A conversation with Gregory Galle, Co-Founder of Solve/Next and the Author of Think Wrong
“We spend a lot of time figuring out how to dismantle people’s ideas. How to poke holes in them. Critical thinking is supposed to be critical, right? Well, not always. Critical thinking sometimes is about how you combine things in new ways and create new things out of them. See what’s possible. Not just how you deconstruct them and leave all the parts on the table.”-Gregory Galle
In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Gregory Galle about his 30 years of experience applying his Think Wrong problem-solving system to both the private and public sectors. We discuss scaling his business internationally and recruiting local assets for global problems. We then talk about the importance of understanding Cross-Sector Communication and creating the conditions for ‘Being’ in business. Listen in to learn about his unique approach to Challenge Statements, reframing How Might We questions and lots of practical activities to help you change group dynamics.
[2:30] Finding Local Solutions For Global Problems
[15:20] “Being” In A Different Way
[21:30] A New Perspective On Critical Thinking
[28:20] Query Driven Innovation
[35:35] Resistance To Change
Links | Resources
About the Guest
Greg Galle has over 30 years of experience applying Think Wrong Practices to a broad array of private, public, and civil sector innovation challenges, including product, service, process, systems, policy, experience, engagement, talent, professional development, and culture innovation. Greg co-founded Solve Next and today he teaches Intrapreneurship, Strategic Clarity, Next System Design, Discovery-Driven Innovation, and the Think Wrong Problem-Solving System through his client work and via invitations to participate in top conferences and events around the world.
About Voltage Control
Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.
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Douglas: Welcome to the Control The Room podcast, series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting.
Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime you can join our weekly Control The Room Facilitation Lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my new book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at voltagecontrol.com/magical-meetings-quick-guide.
Douglas: Today, I’m with Gregory Galle, the co-founder of Solve Next, where he uses the power of simple and straightforward language, frameworks, tools and techniques to deliver positive impact at key moments. He’s also the author of Think Wrong. Welcome to the show, Greg.
It’s great to see you Douglas.
Douglas: You too.
Gregory: I wish we were in the same room, so you could be controlling it and I could be watching you do it.
Douglas: I know. I do have this fantasy of having a table with boom arms holding the mics and we’re kind of smoking cigars or something. I don’t know about the cigars, but it would be nice to have a conversation across the table. That would be lovely.
Gregory: Absolutely. Maybe a bottle of bourbon.
Douglas: Yeah, Marc Maron does it in his garage.
Gregory: There you go.
Douglas: He even had Obama in his garage.
Gregory: Yeah. I listened to that episode. It was great. Something’s stuck with me from that episode, which was depressing where Obama talked about how hard he was working to create a 2% change in the trajectory of the country. And I thought, “Wow, that’s such a small little movement.” But his point was, if you take this thing that’s the size of this country and you shift its direction by 2% over time, that’s massive. So yeah, I do remember that episode.
Douglas: It takes lots of effort to move big things for sure. It makes me think of a concept that I’m huge fan of, which is local solutions to global problems. Like making these small shifts-
Douglas: That then can have these big amplification effects.
Gregory: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny. I know from some of the conversation we’ve been having that we’ll get to the topic of the surprises that have happened in the last 18 months. One of the surprises for us was, we got a call from a guy named Daniel Buritica. He took part in our first Think Wrong facilitator’s intensive that we did in November of 2016. He came up from Columbia. He was running a nonprofit there that he had founded. He had reached out to me and talked me into giving him the nonprofit discount and made his way up. We reengaged at the beginning of the pandemic. He reached out again and updated me on what he had been doing
One of the things that has emerged from it is something that I’m super excited about actually, which I haven’t shared with you. That is that, we’re starting a global partners program. That’s interesting, but what I think is really interesting about it is, that we’re looking at scaling the impact of what we do through local people and local markets. The idea there is, it just, as you said, like what’s the positive impact that you can drive?
When we actually partner with local people, we train them, we give them the tools and the knowledge that they need to do this work in the community where they’re fluent in the culture, they’re fluent in the economy. They live in the local economy. So, it’s one thing to pay somebody who lives in Austin or somebody who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area to come to your country and do work. You’re automatically paying a premium as opposed to, if you’re in Medellín, being able to hire somebody in Medellín Columbia to come and do that work.
Gregory: As you shared that, there’s actually an interesting business model that makes that possible as well, to engage people locally and to actually find people who are going to be more effective than you, they know the language, they know the culture, they know the nuances of the place and can actually affect change in a really powerful way. Sorry to jump right onto that.
