I am just back from India where I finally met some old friends and had the chance to do a full day of Square Wheels and Lost Dutchman with EduRiser and about 130 senior managers. Fabulous. I was on my game and the group was really responsive, which fanned the flames. (Wish I could always do that well!!)

On returning, one of the blogs I read had a post about the differences between individual and group brainstorming (http://dld.bz/brainstorming) and it felt like my response there should be part of a post here.

Here is what I said in my response:

We have been playing with idea facilitation for what seems a zillion years and have gradually moved to a pretty simple and yet effective process. One, we use our Square Wheels® illustrations as a basis of getting things rolling…

Square Wheels One is a wooden wagon being pulled by a person with a rope and being pushed from behind by others. It is rolling on wooden Square Wheels, with a cargo of round rubber tires.

The cartoon works like an inkblot, in that the generality of it allows readily for projection of beliefs. Sometimes, we anchor it to a specific organizational reality like systems and processes or to issues of leadership and sometimes we just leave it unhooked.

From an individual basis, there are two things that seem to work pretty well. One is to use mind-mapping or some similar approach to structured creativity. The cartoon, because of its very general nature, is a great tool to teach the technique since the image can represent so many things. The other approach, more of a group technique, is to allow for “one minute of silent contemplation” of the image and its implications before then allowing a group of people to discuss implications.

Often, what I will also add to this conversation in the facilitation / debriefing of the activity, is how the individual’s own biases and anchor points will influence them differently at each tabletop and it is only when the group puts all the ideas together do we get more of a “full picture” of the breadth and length of the imagery and the complexity of the creative process.

It is common for a tabletop to feel accomplished with 20 or so ideas from this brainstorming activity. What I do to anchor the possible is show them a list of some of the 300 or so different responses and reactions to the Square Wheels One illustration that I collected over a few sessions. That is always surprising but it helps me anchor the key concept that,

“It is dangerous to know THE Answer!”

I continue to be astounded at the real creativity and cleverness of people.

In an article called, “Teaching the Caterpillar to Fly,” I expand on many of these same themes. One approach is to tell a joke about the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly and then to demonstrate the reality of divergent thinking with an activity. People will quit thinking about possibilities when they “get” the answer:

Two caterpillars are rolling on the Square Wheels wagon when a beautiful butterfly floats by. The one caterpillar says to the other, “You will never get me up in one of those things!”

(When you “get” the above, read the below.)

I thought it was about active resistance to change before I tested that assumption with others. I now have 22 different responses to the joke, with my favorite being, “My mother was a moth.”

Creativity and innovation are pretty amazing and I KNOW that I could never have generated that last framework.

Google “Teaching the caterpillar to fly” and you can download the article.

Me, I would use a more additive word than “versus” in the question about individual versus group brainstorming effectiveness.


The session I delivered went really well and I built much of the above into that morning session. We videotaped everything, so I am hoping to post up a video of how I approach this issue one of these days. If you want to see that, pop me a note and I will be sure to forward it to you.

Our goal was team building and the optimization of organizational performance, so I shared a number of easy facilitation ideas and tried to model good engagement and involvement in my approach and it felt as though that happened!

For the FUN of It!

<a rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123">Scott on Google+<a>    Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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