change begins with becoming self-aware. For any leader who all of a sudden has the insight or the reflection, “Oh, this is on me; I need to change; There's something in my habits or my behavior or my routine that needs to shift, that needs to be rethought,” there are a couple of ways they can do that.
First, Michael Bungay Stanier talks about it in The Coaching Habit. The steps to changing and creating new habits. Instead of doing a certain thing when another certain thing happens. You say, “When (blank) happens, instead of “X”, I will “Y” And then you work that like a muscle. You're not gonna get it right the first time. It takes time and it takes work. But it is like a muscle and everybody benefits. The benefits for you at the end are that you're leading from the bottom of the pyramid. If you do it right, you are now confident in the entire stakeholder team and you stop to “paint done” for them. You have been explicitly detailed with your vision and your expectations, and you've set them up to get those results.
And you shouldn’t care how they get those results. You should focus on the what and the why. Have faith and confidence in your team. That alone can be liberating as a leader. Because as a CEO or as a founder, you stay awake nights thinking, “Are they going to build the thing I want to build?”
You just doubt, doubt, doubt. Like we talked about earlier, having the clarity and wisdom to know the difference between what is a short-term project that's going to fire the team up – inspire them, motivate them, incentivize them – versus long-term thinking and major investments. There's wisdom and clarity that comes with that.
The strength and speed of your visual vocabulary can make you feel like a superhero all of a sudden. You can communicate faster and more clearly to more people. There's a strength and a confidence that comes with developing and nurturing visual thinking, not only in yourself, but in your team.
Jay: It reminds me of when the team really gels and really begins to perform. I like your analogy. You're leading from the bottom of the pyramid. I think what you get is what I'll call the Proud Mama or Proud Papa Syndrome. It just really fills you up with pride and joy in what others are achieving – knowing that you had something to do with giving them the space and creating the environment that allowed them to flourish.
Learn more by scheduling a free discovery session with Joran Oppelt:
"The Business Benefits of Visual Thinking"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 3/8)
Jay: You talk about the importance of communication which clearly makes a lot of sense. You were very specific about the value of visual communication and visual tools. How about amplifying that? Give us some examples of what you mean and why. Visual communication gives you a lot of return on technique compared to, “let me just get people around the table or on a zoom call and start wagging my finger.”
Joran: For me, you can communicate visually if you think visually. Visual thinking is different from design thinking. Design thinking is where you're moving in iterations and you are thinking like an artist by testing, experimenting and validating.
That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about visual thinking, which means that as opposed to thinking like an artist you are behaving like an artist. When you need to talk about a concept, you draw a picture of it. When you need to host a meeting you have a visual agenda or use a visual pie chart. It's proven that visual communication connects with our brains faster. We're able to process the information quicker and retain that information longer. All of that is proven science. Visual thinking leads to visual communication, and that's how I recommend leading every meeting – every engagement.
When you see visual thinking happening in a group, it may look like storytelling. Like people gathered around a fire or drawing pictures on the wall. Whether that's a team retrospective, or a customer journey map, or a cone of plausibility, if you put that image on a wall and you gather your team around it, you will create a conversation that will lead to more clarity.
It's similar to the pushback which we experience in facilitation and consulting. You want people to push back on concepts and images. If I'm talking about a tree in a forest and somebody thinks I'm talking about a pine tree, but I’m imagining something else, that's not going to be an effective meeting. I need to be able to say (or illustrate), “No, it's an apple tree and there are green apples on the tree, and it's not standing alone in the orchard. It's got a bunch of trees around it.”
We are then super clear as a team what we're talking about. We are “painting done” at that point, and that's why getting these images on a wall, thinking visually, communicating visually is so important. It's effective, it's faster, it empowers your team to be involved in the process and leading becomes really easy at that point.
Jay: I think it's very interesting. Visual storytelling and visual thinking is definitely a twist that I haven't really heard before and I think that is well worth exploring, but I'm sitting here saying to myself, “It sounds good, but how does it move the needle for my business?”
So when you have done what you advocate – when you have either worked with clients or seen other companies that have used these techniques – how do you see the business benefiting? What are some objective metrics that you can point to that demonstrate effectiveness?