Douglas: No, that’s great. I think it expands beyond just the local regional cultural stuff that you might find in communities whether it be personal or just sustaining a community and the way people live, but also inside businesses because the people that are on the edges are the ones that have the latest information, and the information’s constantly changing and evolving. So to your point, these folks that are in the local environment are the ones that now understand the rituals, understand what’s happening, what’s unfolding.
And if you take that to a national level as well, if we’re so focused on shifting policy, by the time the policy changes, the thing that I was seeking to achieve might have shifted already. Unless we’re getting into the actual moments that matter to come back to your language, it’s, what are those key moments or positive impact is needed?
Gregory: Yeah. That’s absolutely right. I love the idea. You’re touching on the people at the edges in these places. So if you’re a multinational, then people in some of these, maybe more remote markets or places that you don’t pay attention to are actually in, they’re living at the edge of something that could be really beneficial, whether that’s economic or social or environmental, whatever it is. We do some non-profit work in the human trafficking space and you’re always in edge environments when you’re doing that work.
And there’s really exciting innovation that happens there, because it’s not bound by the question of how are we going to get this policy through Congress and the Senate, it’s how are we going to engage with local people and do meaningful work with them? That actually in the case of the trafficking space, that inoculate populations from trafficking.
Douglas: I did a little work in that area too, and the startup we were consulting and helping with were really focused on this cross-sector communication problem, because it was like these pockets of information that would be siloed, and since the information wasn’t flowing, it was difficult for action to be taken, right, especially when you’re thinking about local, regional, federal state law enforcement. Or even nonprofit groups that might have certain pools of data, that would be really helpful if you started to stitch those things together and look at trends and patterns, just hearing some of the stories.
I mean, I won’t get into that because that’s not what this podcast is about, but gosh, hearing some of the stories of some of these young women that come from affluent families and basically kidnapped in plain sight, it’s crazy. It was really interesting they were taking this collaborative approach to solving that problem.
Gregory: Yeah. I think that’s a totally different podcast, as you said, to get into the problem of trafficking. But one of the things that you just mentioned that I think is really interesting is that, the cross sector communication, when you talk about that failure to connect and that failure is like just not understanding. Right? This is to bring it back to the focus of this conversation. The ability to understand each other is, I think, really dependent on being careful about curating a really diverse group of people and making sure that you represent the different communities that are in the ecosystem. Right? That are part of the value chain or the ecosystem or the community.
How you’re going to think about that, and making sure that you’re hearing different voices. Sometimes you do actually need to have somebody in the room who can help you translate, and I don’t mean you don’t speak the language, like they’re speaking German and I don’t speak German. I mean, they’re speaking DoD and I don’t speak Department of Defense. Right?
Douglas: Jargon is like a huge barrier to understanding.
Gregory: Yeah. Yeah, and we all have it, we all have our different little sort of local languages. So both, I think bringing in people who do have these different dialects or different languages that use different jargon, who have different lived experiences and different perspectives is super beneficial when we’re working on a sticky, complex challenge, having people who can help do some of the translation and make it relevant is really helpful. Also, just giving people permission to say, “Hey, I don’t understand what you’re saying. Stop.” Right?
One of the jokes when we’re working with military people is we say, “Today’s going to be an AFD.” And they’re like, “What do you mean, an AFD? What’s going to be an AFD? What do you mean?” “Acronym Free Day?” Right? Because the military’s full of acronyms, it’s like, “Everything’s an acronym.” That’s like, “You’re going to just … For today, if you use an acronym, I’m going to stop you, and you’re going to explain to me what it means.” Just because it’s a sequence of words and not letters, it doesn’t mean I’m going to understand. You’re going to have to explain to me what those sequence of words mean too, because they’re often super cryptic.
Douglas: I want to roll back a second and talk about something you just said, which was, I don’t know. I don’t is one of those interesting phrases that I think falls into a bucket of phrases that are nice indicators that you have psychological safety on your team. There are others too. Like if you’re hearing a lot of like, “The problem with that is, or I made a mistake.” Is another one. But certainly I don’t know.
I was thinking about this when you were talking about the ecosystem representation, and we can invite all the right people to the room, and sure we might have blind spots and that can take a lot of work to try and uncover what the blind spots are. But even if we don’t have blind spots, we can have everybody in the right room, but people don’t feel safe to say, “I don’t know.” Then we’re not going to have that true representation because the voices aren’t actually heard because they’re never activated.
Gregory: Yeah. There’s a couple of things we do around that. You’re absolutely right. There’s a couple of things we think are really important. One is to collapse the status as quickly as you can, even in introductions, so we’ll do warm up introductions, which is, I just want your first name and tell me if you were a tool, what kind of tool would you be? Or tell me your secret talent or tell me the weirdest job you had ever had, but describe it in two words.
