Dialogue in a park

It’s quite easy to rush through creativity workshops enumerating, rating and selecting ideas to hand-over for later implementation. This article is however about a different kind of creativity, the creativity that comes from gaining deeper understanding – together in a workshop.

By Beatrice*) and Markus

*) About Co-author Beatrice Malova: Beatrice is interested in new technologies and new methodologies. She has many years of experience in IT industry, especially in business analysis, agile coaching and digital transformation. She is also engaged in topics like customer experience and customer engagement.

Skills like language, collaboration and networking enabled humanity to disseminate and recombine ideas over centuries and by that developing new technologies in consequence of existing technology. Through such collective learning, humans have been able to steadily increase productivity and to create modern society as we know it today.

Still, innovation remains a necessity to compete in an ever changing market. As a consequence, there is a wealth of techniques available to foster creativity and innovations, especially for workshop settings.

Strinkingly, such facilitation methods are generally applied in a short time frame to accomplish a pre-defined goal, promising quick results. They rely heavily on the explicite and implicite knowledge of participants and try to tap into this knowledge by setting a specific frame of thinking.

Some values are rather pushed aside, even though they have played their role in the history of innovations.

  • Exchanging and reflecting upon thoughts and assumptions and gaining deeper understanding.
  • Taking time for thoughts to settle and creating room for spontenous insights outside of the structured setting.
  • Allowing chance to happen and following-up on coincidences.
  • Fostering spontaneous interactions between individuals.
  • Opening up the goal and following-up on interesting things disregarding where they could lead to.

Such points lead to an interesting challenge: Given that we still constrain ourselves to a workshop setting, how would a creativity workshop look like, if it we incorporated more of the principles above?

The result is the concept of “dialog in a park”, a workshop with a focus on collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning through dialogue
Collaborative learning through dialogue

The guidelines for the workshop are:

  • Rather than writing know stuff on sticky notes, participants reflect on their assumptions and evolve their thinking to create new approaches.
  • Rather than rushing throuh time boxes, participants slow down and take time to phrase their thoughts and reflect.
  • Rather than enumerating loads of ideas, participants dive into the given topic, use the available space for a dialogue to develop ideas and focus on finding new things.

A good location for such a workshop is an open space, e.g. like a park. Participants move through this space in pairs or small groups and lead a dialogue about a given topic. From time to time they pause in front of a pinwall or whiteboard and record their insights, making them visible to other participants.

Dialog vs. Debate: Many of us are not used to leading a dialogue. It is however important to roughly understand two forms of communication: debate and dialogue. In a debate, opposing parties put forward their arguments to convince others of their person or position. In a dialogue, participants offer their knowledge to others to recombine and create new knowledge. A debate is a conflict resolution and decision making process. Dialogue, as used in this article, is a collaborative learning process.

A prototypical agenda for such a workshop could be:

  1. Present the topic of discussion
  2. Build first groups (two or three persons) and introduce the technique of dialogue
  3. Groups lead dialogues about the topic and record important insights.
  4. Whenever groups meet, they are encouraged to regroup and the dialogue continues.
  5. After a set time, results are collected, the most important ideas are picked for later work.

The format of the workshop offers the potential for many positive effects. Small groups and dialogue give each person the possibility to voice their knowledge. Learning from others and creating common understanding changes own beliefs, triggers associations and allows participant to better communicate with each other. Strolling in a park leaves the normal working environment behind, sets a more relaxed tone and slows down participants. Starting with a topic rather than a defined goal allows participants to follow-up on interesting thoughts that may lead to completely new ideas.

These effects give participants something that in a world with ever increaseing complexity gets more and more important: time.