Joran: Most recently we worked with a big sales software company and we built a journey map for them that was focused on their complex sales deals and their discovery process – all the way from discovery to close. We built a Mural for them because they were struggling with their people sticking to the sales process. They're a huge company. They need all their salespeople to do the same thing. It's replicable and scalable for a reason. They needed a map built that every salesperson could adhere to. So that every sales manager, mentor, or coach could go in asynchronously and set up for coaching calls and talk about the discovery process and the stakeholder map, and ask things like, “Who are you talking to? Who else is connected to the deal? Who else is holding the purse strings?”
Doing that visually has optimized those coaching calls. It has increased adoption to a very important process for a company as large as they are.
We also worked with a global AV company that had 13 strategic initiatives. If we're talking about a balanced scorecard, these are high level initiatives. They were calling them “must win battles.”
Well, for an executive team of 12 people, you can't hold 13 “must win battles” in your head all the time.
“All 13 of these things are equally important?” That can't be true.
So breaking it down visually using the OKRs process and saying, “Okay, what are the top three things we need to be able to recite in the hallway? Can my team reflect back to me what our top three priorities are this quarter?”
We were able to do that visually using graphic recording and the OKRs process. Now, those hand-drawn posters are hanging in the common areas and conference rooms throughout their office.
It's been transformative for their culture. And it's impacting the bottom line.
Learn more by scheduling a free discovery session with Joran Oppelt:
"From Ineffective to Inspiring Leader"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 2/8)
Jay: We have many listeners shaking their heads like this, saying, I know, I know. My leadership isn't where it needs to be. The people I work for, their leadership isn't where it needs to be. So let's talk about what you should do. How do you go from a middling, if not ineffective, leader? What are some of the things that you would advocate to turn that around and be an inspiring leader?
Joran: I recommend two things: inviting and aligning. The first one is inviting people into this process, involving your team through visual communication and collaboration, and putting down the idea that you have to be the one with all the answers. Get rid of the command and control model in your brain. Reprogram, unplug, scrub, reboot, and invite your people into the problem-solving process. I recommend doing that using visual tools. Then aligning happens. Once you have successfully cast a vision and deployed the mission, you align the team with a balanced approach along management methods or innovation horizons. What is the quick win? What short-term thinking do we need to deploy here versus the long-term thinking we need to apply in our innovation portfolio? Aligning your team is then the second step. But I would use visual tools to get there.
"Why Do Leaders Struggle and The Blame Game"
Excerpt from The Best Kept Secret Podcast (Part 1/8)
A Conversation with Jay Kingley and Joran Oppelt
Jay: Now, Joran, I know that you spend a huge chunk of your time working with executives, working with leadership and their teams, trying to make things more effective. I would love your take on what you see as the big issues as to why leaders often struggle in that role.
Joran: Well, you've set it up pretty well. We're not taught how to lead historically. Even when someone goes through the academic process or business school, we're shown or taught, and it's rarely modeled, I'll say it's rarely modeled well for us.
In an increasingly complex business environment, as we go forward into the future, we are surrounded by many screens and devices. We've got this continuous partial attention happening. And we've got scaling, ideally scaling organizations that we're leading. There's a tendency to blame, and finger point away from ourselves at the market or other circumstances. And you know, there are things that happen in organizations like, people just not showing up, people not being honest, people not hitting their goals, people holding back, people withholding, where they used to bring a bunch of great ideas to the table. Ineffective meetings, right? Staff churn, staff turnover, all of this stuff. As a leader, you can point at that and say, well, I don't have a good team. Right? You can blame them. You can blame what's happening around you. The reality is that you need to be showing up as a leader.
The other thing you can do is finger-point at yourself. The other thing you can do is blame yourself. I deal with a lot of clients who say; I don't want to be that kind of manager. I came from that environment. I'm trying to do this differently. I'm trying to show up as a different kind of manager or director or CEO, and they don't step into that leadership role.
You mentioned people leaving jobs. A recent report, "The Future of Work," said that 65% of millennials have left a job because of their manager. It's the platitude that people don't leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers. This is the reality that we live in.
So, stepping up, being a leader, and knowing that the best leaders lead from the bottom of the pyramid, they get the best results through other people. That's a key to being a leader in this future complex business world we're all co-creating.
Jay: You said something I think is very interesting. I want to explore a little bit with you about blame. People often point the finger of blame outwards, and you're saying, well, often they do, but there are also many cases where people point that finger back at themselves. Then you get what I call the "woe is me." And nobody wants to be around "woe is me." It's that black cloud, so to speak, of doom and gloom.