So, what happens in that situation is that, you’re being very human, I’m going to share with you my name. I’m Greg. My secret talent is drawing weird faces. Okay? And I’m not telling you what department I’m in. I’m not telling you what my LinkedIn profile says about me. I’m just sharing something that you probably didn’t know about me, and we’re connecting that way. We’re connecting as human beings. So there’s that kind of flattening of status. That’s really important. Then I think I did this exercise actually in one of your summits and that was, what’s half of 13 exercise. Right? Where you ask people what’s half of 13 and very quickly everybody … Write it down here, post it, when you’ve got it, put your answer up.
Suddenly everybody’s in this race to be right. So everybody holds up 6.5 and you say, “Okay, well, that’s one answer. Anybody else have an answer besides 6.5?” And you start to get some of the other answers like one, three or the Roman numeral that’s split in half. So it becomes eight, and that’s useful to get people receptive to the idea of, “Hey, there are many possible answers to any question.” And we actually need to be thinking about the nature of the question as much as the answers, because if it was just purely a standardized math question then 6.5 is right. But if you’re a second language learner and you ask me what’s half of 13, you’re probably looking for help with pronunciation, thir and teen is more helpful than 6.5. Right?
So, I think getting groups receptive to the idea when they’re together that, “Oh, I need to be attentive to everybody and what there’s saying, and I actually need to be open to other possible answers.” That’s another way of collapsing the status that I think is really effective.
Douglas: Yeah. Half of 13 is fascinating because it falls into a bucket of tools that some people might classify it as an icebreaker or might use it as an icebreaker, but we used to call them eye-openers. It helps people see a different perspective and can be really powerful to maybe set up a new way of thinking. Right? I interviewed a guy named Paul Sloane. I don’t know if you’ve run into this guy before, but he’s been crowned the king of lateral thinking puzzles, and I feel like that’s an example of a lateral thinking puzzle. Right? But usually the lateral thinking puzzles do have a one specific answer, but they tricked you into giving the wrong answer.
Gregory: Yeah, I see.
Douglas: Like you’re supposed to think through them in some new way, there’s some path that’s unexpected, but I feel like in all the work we do and all the setups and games and instructions and prompts and moves and whatnot, we’re always trying to get people to engage in lateral thinking.
Yeah. I think that’s right. There are things that we do also, which are about convergent thinking. Right? So how do we get aligned? How do we start to come together around something? So, sometimes we’re moving laterally, we’re being divergent and trying to create as many possibilities as possible, and then there are other times where we’re seeking some form of agreement at least to get focus. Right? It doesn’t have to be that we have the answer, but maybe that we’ve narrowed it from a hundred things that we generated to five things that are worth exploring. Right?
So, I think there’s a little of both of those. I really love the framing of that as eye-openers versus icebreakers. I think that’s a much more powerful way of positioning what that exercise is about, and that’s helpful to me, thank you, to think about some of the other things that we do that are meant to be eye-openers as opposed to …
Douglas: Yeah. This is like a call to action for all the facilitators listening out there, which is like, anytime you’re facilitating something and you get blank stares or people are struggling, then write that down, because that’s an opportunity for you to design at something to insert before that activity that might make them understand how to behave in that way, before they do the thing, what’s some kind of fun exercise they might do to have an aha moment? I’m curious, Greg, what’s another one that you have up your sleeve that’s like the half of 13, it gets people thinking or just being in a different way?
There’s a couple that we do for being in a different way. This is one that I learned from somebody who did a lot of facilitation at IDEO, and before she would start to facilitate, she would hold up a photograph of a roller coaster and ask, “What is this?” And people say, “It’s a roller coaster.” And she’s like, “You’re absolutely right. It’s a roller coaster. And what we’re going to do today is a little bit like a roller coaster. So, who in the room loves roller coasters?” And you get some people putting their hands up. “Who doesn’t like roller coasters?” You get your hands up because that’s just like a workshop. Right? Just like a meeting. Some people love them. Some people hate them. Right?
Some people try to avoid them, some people seek them out. And you feel it in different ways at different times on a roller coaster, sometimes you’re excited, sometimes you’re afraid, sometimes you’re disoriented, sometimes you’re nauseous, and everybody in the room’s going to feel these different things at different times. And that’s okay. Right? I’m just asking you to stay on the ride with me. I think that’s a really nice way of letting people know we’re not all going to feel the same about this experience, and we’re certainly not all going to feel the same about this experience at the same time.
