Video and transcript from Greg Galle’s talk at Austin’s 1st Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

This is part of the 2019 Control The Room speaker video series.

Control the Room 2019 was Austin’s 1st Annual Facilitator Summit with the goal of bringing together facilitators of all kinds to build rapport, learn, and grow together.

The conference opened with a talk by Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering.” After that, we moved onto 15 quick-and-powerful presentations by facilitators of all kinds.

Within that group of amazing speakers, we were lucky enough to have Greg Galle. Greg Galle is an author, entrepreneur, and instigator. His book Think Wrong: How to Do Work That Matters has become a handbook for people who want to invent what’s next for their organizations, communities, and countries.

Greg Galle
Greg Galle

Greg talked about the predictable path and how most people default to thinking and designing with only this in mind. Using a Solutions vs. Challenges 2×2 matrix, he illustrated that if you are exploring solutions and challenges that are both certain or well-known, you are considering the predictable path. He encouraged us to explore the uncertain and welcome the unexpected.

Watch Greg Galle’s talk “Think Wrong to Solve Next”:

Read the Transcript

Greg Galle: Thank you. Anything I … Yeah. There we go. Forward and backward. Hi. Everybody doing all right?

Speaker 1: Yep.

Greg Galle: Still with us? All right. That was the title of the slide. So here we go. We’re going to talk about three different frameworks that you can use. This morning we started having a little bit of an introduction about dialogue and encouraging dialogue. And I want to introduce these frameworks as a way of engaging people in a meaningful conversation and dialogue about the nature of the work that you’re trying to accomplish with them, that you’re trying to help them achieve.

Greg Galle: So the first idea to have in your head is this notion of a predictable path. That is that we are walking on a predictable path. We had this expression of, “We’ve seen that movie and we know how it ends.” You’ve all kind of used some version of that. The predictable path is, if nothing changes, we can be pretty certain what the future’s going to be like. It’s going to look a lot like it did today. And today looks a lot like it did yesterday. So the predictable path. Now, many of you in the room actually try to lead organizations, and communities, and individuals on some departure from that predictable path.

Greg Galle: So how do we forge a bold path? How do we escape the sort of gravitational pull of the status quo, and lead and create change? Anybody in the room tried to create change? Yeah? Some of you? Help groups create change? Drive positive change in the world? Easy, right? Never run into any problems, right? Okay. So what’s going on there is that whenever we try to depart from the norm, whenever we try to depart from the predictable path, we start to experience some kind of resistance, some kind of friction. It gets expressed in many different ways, and in many different forms. I want to just do a little bit of an exercise with you. This is actually my draft slide deck. So we’re missing the exercise.

Speaker 2: It’s my fault.

Greg Galle: But I don’t need prompts for it. So here it goes. I’m was going to do a pop quiz before I showed this slide that reveals everything to you, right? And makes sense of everything. Here’s the pop quiz. I’m going to ask you for an answer to a question. As soon as you have the answer, I want you to stand up. Okay? As soon as it’s in your head, I want you to stand up. It’s a very complex question, so follow with me. What is one half of 13? What is one half of 13? When do you have the answer in your head, stand up. Okay. One half of 13. Some people are still working on it. I can see you’re sitting down. All right. If the answer that you have in your head is 6.5 or six and one half, sit down. All right.

Speaker 3: One.

Greg Galle: One.

Speaker 4: T-H-I-R.

Greg Galle: THIR. T-H-I-R.

Speaker 2: Three.

Greg Galle: Three.

Speaker 5: 13 halves.

Greg Galle: 13 halves. Okay. Very good. So and here we go.

Speaker 6: Seven.

Greg Galle: Seven. Okay. Interesting. Rounding up.

Speaker 6: No.

Greg Galle: No? Tell us how.

Speaker 6: If you write 13 in Roman numerals and then you cut it half, you actually get seven on the top half.

Greg Galle: You actually get seven on top half. And that in fact, if you count all three of the ones, you get eight. But I love it because you took the pattern in you and you bifurcated it. You split it.

Speaker 6: [inaudible 00:04:01].

Greg Galle: Your math skills in Roman are sort of suspect, right? That’s okay. So what happened is we stood … I asked you the question, I put some time pressure on you. And you stood up and you answered the question. The predictable answer to that question is 6.5, is six and one half. Why? Any thoughts on why we thought six and a half?

Speaker 7: It’s arithmetic [inaudible 00:04:26].

Greg Galle: Arithmetic. We assumed it was a math question. So we made an assumption that it was a math question. We have made a set of synaptic connections in our head because we’ve been taught math. That says, “Ping, ping, ping. I know how to solve math problems.” So I asked the question, but I didn’t give you any context. What if it was a philosophical question? 6.5 would be the least interesting answer to the philosophical question of what is one half of 13.