Joran: It could be, "Woe is me," or it could be, "Oh, well, I was never shown; I was never taught." And as a team member, it's like, read a book or something. Go study up, brush up on how to do this, man; you're leading us. You know?
Jay: Right. So I wanted you to hit on the difference between blame and briefly, and we'll go even further and say, making excuses versus honest learning and saying, you know, I want to understand what happened here. I want to understand why it happened because it wasn't the outcome I wanted and what I will do differently next time.
So that the outcome is certainly different and, hopefully, more along the lines of doing that. And, when you go through that process, do you have any points of view about whether you should be self-reflective? Should that be, I need to get my team members involved and have an honest, constructive conversation. Is it a combination of your experience, Joran? What works best?
Joran: I'm a huge believer in this line from T. Harv Eker. It's my favorite quote in the world. "How you do anything is how you do everything." So, look at how you're showing up in all of your relationships, your friendships, your family relationships. How are you leading in other ways? How are you solving those problems? How are you communicating clearly and effectively in those situations? How are you learning from things you could have said differently or framed differently, or how are you getting better all the time? And then just do that with your team.
According to Wikipedia, “Founder's syndrome (also founderitis) is the difficulty faced by organizations, and in particular young companies such as start-ups, where one or more founders maintain disproportionate power and influence following the effective initial establishment of the organization, leading to a wide range of problems. The syndrome occurs in both nonprofit and for-profit organizations or companies.”
The decision-making and behaviors of a founder can have either a draining or energizing effect on the rest of the team. While the challenge of teamwork is no easy obstacle, there are tools and techniques for improving team communication, workplace collaborations, and scaling effective leadership. When decisions, strategy, and vision all end with the founder, that's where bottlenecks can happen.
I recently worked with a client who was a founder/CEO trying to get out of their own way. This leader was in the process of stepping back and supporting the executive team. He knew it needed to happen. He had realized the limitations of trying to lead everything himself. He’d been told by the board that he must step back. He'd been asked by the team to give them more trust. But that can be difficult.
Fortunately, the team this person had surrounded himself with was highly skilled and had been in positions before (at other companies) where they’d seen the effects of Founder’s Syndrome.
In fact, some of them said, “It’s great that we're doing this work now because I've worked with CEOs before who couldn't do it.”
Those failed CEOs couldn’t admit the problem started with them. They couldn’t scale themselves. They couldn't even face the fact that this was a necessary and challenging part of the role.
Step one is realizing that stopping the bad habit of doing everything yourself is central to your work as a founder, and an issue we all deal with as people. We're all trying to make the best decisions with the information we have.
But why is it so hard for founders with great teams to let go?
When you’ve been the visionary trailblazer and are used to taking all the risks, responsibility, and rewards for yourself, trusting other people to lead can be hard.
Guess what? They will step up and act if you communicate well and let them execute.
Trusting others to do things the way you would is hard.
Guess what? They won’t. They will have their own way of leading and communicating in the workplace that will look nothing like yours. Focus on the “what” and the “why.” Let them focus on the “how.”
Having faith that things will go in the right direction without evidence or having something demonstrated or modeled for you is difficult.
Guess what? It may go differently than you planned. That’s what an innovative, growth mindset – and plans B and C – are for.
It's hard to fall backward off the stage and believe that the hands of your adoring crowd will appear and crowd-surf you to glory. The best you can do is surround yourself with people who are highly skilled and better at these things than you are.
That's the name of the game in founder's syndrome – believe and communicate, then measure.
At an offsite with the Executive Team, I drew several pictures of musical instruments on the wall – a microphone, guitar, drum set, bass guitar, keyboard, saxophone, and turntable.
I asked the group, “What instrument in the band are you playing?” and asked them to go stand next to it. Then, we had a conversation about what those instruments represent. Everyone had different reasons for playing the instruments they chose, but each one communicated in confidence and strength when explaining why they chose it.
I told the story about Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.
Herbie had joined Miles’ touring band in 1963. In late ‘63 or ‘64, they played a festival in Germany. Herbie was still new to the group. There was a lot at stake and he still felt he had something to prove.
On stage, during one of Miles’ famously lyrical trumpet solos, Herbie played the wrong chord on the piano.
Herbie winced. He placed his hands over his ears. He knew he had messed up and he froze. He thought for sure he had just destroyed the performance and was potentially getting fired from the band.