And then to ask of the group, which is, be present with me and let’s do this together, and at the end, let’s talk about what the ride was like. The suspend disbelief, that’s useful now. One that is always really a profound experience, it’s not that uncommon. I think almost probably all your facilitators have used some version of another is, is introducing the improv principle of yes ending. Right? There’s nothing very exotic about it, but it’s always amazing the effect it has on people, in particular, in business, in the public sector and the private sector, people who aren’t doing this work for a living, but are participating in sessions.
I’ve actually had older men crying because they’ve realized that I’ve spent my whole career, yes, budding or no, no knowing people. Right? No, no, no, you can’t do that. Yes, but we can’t do that. That’s been done before, and so that yes, and, we like to use it early on as both an eye-opener in terms of how we maybe sometimes respond to people and the impact that that has, and how that can really inhibit people from participating fully, and then to have them physically experience what it’s like to yes, but, and what it’s like to yes, and.
That actually establishes a rule of how we’re going to engage with each other, and you’ll see people … I’ve had people who worked with them a year ago and they come back and we still use yes, and every day, we use that, and it’s spreading throughout our organization. I think that’s an eye-opener, that’s a simple eye-opener, but it certainly is powerful for people to experience that. There’s another one, it’s not so much a trick, but it has to do with where you are in a process. I have to use a mantra of less persuasion, more generation. Right?
Or less conversation, more generation, which is, when we’re engaged in an exercise where we’re trying to get a lot of ideas, whether that’s ideas around a pain or a problem or ideas around a solution, we really want to be divergent, you’ll find that people want to convince you that their idea is good. And it’s like, “We’re not going to spend any time evaluating ideas right now, we just want as many as we can.” So, more generation, less conversation. Right? Less persuasion, because you hear some people trying to convince others.
Then finally, I’ll give you one more. I said two, but I think I’m giving you four now. We have an exercise that is called SASU, S-A-S-U, and it stands for share and shut up. So, we call it the proprietary trademarked patent pending feedback methodology called SASU. So, when a team shares, we say, you’re going to share your idea, but then you can’t say anything. The group is going to ask you questions, they’re going to share with you what they like, they’re going to do I like I wish I wonder, I like this about it, I wish this about it. I wonder this. They can ask you open questions. The only thing you can say in response is thank you.
And that mechanism is really powerful. I’d probably put it in the eye-opener for people, which is, we spend so much time trying to defend our ideas that we’re not able to listen. We’re not even able to hear what is being shared with us in response to what we’ve created. So, if we just change the rule of the game a little bit, and we say, you just can’t say anything, but thank you, have somebody on your team take notes, scribe, so you capture what has been shared with you, and then you get to decide later without those people in the room.
What if that was useful to us? And then suddenly you’re hearing what they’re saying instead of always use this posture of like you’re on your back foot ready to punch, right, after you’ve presented. Okay? Now tell me what you think? I’m thinking about what is my counter punch to what you’re going to tell me as opposed to, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m going to think about that later.”
Douglas: Yeah. It’s like, whenever I’m doing a magical meetings talk, I always ask folks, “How many people here spend a large portion of their time in meetings thinking about what they’re going to say next, like rehearsing in your head to make sure you sound smart in front of the CEO or the GM or whoever?” And inevitably it’s like 80 plus percent of the room raises their hand and said, “Yeah, okay, I’ll do that.” “Me too.” It’s like we all want to sound smart, we all want to not have word garbage come out of our mouth, and so, it’s really liberating when someone’s facilitating you and giving you this instruction, all you got to say is, thank you. It takes the weight off. Right?
Gregory: Oh, it does. It’s like teams love it. It’s like, “Oh, that’s great. I don’t have to defend my idea.”
Douglas: Exactly. You just gave them permission to not do the thing that they probably don’t even enjoy doing, but feel like they have to.
Gregory: They have to. Right
Douglas: someone expects them to do it.
Gregory: Well, because we live in a … I don’t know if it’s unique to our culture, but we spend a lot of time figuring out how to dismantle people’s ideas. Right? How to poke holes in it. Critical thinking is to be critical. It’s like, “Well, not always.” Critical thinking sometimes is about how you combine things in new ways and create new things out of them. What’s possible. Not just how you deconstruct it and leave all the parts on the table and say, “I’ve done my job.” We also outlaw the use of the expression, “I just want to play devil’s advocate.” Right?
And we will introduce that when we introduce the yes, and. We have a drill which is called Djibouti it’s in conventional improv. It would be Remember Mexico, but Americans have a tendency at times to use negative stereotypes of people from Mexico. So we don’t call it Remember Mexico, we call it Djibouti, because Americans have better geography and they don’t know what Djibouti is, so they don’t have any stereotypes of Djibouti. Right?