Greg Galle: You might’ve said, “Well, why 13?” Or, “What are numbers,” right? Would have been a more interesting thing. So I had somebody give me an answer, which it’s sort of, “What’s left after your hungry friend gets the donuts/” right? Baker’s dozen, 13. One half, six and a half doughnuts. So it’s sort of, what’s the context? What’s the thing that we’re trying to solve? What’s going on here on the predictable path is that as we learn things, we create synaptic connections, and a set of neuro pathways get established in our brain. Has anybody in the room ever had that experience of going from work to home, driving from work to home, pulling up in your driveway and thinking, “Huh, I don’t really remember driving home,” right? Yeah. “I became an autonomous vehicle because I was distracted.” What was going on when you did that? What was going on in your head?

Speaker 7: Listening to music.

Greg Galle: Listening to music, getting carried away. You didn’t really have to think about, “How do I get home?” Because again, the synaptic connections are made. So many synaptic connections that you have a neuro pathway in your head that can take you home without thinking about it. So that’s great. How many people in the room … We’ll just do this. We’ll do a stand, just because everybody needs a little more stretching. If you brushed your teeth this morning, stand up. All right. I didn’t get half of you to stand up. That’s good. I’m glad to know that only a 100% percent of your brushed your teeth. If you Googled, “How to brush my teeth,” this morning, just so you know how to do it, sit down. So nobody Googled how to do that.

Greg Galle: You didn’t have to. You may sit down. You didn’t have to do that. You learned how to brush your teeth. You do it without thinking. Every now and then you have one of those weird brain things happen where maybe you put shaving cream on your toothbrush. But generally, you can do it without thinking. Right? So that’s great that our brain works that way. We don’t have to relearn things. Is that a good thing when we’re trying to solve a problem in a new way? No. It gets in the way. So part of our job as facilitators, or as we say, instigators is to get people to break some of those synaptic connections and consider to start solving from a new place. How do I start solving from somewhere different, rather than where I usually begin? So that’s biology. When you’re meeting resistance as you’re trying to depart from the predictable path and get on the bold path, when you’re meeting friction and resistance, it’s easy for it to be … For us to think about that as an antagonistic relationship.

Greg Galle: “I’m the protagonist trying to lead change. There’s an antagonist trying to stop me from making that happen.” We have to step back and let go and say, “You know what? Part of it’s just biology.” It’s part of how our brains work. And people aren’t doing that to us on purpose. It’s how our brains function. We’re actually competing against a whole bunch of neuro-pathways that has started to track the way problems are solved. The next thing that gets in our way is this. I’m going to ask, what do you see when you see this picture? Shout it out.

Speaker 7: [inaudible 00:08:26].

Greg Galle: Kids.

Speaker 6: Peace sign.

Greg Galle: Peace sign.

Speaker 3: Friends.

Greg Galle: Friends.

Speaker 4: Innocence.

Greg Galle: Innocence. Give me some other adjectives.

Speaker 5: Cuteness.

Greg Galle: Cuteness. Happy.

Speaker 1: Chilly.

Greg Galle: Chilly?

Speaker 1: Cold.

Greg Galle: Cold. Oh, yeah. Because they’re wearing … Nice. Okay. So some people when they see this picture think terrorists. These are Syrian refugees, Syrian immigrants. So there’s a cultural response to these kids. An unknowing cultural response to … These are kids, Syrian refugees. So this morning when the immigrants were asked to stand up, I wanted to get up and clap as a celebration of what an immigrant means, and what an immigrant brings to us. But you understand that … Whoa. An issue like immigration can be polarizing in America. In the American context right now, we have camps, pro-immigration, anti-immigration. So that’s a cultural response. So again, when we’re trying to depart from the predictable path and forge a bold path, we’re not only dealing with an issue of how our brain functions. But we’re also dealing with the issue of how a whole bunch of brains that function that way together start to act.

Greg Galle: And the thing about culture is, most of what makes cultures operate is our assumptions and orthodoxies, and biases. They’re stories that we pass on. They’re lore that we pass on. They’re not fact bases, right? It’s a belief system that we pass on. So I said it’s great that our brain works the way it does. It does. We don’t have to relearn things. It’s also great that culture works the way that it does. So cultures that are healthy and productive, and working in our favor, they actually work to keep themselves safe. They protect themselves, they defend themselves from threat. The problem is, because culture works that way they can lock in things that are toxic. They can lock in things that are not in our best interest. They can perpetuate bad societal behavior and make it seem normal.

Greg Galle: I like to ask people when they’re looking at that predictable path and bold path line, you can think of different people. I used to use Elon Musk as an example, but he’s confusing the story with his Twitter account. So I’m going to use Malala instead. And I’m going to introduce this. And I want … I am going to ask you please to believe me that I’m trying not to introduce this idea with any prejudice, right? I’m just wanting to use it for illustrative purposes. Do you guys know who Malala is? Mostly. Okay. So Malala is a young woman in the Middle-East who stood up and said that young women, and women of all kinds have the right to be educated. All right? She did that within the context of her culture. And within the very specific context of her culture, that got her labeled a heretic. All right? So thinking about it. Predictable path, that’s the cultural norm. Malala, bold path, women should be educated. A natural cultural reaction to her was, “What she’s proclaiming is not okay. It’s outside of the norm for our culture.” Right? “It’s heretical.”