In the mere seconds that followed, Miles took a breath and played a series of notes on the trumpet that resolved the chord (or made the chord “correct”).
Herbie was stunned. “What just happened?” he thought. It wasn’t until later that he realized the importance of that lesson. Miles wasn’t judging the chord Herbie played. In Miles’ mind, it wasn’t “wrong;” it was simply new information – a new event that required a choice to be made.
In jazz, as in business, to succeed as leaders, we must be able to forget the idea of “failure” or “mistakes” and simply accept situations for what they are. We need to turn that poison into medicine and be able to add value no matter what. As executives and people we must lift each other up as we climb.
So then, it’s not just a matter of what instrument you’re playing in the band, but what notes you are playing. As a founder, what chords are your talented team members playing – and what notes can you add to resolve or stabilize the business?
As a leader, how do you treat yourself when you make mistakes? Do you have a hard time turning the poison of failure into the medicine of learning?
Finally, in music as in life, it comes down to listening. The singer is listening to the bass player to stay in key. The bass player is listening to the drummer to keep the tempo. If we hear the sounds the other person is playing, we can respond in kind. If we aren’t listening to one another in the business (or in the marketplace), there will be chaos.
Communication at work is a journey, not a destination. It’s a circuitous relationship that requires both active and reflective listening from moment to moment.
If you're leading an organization today, ask yourself the following questions:
You can learn more about leadership by downloading the first three chapters of my Visionary Leadership book here.
Are your team members aligned with the company vision or does it seem as if everyone on the team is working towards different goals?
Do you experience stable, long-term professional relationships with your employees? Or are you experiencing high rates of churn and staff turnover?
Do you believe your strategy is understood and implemented across all departments? Or is there poor communication between different areas of the leadership team?
Interpersonal skills in the workplace take time to develop. While the challenge of teamwork is no easy obstacle, there are tools and techniques for improving team communication, workplace collaborations, and implementing effective, company-wide strategies for growth. At Illustrious, some of the tools we reach for most are visual maps and metaphors.
I recently consulted with a client where I drew several pictures of musical instruments on the wall – a microphone, guitar, drum set, bass guitar, keyboard, saxophone, and turntable.
I asked the group, “What instrument in the band are you playing?” and asked them to stand next to it.
What followed was a rich conversation about what those instruments represent, how those players have an impact on the business, and how this framework can improve your collaboration in the workplace.
The Microphone - Most people think of the lead singer as someone who wants to be in the spotlight. You like to hear yourself talk, and you love being on stage. You are a gifted storyteller and we can find you holding court in any sales pen, boardroom, or pitch session. Singers lead with their voices, not their hands. When their voice gets amplified, people respond.
Lead/Electric Guitar - You may not use your voice to lead, but you make this instrument (and all of the tools around you) sing. People may refer to you as a “whiz” or a “rock star.” When the tools of the business are in your hand, you are like Eddie Van Halen – wailing away, getting amazing results, and driving the audience (your clients) to their feet. You also take care of this instrument, making sure your data is clean, and that your tools and dashboards are finely tuned.
Keyboard - If you take the more classical, grand piano approach, the keyboard player can be seen as the organization's advocate for traditionalism and conservatism. You may study the Old Masters like Bach, Beethoven, Drucker, or Covey. Or you may resonate with the modern synthesizer and its ability to emulate and modulate new sounds. The synthesizer can mimic a piano, trumpet, or violin. It can also sample existing sounds or create soothing white noise – providing a sense of psychological safety for the business culture.
Bass Guitar - The low end, the big bottom, the vibrant pulse of the rhythm section. The bass guitar doesn’t play chords, it primarily plays one big, round, root note. It’s this note (not the sounds created by the guitar, keyboard, or drums) that the singer is listening for so that they can lock in and know they're singing in pitch. You might seem like the silent type or as if you’re operating in the background, but you can also be the “person behind the person” - a trusted expert or advisor.
Saxophone - Frank Zappa once said, “On a sax, you can play sleaze, on a bass you can play balls. But on a guitar, you can be truly obscene.” From the orchestra chair to the busker on the street corner, the saxophone works as a solo instrument because it’s gritty and compelling. You keep it real – it’s the only way you know how to do things. You connect with an audience and (from Talent Acquisition to Marketing) can draw people in with your passionate energy. And, if you don’t think Kenny G is sleazy, you should probably re-listen to Kenny G.