So we do Djibouti, we introduce the yes but we also, in the intro to this, we talk about different forms of yes, but, which is, I’m guilty of this one, which is, I can’t tell you how many times in particular with my wife Darcie. I’ve catch myself responding to it, no, no, no. It’s like, “What a jerk to start a sentence with three nos? It’s like, “No, no, no.” It’s like, “That’s so finger wagging.” It’s like some old grumpy man scolding you. “No, no, no.”
What you hear a lot in business is, it’s people are masculating as being constructive, which is, I just want to play devil’s advocate. I just want to play devil’s advocate, I just want to tear this idea down before it draws another breath. I want to stop this. It sounds disruptive, it sounds like it’s going to be a problem for me, so I’m going to kill it. So I’m going to play devil’s advocate. That’s another momentum killer for us when you hear that.
Douglas: Let me throw a little curve ball at you.
Douglas: Because I totally agree with what you’re saying. There’s another way to harness that energy without totally outlawing that. And the way you do that is by inviting that behavior by sharing the wrong answer, because people love to prove something wrong. So as the facilitator, you could be like, “What if we did this?” It’s a great way to have the rumor erupt into like, “What, no, we can’t do that.” And then they start talking about the real juice of what’s going on, which can be captured.
Especially if I’m trying to map out a state of something or to understand what’s going on. I was like, “Hey, it works like this, doesn’t it?” Then they tell, “No, it doesn’t work like that.” And then they start telling you how it works. But if I just ask them how it works, I just get a bunch of blank stares.
Gregory: That’s interesting. Within Think Wrong there are these six practices, and one of them is called, let go. And the let go practice is about, really used for idea generations. How do we let go of the assumptions and biases and orthodoxies that we bring, period. Right? One of my favorite drills is called, be stupid. You just made me think about that, which is, we’re going to present you with a challenge statement of some sort, and you’re going to sit down with a partner and you’re going to start making a list of things that we could do to solve it. But they have to be the stupidest things we could do, not the brilliant thing that you’ve got in your mind. What’s the stupidest thing we could possibly do.
You’re partnered up, you’re making a list of the stupidest things, and the only feedback you can give to each other is not stupid enough. Right? Until you get to the stupidest of the stupid. Right? So like early childhood development, how might we ensure the healthy development of children from birth to age five? And so maybe the stupidest thing we could do is free handguns and liquor to every child and to be like, “Wait a minute, that’s pretty stupid.” And it is like, “Okay, so that’s your stupidest stupid.”
Now, if you had to start solving from there, what would you do? And that’s something like, “Okay, hang on a second. We have a second amendment, right, to bear arms in this country. It’s like, what would be the equivalent of a second amendment for early childhood development?” There’s a gun lobby. Right? How could we create a powerful early childhood development lobby? And then liquor, everybody pretty much enjoys liquor. There’s tons of money spent on marketing it as part of how we celebrate, what can we learn from the liquor industry that applies to early childhood development? What are they doing that we could steal? Right?
And so, suddenly you’re starting to disassemble those things and reapply them. You’re throwing out their stupid answer. What if I just give you something wrong? It’s like, “Okay. Yeah. Give me something wrong, and then let’s try to solve from there because we’re going to come up with a set of solutions that we just wouldn’t otherwise come up with.”
Douglas: Yeah. Love it. That’s totally a form of lateral thinking.
Gregory: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Douglas: Can we invert the problem and think of the wrong answer? I’ve heard that refer to as ideas that get us fired.
Gregory: That’s a good one. That’s a nice way, the one you’re not going to bring to your boss, “I’ve got a great idea, boss.”
Douglas: Also, you mentioned how might we, I was recently chatting with my friend Alison Coward, who previously appeared on the podcast. I was actually talking to her. I do a series called Magical Meetings Stories where we collect up examples of cool meetings that people have designed and celebrate them. We’ll have to collect one of yours sometime, but she was sharing this cool thing. It was a reframing of how might we, since you mentioned, how might we, it kind of stuck with me and I’d love to get your feedback on this.
But basically she said, “What if we?” The minute she said that, it really struck a core with me because how might we gets at the what and the how. Right? What is our approach going to look like? What might we do to solve it? But the what if we, kind of gets at the why a little bit, which is kind of fascinating to get teams aligned on like, “What’s the implications of the business?” Does it even make sense to do this? So it’s almost like a strategic lens on how might we, it’s a version of how might we.
Gregory: Yeah. That’s great. I agree with trying to elevate to that strategic because the how itself feels tactical. Right? Let’s say we’re down at the execution end of the problem, as opposed to the inspiration end of the problem. Why are we doing this in the first place?
Douglas: Yeah, I agree. We use how might we all the time, and when I heard that, I was like, “Oh, that’s a cool reframing. I need to try that sometime.”
