Group Mojo: Creating Magic

Brian Donovan, Director, Insights and Client Solutions, Root

Something extraordinary happens when people use the technique of thinking and talking together. When everyone is open, accepting, and contributing, you can achieve results far beyond your expectations. Almost anything is possible when we think together. When no one cares who the ideas came from, it’s amazing what gets done.

Thinking and TalkingClick to see Larger ImageNow, we aren’t referring to brainstorming, which has its own good points. When a group brainstorms, they literally throw ideas around that may or may not match. All ideas are “good.” Brainstorming can prepare you for this kind of exercise, but it’s not the same thing. Thinking and talking together results in making something that you can all get excited about, that’s a result of all your ideas, not just the “best” one. This is an important element of the creation process. It’s an affirmation of others’ value and worth, and it builds on the energy, producing even more creativity.

There are many benefits, of thinking and talking together, but here are three of the best.

  1. Solving Puzzles Together Is Gratifying and Enjoyable.
    Thinking and talking together works so well because it’s fun! When we’re solving puzzles, the joy is in figuring it out, not just finding out the answers. No good comedian tells the punchline before the joke. That’s too easy. And no good teacher explains a difficult concept in overly technical terms. That’s too hard. But when we find that sweet spot between the two, we make those connections with happiness and pride.

    The most powerful mystery films juxtapose images in a way that engages your brain in solving the puzzle. A half-open door. A man looking over his shoulder. A scream. Your brain likes solving the puzzle. Compare this with an art film, where things are just too disconnected. Your brain tries to make the connections, but after a while it just gives up. In the same way, groups of people who think and talk together can make connections without force or pain. This co-thinking is spurred on by perseverance and peer pressure, and that leads to getting creative more successfully and more quickly.

  2. Iterated Pictures + Dialogue = Co-Creation.
    Peeling Back the LayersClick to see Larger ImageWe use sketching to help people visualize the ideas we are co-creating. The magic isn’t in the technique of the artist, but in how people can contribute ideas without fear with appreciation for others’ ideas. As the sketch is iterated, we see a picture unfold, and this reinforms our thinking. We ask questions, think and talk together some more, and then change the picture as we go along.

    The stumbling block with starting and stopping is that people are generally uncomfortable if they don’t know what’s coming next. But, as in life, only when you’ve completed the current step does the next step become obvious! But with each new picture, you can see what you’ve done. Ideas become visible as you create them. And because they’re tangible, they’re memorable. They make an impression, positive or negative. And when everyone is satisfied with that last iteration, the final piece is a work of art conceived by nobody and everybody.

    Rarely is something so compellingly owned by the entire group. Together, you have created something that didn’t exist! Doing this together is exponentially powerful.

  3. We Oscillate Using “Kinda-Like” Connections.
    The Harmony of CollaborationClick to see Larger ImagePeople get programmed to shut down a lot of behaviors that make them creative and allow the big breakthroughs. When we open those closed doors, however, we become innovative. The only way to break through is to introduce new thoughts and new dialogue and allow for the possibility of changing your patterns.

    When people explain things to each other, they often use the “Kinda-Like Technique.” One person says, “It’s kinda like…” and then connects that event or object to something they’ve experienced. The other person may understand – or not, in which case he’ll say, “Oh! Is it kinda like…?” And then together you form a picture in your minds that is pretty similar. The best way to innovate is to oscillate ideas between life experiences, moving back and forth using comparisons.

    Thinking and talking together prevents us from holding back innovative ideas because we think they may not be relevant. The “kinda-like” experience is what makes co-creation so powerfully different from sitting in a room trying to create something on your own. Like atoms banging into each other, one person’s ideas colliding with others creates a new energy.

Conditions Needed for Thinking and Talking Together
So how do you do this? Every group will have its own way of thinking and talking together, but these are the essential conditions.

  1. Listening.
    We’re talking about really hearing with an open mind. We need to listen in a way that enables us to add something relevant that relates to the previous statement. This makes us all better listeners because we need to give full attention to the speaker so we can build on that idea. (Compare this with the usual tactic of simply waiting for someone to stop talking so you can tell your own idea, which may or may not be related at all.)

  2. Framing the problem.
    You start with a vague goal. You set parameters, but realize that no one will know what it “looks like” until it’s complete. Imagine that you’re a kid, and you and your buddies want to build a fort in the woods that you can sleep in. That’s it! It’s not a black hole of a thought, but it’s also not an architectural mockup. As it’s built, ideas are altered and added to. And working spontaneously and creatively, the result is something you never imagined…a fort, yes, but one with a lookout tower, a game room, and a refrigerator! The key is giving up the need to be certain of what you’re building, because the idea will change and reshape as you work on it.

  3. Finding comfort in being uncomfortable.
    Embrace The FuzziesClick to see Larger ImageTo accept new ideas, we have to accept a certain degree of ambiguity. Remember, we only need to take one step at a time into the unknown. All Columbus knew for sure was that he had a ship that could sail, and that there was water to sail on. That’s pretty ambiguous! Be willing to be uncomfortable for the moment, and as you take the next step, the previous one will make more sense.

  4. Trusting in yourself and the team.
    Trust your TeamClick to see Larger ImageFear paralyzes us. Uncertainty delays us. Trust allows us to be brave and take reasonable chances, believing that every problem is solvable. Think about it: If scientists can map the human genome, we can probably figure out how to set our team’s initiatives for the next quarter.

  5. Adding in diversity.
    To make thinking and talking together even more effective, include varying perspectives. Instead of being surrounded by like-minded people, invite an out-of-the-box person to your creation session. Diversity of life experiences and viewpoints plays well with the “kinda-like” activity. The results will always be stronger when your group isn’t totally homogenous.

  6. Physically manifesting what you’re building. We need to actually see what we’re creating as we create it. This can mean stick figures on a whiteboard, or something built with Legos, or an actual sketch by someone who can actually draw. It doesn’t matter. This is important for two reasons: First, when your session ends, you have something concrete that symbolizes your work. And second, it’s a point of reference during the discussion so you can remember previous points and be inspired to enhance ideas as you go.

Thinking and talking together moves a group to a place you never could get to by yourself. You not only unearth totally new ideas, but you actually change things. Co-creating ignites a “group mojo” that spreads. When you do it regularly, it’s a skill you can replicate. You become a better listener, a better discussion leader, and a better interpreter of others’ viewpoints.

Often, the work that produces the greatest results is the work that has been most enjoyable. Like kids building a fort, all building on each other’s ideas no matter who thought of them first, we can make better things when we think and talk together… and have more fun.

Want to know more about creating group mojo? Email Brian at