Drums - If the bass is the pulse, think of the drums as the heartbeat – providing the stability, framework, meter, rhythm, routine, and cadence for the group to follow. From meeting flow to finance, you may be someone who’s into consistency, systems, or operations. Music is a series of numbers that repeat and you have those numbers so deeply ingrained in your head that you’ve become unconsciously competent.
Turntable - If you are looking around at all of the instruments and can’t decide on just one, or if you are thinking that all of these instruments are a thing of the past, it may be that you are a remix artist. The turntables, mixer, and sampler are for those who need to take something old and make it new. Like turning two vinyl records into an incendiary mashup, you may take old ways of thinking (see Drucker and Covey) and bring them into the modern age. You may long to chop up that old VHS training video and repurpose it for TikTok or YouTube. You are usually the innovator, dragging the business kicking and screaming into the future.
In case you missed it, being in a band (and a business) requires lots of listening, responding, and effective team communication in every direction.
Everybody's listening to the drummer to keep up with the tempo. The lead singer is listening to the bass player to stay on pitch. The bass player is listening to the drummer to create groove (a swinging energy) and pocket (room for other players to contribute). The guitar player is listening to the keyboard player to make sure they haven’t fallen out of tune.
Communication at work is a journey, not a destination. It’s a circuitous relationship that requires both active and reflective listening from moment to moment.
Learn more by downloading the first three chapters of my Visionary Leadership book here:
On Saturday, April 8 we hosted the official release party for Facilitation: A Human-Centered Guide to the Art of Collaboration at The Odd in Asheville, NC.
We saw some friends and familiar faces come through - including Ami and Mike Bowen (Bowen Imagery) the designers of the book, Sumaya Owens (Present Moment Media), Gina Vivinetto (The Advocate, TODAY.com), and Michael Morrell (Speakeasy).
Live music was provided by Wife Island (dreamy, Laurel Canyon-inspired folk-pop) and classical folk singer-songwriter, Laura Boswell.
The event was captured by punk/DIY photographer Geddi Monroe. Check out the photos below.
My name's Joran Oppelt. I'm the founder of Illustrious Consulting and co-author of this new book, Facilitation: A Human-Centered Guide to the Art of Collaboration. It is available now worldwide, wherever finer books on Amazon are sold.
Facilitation is the fully-illustrated, definitive resource on how to facilitate groups and design collaboration. It presents a holistic view of facilitation – based on Integral Theory – and includes an array of contributions from expert voices and luminaries in the field. If you (or your team) want to get better at team meetings, making decisions, collaboration in the workplace, team building, or effective communication, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.
We'll give you a little sneak preview of this book today. I hope you enjoy it and get as excited about it as we have been over the last three years.
EXCERPT 1: THE VIRTUAL CAMPFIRE
Fun fact, at MURAL, a labs team is working closely with Meta on workplace collaborations in VR (virtual reality). One of the things that was discovered is that it's really great for team-building. It's not yet a very productive place. Don't do your spreadsheet calculations in VR. But it's great for having conversations, particularly with distributed teams.
One of the first metaphors they're focusing on is the campfire. The virtual campfire was literally creating environments where you sit around the campfire. In one scenario, you pick up something, talk about it, and then throw it in the fire.
There's something primal about being in a circle. With the closed space, the light of the campfire creates a dome of interaction where effective communication can happen. And it's almost as if the fire is facilitating the conversation.
MURAL - as a virtual whiteboarding tool - is sometimes the deliverable, or the outcome, or the artifact. But MURAL is an empty space. You open a Mural, it's a white, blank space. MURAL is the fire around which we all gather in order to create something together. MURAL is the location of the conversation.
The same can be said about maps, which are essentially diagrams of storytelling in a visual format. It's not about the map; it's about the territory itself and the conversation that the map facilitates.
That's what these visuals do - they provide a glowing campfire for us to all rally around.
EXCERPT 2: DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
In 1974, Dave Anderson and Gary Gygax published Dungeons & Dragons in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Twenty years later, in 1993, Accelerated Learning - a graphic facilitation and visual thinking organization - was founded in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. We know this because Brian has a binder full of these tools from Accelerated Learning.
So, what the hell is in the water in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin? It's a tiny town. It is very cold. That is all we know. When there's nothing to do in the winter, people have a lot of time to sit around and invent games.