Gregory: Yeah. Let me build on it in a couple of directions. One is, have you read any Warren Burger’s books, More Beautiful Question?
Douglas: Yes. I always pick a book every year for my holiday gift and a More Beautiful Question was my holiday gift that I sent out to 50 or more people. It’s a lovely book.
Gregory: Yeah. Warren’s a lovely guy. And so it’s not surprising that those books are lovely as well. He really is a dear person. In a More Beautiful Question, he introduces this basic framing for query-driven discovery, query-driven innovation, and that framework is the why, what if, and then how might we. He actually puts the why above the how might we, and he puts the what if above the how might we, and the why above that, and the story that he tells if you remember in the book is of land and the guy who created the Land Camera, where he is taking pictures with his daughter and his daughter says … The Land Camera being what became widely known as the Polaroid camera, and his daughter says, “Daddy, show me the pictures.”
He says, “I can’t right now.” She says, “But why daddy? Why?” So that, why, why, the questioning, the four year old girl questioning why, why can’t I do that sort of challenging the status quo with this, because the status quo is you’ve got to take the film out and take to the lab and it’s got to be … All this stuff has to happen. That provocative why question got him thinking about, “Okay, what’s a disruptive what if. What if we could take the dark room and everything that happens in the dark room? Think about that, the time. Right? This is like, “Dark rooms are big. Right? The camera’s little, what if we could put that entire dark room in this camera?” So this miniaturization challenge of taking that whole thing.
So there’s this very disruptive what if, again, what if is the lateral piece that you’re talking about. Then he asks the question about how might we actually do that without necessarily replicating a dark room in the camera? Right? So the how might we became part of that. I love that you’re tuned into the strategic importance of a certain question. I always say like, “Strategy is just why, it’s just like the why, and then the choices that you’re going to make. So, I love that you’ve tuned into that.
The other thing that when we construct challenge statements and our problem statement is something that we use when we’re convening a group. It’s like, “This is what we come together to focus on. Right? This is why we’re gathering. We’re going to work on this.” It’s a little bit inverted. It would start with the how might we, so what are we working on? What’s the problem space or domain that we’re working on?
Then we add to that in a way that. Right? So it says, how might we solve this problem of … Well, let’s take one in California. How might we solve the challenge of wildfires and the impact that they’re having on people’s lives in our economy and on our climate in a way that is respectful of the different needs of constituents throughout the state, and then the third part is, the so that. So that we can live in a more harmonious way with the planet, other species can thrive and survive as we will. Right?
So, we actually do three parts when we frame a challenge statement, we do how might we in way that, and so that, what are we working on? How are we going to go about doing it? Or what are the conditions we’re trying to create? That sometimes ties into the rules or the values that we’re going to exhibit and bring to this. And then the so that, what’s the impact that we’re trying to create. That’s the why. Right? This is why we’re doing it. We want to have this result. That’s another way of maybe Warrens inverting it and take the example that you got and get the why in there as well.
Douglas: Yeah, that’s cool. I love that part of your challenge opportunity framing. It’s so important because I think the number one reason why so many gatherings or meetings fall short, or that people leave disgruntled is because of a lack of alignment or understanding around those things. It can fall in a couple categories. Right? Like some people haven’t clarified it. So the participants are spending the whole time trying to figure out what are we doing?
Gregory: What are we doing here?
Douglas: I can’t … Coming back to your point around the ecosystem representation. What if half the ecosystem that showed up doesn’t truly understand while we’re there, so they might as well not be there because they can’t contribute if they’re spending all their cognitive energy trying to sort out what’s happening?
Gregory: Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. We actually spend a lot of time on challenge framing with the groups that we work with. We spend a lot of time upfront. We do sessions. We do challenge framing sessions before we do our main sessions. Right? To explore those, I participate in sessions where we come up with as many as 80 potential challenges. This was in a new venturing space, looking at developing new businesses with a multinational technology company, looking at the challenge of distributed energy. Right?
You see 80 potential challenges and each challenge looking at the problem from the perspective of different actors, different constituents, different people who matter. You start to look at the problem from all these different perspectives and think about what’s our entry point. It took us a while. We had a client who … She very rightly said, “Love the three day session you ran for us, but you’d really need to do a better job of establishing what the through line is.” And that’s interesting. So the through line, and I was like, “What do you mean by that?” She said, “Like the story spine, the story arc, you have to keep reminding people why we gathered, what we’re here to do.”