Greg Galle: So we know what happened to Malala. She’s shot in the head. Within the context of her culture, that was an acceptable act. Now there was another cultural response to her, which was not the culture she was born into. And that cultural response was, “She’s heroic. She’s brave. She’s courageous.” And she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because of her position. Two extreme examples of a cultural response to the same person. So when you think about culture and how it affects our ability to help, lead, facilitate, create change. It’s important to understand that we are dealing both with biological forces and cultural forces. People are not trying to sabotage you. We do it without thinking.

Greg Galle: It’s human behavior. It’s neurological, it’s social. It’s how we as creatures act. So it’s really important that you be able to have that conversation, that you’d be able to use that framework. So when somebody is engaging you, it’s okay to say, “Are we working on something that’s about improving the predictable path? Or are we working on something where we’re trying to actually create bold change? And are the conditions in the ways that we’re reacting coming from what’s required to sustain the predictable path? Or are they in fact conditions that are going to be conducive to creating that change?” Next framework, this space, a fairly simple space. Where we’re going from, “What’s the problem or the challenge that we’re working on? What’s the solution?” And we’re dealing with uncertainty. We start from a place of uncertainty, and we’re trying to move towards greater certainty.

Greg Galle: This is another important framework for having a dialogue with somebody, which is, “Where are we starting from Where’s the problem live that we’re dealing with?” Up here in this corner where we understand what the problem is and we understand what the solution is, there’s a set of what we call think right practices. There are language that you’re going to be very familiar with, which is people are going to talk about things like, “How do we drive costs out of this? How do we improve productivity? How do we increase our margins?” People start to worry about things like ROI.

Greg Galle: So all of that language is familiar to you, whether you’re in a corporation or a non-profit, or a foundation, or coming out of the defense space. This is the dominant language that’s used to frame how we’re going to think about and measure success. And that’s fine if you know what the problem is and you know what the solution is. I want predict … So the labels of predictable path and bold path sound a little pejorative. They’re not. The people who flew here, again raise your hands. Those who flew here. You wanted predictability. You wanted to get on a plane, have the plane fly. Take off, fly, land safely. Number one, predictable criteria for air travel is safety. What you didn’t want was the pilot coming on and saying, “I’ve got a great idea.”

Greg Galle: You’re with me? All right? “And you are with me. You’re in the plane. I’m going to try something today I’ve never tried.” You don’t want that. When it comes to the known problem and the known solution, I want you to optimize the heck out of that one. And for air travel, I want you to optimize the heck out of safety. The problem is that that set of language and that way of framing things doesn’t work when we’re in that arena of uncertainty. We’re uncertain about that. And we think we know what the problem is, but we’re open to the idea that we’re wrong. That we might do something that reveals in fact that, “Hey, our assumption about the problem was actually an observation of a symptom. And there’s something else deeper going on here.” And we’re going to learn that. “Our assumption about the solution was incorrect.” We did some work last October with NATO, a whole conference on AI. They knew what the solution was. It’s AI. I don’t care what the problem is. If you’re in the military right now, the answer is AI. I don’t know.

Greg Galle: Probably not. I mean, I’ve tried to use Siri and it gets me lost. It doesn’t recognize what I’m saying. It calls people I don’t mean to call. So I’m not really sure I’m willing to pin my hope of freedom in the future on AI just yet. It has a role. But what’s the problem we’re solving? Are we applying it appropriately? So again, this diagram is a way of entry into a conversation. What kind of problem are we working at? Where does that live? How certain are we about the problem, the nature of the challenge? How certain are we about the solution? And are we able to do something quickly that’s going to make us more confident? Not get to the answer, but get to a greater level of certainty. So part of our role, part of what we’re doing is saying we’ve got to try different practices.

Greg Galle: So here you see increase exploration, generate hypotheses, create option value, embrace experiments, pursue discovery, welcome the unexpected. And the measurement here instead of return on investment, which you’ve all been asked, “What’s the return on investment of having you come in and do blah, blah, blah?” If you’re dealing with the uncertain, if you’re in the nine squares of this … I mean, the eight squares of this diagram that aren’t up in that upper right-hand corner. The honest answer to, “What’s ROI,” is, “I have no idea. It’s too early. There’s too many assumptions. We can’t tell you.” LFI is our response to that. LFI is Learning From Investment. So rather than what’s the return on investment, what’s the learning from investment? “What do we now know because we did this thing that we didn’t know before? And what’s the value? How much certainty does that create?”

Greg Galle: So I’ve just introduced two frameworks, which means I’m not going to get to the third. But I’m going to go through it real fast here in the last 40 seconds. So in think wrong, we’ve looked at six practices of thinking wrong. The six practices actually correspond to a moment in the problem-solving journey where a certain thing, a certain action is going to produce the most value. Are our aspirations clear? Is our inspiration sound? Do we have new, fresh ideas? Have we actually started to model and prototype, and bring the idea to life? Are we making small bets to increase certainty rather than blowing our whole budget and putting all of our capital at risk? And finally, are we leaning into the people that we convened and brought in the room and their wisdom, and using that to accelerate our progress? So I can share that in more than 40 seconds if you want. That’s what I had. So, all right. Thanks, you guys.

Please join us for the Control the Room 2020, which will be held Feb. 5–7, 2020. You can find out more and buy tickets here.