And what does Dungeons & Dragons have to do with facilitation?
We made the D&D connection when we were forced to do virtual facilitation during the pandemic. We spent a lot of time building our Mural boards out so they had a flow, theme, and bird's eye view design, almost like a board game.
They were heavily designed to facilitate. As Rob Evans from MG Taylor says in the book, "Let the facility facilitate."
As we were looking at these Murals, it was clear that they were the facility. That was where we were. When you're playing Dungeons & Dragons, you have a back-and-forth between one person who sets the scene and describes the situation and then the other people at the table who react to the situation.
If I were to say to a player, "You come across a door. What do you do?" - there are any number of things a person could declare they would do. They could listen at the door, knock on the door, or see if the door was locked. There are a number of things, right?
You have all these opportunities to respond to this environment that lives in the shared imagination of the people at the table. It's not a physical space, but it is a virtual space. And what we found when we were doing virtual facilitation is that we were giving that level of effective communication to the participants because what we wanted was for them to have a sense of embodiment.
Because that was the big "brouhaha" around virtual facilitation and virtual team meetings: "Oh, we can't see body language. We can't see each other's faces."
So we made it our mission to do as many things as possible to make things as sensorily rich as possible. So that when someone was in a Mural, it wasn't just putting stickies on a virtual whiteboard. Instead, I'm in the treasure room, and my ideas are the treasure.
There were all sorts of different spaces we led our participants through and made sure it was wide open. It's the idea of a narrated virtual shared experience without having anywhere to go. This is where that connection to Dungeons & Dragons came because we had those shared experiences far beyond reality. In the book, we call it lo-fi virtual reality.
It's about a shared story, shared imagination, shared experience, and shared memory. In D&D gameplay, we have memories like, "Remember when that giant tarantula bit this player?"
Or, "Remember when that player almost killed the giant worm but instead chose to talk to it and made an ally out of an enemy?"
We have shared memories as if these things actually happened. And for facilitators, that's what we're driving toward - shared memory. The goal of graphic facilitation is to preserve that group's memory. Harnessing group memory is scientifically proven to leverage groups toward an outcome.
Our goal was to say, "If our team is in a clearing and we're lost in a snowy forest, what is the Yeti? What is the big monster - the thing you're afraid of but you never see?"
"What is the wolf - the visible enemy that you must fight or defend against?"
"What is the mosquito - the thing that's been buzzing around and bothering you that you can't get rid of?"
Turning those questions into shared experiences and memories for the group helps turn them into a strategy.
When we're facilitating virtually, the more we can create a shared story space - where there's emerging content that everyone's building in a way that feels like you're there - that's where the magic of team building happens.
Putting stickies on a Mural isn't exciting. But discovering the Yeti, swatting at mosquitos, and everybody revealing themselves in a curated, virtual campfire moment - that's exciting.
You're giving your team something concrete and allowing them to treat it as a container for their otherwise very abstract ideas. It's difficult to talk about my mood. It's difficult to talk about the state of my team. It's difficult to talk about the future of my organization. But when you say, "How is my organization like a turtle?," we suddenly start to make connections.
Many people think it makes sense to weigh information rationally and then make a decision. The science is the opposite of that. What often happens is that we tend to make a decision very quickly and then work backward to justify it.
By creating a physical space or using tools like metaphor or Visual Explorer in team meetings, we provide containers so that people can talk about difficult, abstract concepts in a safe and inclusive way.
It might not be cool (or safe) for me to say, "My organization is completely falling apart, and we're at each other's throats."
But it is okay for me to say, "Hey, you know what? If our organization is a factory, the assembly line is shut down. Now, let's talk about why."
Are you interested in learning more about the connection between facilitation and D&D?
Purchase a copy of the book here and watch our recent webinar on YouTube.
As you continue exploring other sections of the book, please reach out to us. Let me know what you think of it, or leave us a review on Amazon.
Blog post inspired by a recent talk with authors and contributors of the new book, Facilitation: A Human-Centered Guide to the Art of Collaboration, in a panel discussion and interactive conversation. Joran Oppelt and Geoffrey Nelson are joined by Brian Tarallo, Jim Kalbach, and others.
ABOUT THE Author
Joran Slane Oppelt is an international speaker, author and consultant with certifications in coaching, storytelling, design thinking and virtual facilitation.