It dawned on me that, “Oh, the challenge statement, the work that we do, it’s not enough to just say at the beginning what it is, you have to keep revisiting it, and you also have to allow it to evolve along with the understanding that’s evolving in the room, which is … We have a drill that we really love to use that’s called challenge the challenge. So at a certain point, we’ll actually let teams say, “Okay, this is why we’ve gathered, but now you get to looking at the problem from the perspective of whichever constituent or actor or group that you are advocating for in the room, you get to rewrite the challenge statement.”
And what happens when people rewrite the challenge statement is, they suddenly take deep ownership of it. And you see this moment in the room where, “All right, I came in and I’m going to be helpful. I’m going to be supportive. I’m going to engage this thing.” But now it’s like, Oh no, now my team has written the challenge statement.” So we say with authorship comes ownership. As soon as you have that moment of, “We wrote the challenge.” It’s like, “Now it’s our problem, not yours. We’re going to work on this thing with real energy now.” So that can be really helpful.
Douglas: I love that. I’ve been on a mission to eradicate the word buy-in from my lexicon, it has a way of creeping in because it’s just part of the way people speak. And anytime I see it … I’ve trained the team to keep an eye out. But any time I see it, I’m like, “Get rid of it, get rid of it, get rid of it.” Because I think it sends the wrong metaphor. If you’re saying buy-in, it assumes you’ve had to sell someone something. We’re in synchronicity here with this authorship is ownership. Because if people have hand in making it, then they’re going to be deeply, deeply connected to it, and you don’t have to convince them that it’s a good idea. You don’t have to sell it to them, pitch it anything. So, I love, love, love that.
Before we close out, I did want to come back to one thing, and that was something in the pre-show chat that you mentioned, that really spoke to me, which was this notion that prior to the pandemic, there were some things that you were resistant to, maybe as an organization or maybe as individuals. And you said you had to embrace them. I didn’t stop you to ask what those things were because I thought it might be fun to just explore it together. But I wanted to come back to it, hear that, because I think that’s a big lesson for folks because in the work that we do, we’re asking people to let down their guards, to move past the status quo, and we have to understand that we do it ourselves. Right?
Gregory: Oh, sure.
Douglas: The pandemic was a nice little lesson to go, “Oh yeah.” So what are you resistant to? So I’m curious too if you have a story to share there.
Gregory: Yeah. Well, it may not be that surprising, but what happened was, the pandemic made us realize that we had evolved into an events business, and what I mean by that is that, we would refuse to do things online or virtually. We said, “No, we got to be in the room. Right? We’re going to convene the group, we’re going to be in a place, we’re going to be in that. We’re going to occupy that space together. We’re going to do this work together in the room.” That’s absolutely the best way to do it.
And there’s still a part of me that feels like that. However, because we couldn’t be in a room, we had to quickly pivot and say, “Okay, so how are we going to do this if we can’t be in a room together?” Thank goodness that the pandemic came along, in terms of the work we’re doing in 2020 and not in 1980. Right? Because the answer would’ve been that you just can’t do it, you’d have a bad speaker phone on a table and people would be trying to do something through a speaker phone. We had all this technology to support us. It was amazing speed, the whole world figured out, “Hey, there’s a way that we can gather, it’s virtual.”
There are some things that are good about that and there are some things that are difficult about it, and challenging about it. Couple of the things came out that were super, I say they were super, they were great. One was what we found was that the introverts who when you’re in a room and you’re trying to figure out ways to bring them out and give them a way to contribute that when you’re working with these virtual tools, you have the ability for everybody to make contributions anonymously. And what we found is people were a lot more forthcoming and much more generative.
So we could hear voice that we weren’t hearing before, we could get input that we weren’t getting before. And people were going to be more, in a way, bolder about what they put up on the board, because they weren’t in front of their boss doing it, or in front of a peer doing it. Right? They’re doing it in a way where they’re anonymous. So that was great. Right? We just found like, “Wow, there’s some richness here, again, from our earlier conversation, there’s this question about, like, “How do we hang onto that, and how does that manifest itself when we are in a room together again?
How are we aware and cognizant of those, the people who process at different speeds, who process in different ways, who are introverted, who might, for one reason or another be physically or psychologically uncomfortable in these spaces and how do we create a level of comfort so that we can get their contributions? We can get them fully engaged and participating. So that’s a question for the future, but I found that, “Oh, wow, using these virtual tools we’re getting that.”
The other thing was, we would run. I mentioned a session that we ran over three days with the client, and when we do a three day session, we call them Think Wrong Blitzes. We start at 8:30 in the morning, we end at 6:30, we might have a group dinner one night, they’re exhausting. They’re really three very long, intense days where people are just, as Mike, my English co-founder would say, knackered. Right? They’re knackered, and so are we as people facilitating it. Right? It’s exhausting to do that work. So we are going from these intense three day sessions and say, “How do you do that work?”
But we can’t ask them to be on a Zoom or a Teams or whatever session for three days, for 10 hours a day. That’s just cruel and unusual punishment. So we started breaking them apart into smaller units. Right? And so what was a blitz became a sprint over a number of days or a number of weeks, and in fact, we did what we would’ve done in a few days, we ended up doing with one client over six weeks. What that did is it created this in between space that we never had before. Right? And that in between space, I read a book a number of years ago called Understanding Comics, and there’s this beautiful example where they show a comic strip, and they show the pains of a comic strip.
And you have a picture of a guy dragging himself through a desert, and in the next frame, he’s climbing a mountain in the snow. I think Scott McKenzie was the guy who wrote that book, wrote it and illustrated it. In between the frame, we have no problem imagining that somehow that guy got from the desert to that snowy mountain, like our brain fills in the story in between. Right? And so suddenly we had in a sprint, in a multi day, multi session over a period of weeks, rather than over a period of two or three days, we had time to use that time in a different way. Right? We could do some synthesis, we could give some assignments and allow for some asynchronous work to be done. We could gather some things and look at them.
So we could really work with the output and have a totally different cadence and a different rhythm and come out with some different outcomes that we hadn’t expected before. So, in that case, now as we move towards whatever the future is going to be in these whatever the hybrid model will be, it will be a hybrid, we’re going to end up taking advantage of this. It’s like, “Not everything will be a blitz, we’ll be doing sprints, we’ll be mixing some things where we’re in a room together, we’re doing some things virtually, we’re doing some things synchronously, we’re doing some things asynchronously. We’re going to really take advantage of time and what you can do when you’re a lot more open-minded and elastic about how you use it.
Douglas: Yeah. People talk about going back to normal, things are going to go back to the way they were?
Douglas: We may find ourselves in rooms with people again, but the way we show up in rooms with people, it’s going to be drastically influenced by the last two years.
Douglas: That we spent designing, thinking about, experience is being different. I love all that. I anticipate a lot of cool stuff in the future.
Gregory: Yeah. Yeah. I do too. My wife is a school teacher. She teaches first and second graders or second and third graders, depending on the year, and she had to use all this technology. She’s capable of technology, but really didn’t like bringing in the classroom. She discovered a whole bunch of really great tools and ways of engaging kids. And it’s like, “Oh yeah.” I know she’ll keep using those in the classroom. You know who the most underappreciated, most overworked facilitators in the world are? Public school teachers.
Douglas: Of course, yeah.
Gregory: Think of how tired you are after you facilitate a session for one day or two days or three days. They do it five days a week, five days a week.
Douglas: I know.
Gregory: When she comes home tired, I’m like, “I know why you’re tired. I just do it every now and then. You do it every single day.”
Douglas: Yeah. No doubt. And they do it with children who probably [crosstalk 00:43:13]
Gregory: Yeah, hang on a second there, children are more compliant than adults.
Douglas: Awesome. Well, we’re certainly running up on time here. So I want to make sure to give you a moment to leave our listeners with a final thought.
Gregory: Okay. Well, I would say let’s not waste the last 18 months, let’s use it as a way of, I hope everybody had opportunity to reflect on why they do what they do, why they show up. I always talk to groups about the most finite resource that we have is our own time. Each of us has a finite number of breaths that we’re going to draw while we walk this planet. So, I’m seeing people saying, “Look, I’ve used this time to reevaluate what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”
And I think as facilitators, we have the opportunity to unlock the passion and human ingenuity that people have and direct it in a way that’s going to really create positive change, and that could be positive change in an organization, that could be positive change in the community or an economy or in society. So, I’ve certainly used it to reevaluate and think about where am I spending that scarce precious resource?
I encourage the facilitators, we call them instigators where I come from, we’re a weird tribe doing important work. I think that we have the opportunity to direct an awful lot of passion and ingenuity to things that matter. I just encourage everybody to spend their time doing that and use your superpowers to make that difference in the world.
Douglas: Awesome. Greg, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you today. I hope we get to do it again soon.
Gregory: Yeah. I hope so too, virtually or otherwise. Thanks for continuing to put out such great content. I always look forward to getting the newsletter, I look forward to reading the stories and seeing the thoughts that you’re sharing and listening to the podcast. Thanks for doing that, we’re all, I think, hungry for great content. There’s a lot of content out there. There’s a lot of great content. So I really appreciate all of the work you do to put good stuff there.
Douglas: Thanks, Greg. That means a lot, and we couldn’t make great content without contributions from folks like you. So thanks again for joining the show, it was a real pleasure chatting. Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control The Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together, voltagecontrol.com.