by Tim Hurson ’67: I’ve worked as a productive thinking facilitator for most of my professional life—strategy sessions, creative problem solving workshops, innovation initiatives, conflict resolution, mediation, community engagement, organizational restructuring, and negotiations, from mergers to breakups.
I’ve also been a major fan of FourSight—since before it was even called FourSight. (It used to be called the Buffalo Creative Process Inventory) Since then, It’s gone through thousands of refinements, validations, and use cases. And though it’s more robust and elegant now than in those early days, it was always a powerful tool to help groups work more effectively, more efficiently, and more productively.
FourSight has never failed me. It’s made my sessions better, my groups better, and me better.
But I’ve never had a use case quite like the one I experienced a few weeks ago at LaunchU, the innovation incubator sponsored by my alma mater, Oberlin College.
I was working with about 50 students and alums, comprising several teams. They were beginning a month-long bootcamp during which they had to develop projects, create business models, marketing plans, prototypes, and then present their projects to potential investors. Fortunately, Oberlin in January is very much an indoor experience, so they had plenty of time, if not daylight hours, to invest.
Shortly after meeting them, I discovered that not only had their ‘teams’ never worked together before, but that most of them had no idea how to work together—on anything—let alone complex, emotional-laden projects, with limited resources and high stakes. Despite embarking on tasks that would require high levels of critical and creative thinking, most of the participants had no idea what that might actually entail. They were terrific students—eager, smart, great at absorbing information—but they had almost no experience in applying their learnings to create useful outcomes, particularly in groups.
FourSight to the rescue
At the end of our first afternoon, I mentioned that I had a tool that might help them work more productively. By this time, some of them had already begun to see that this might be a good idea. I sent them links to the FourSight Assessment.
The next morning, I decided against using the FourSight slide deck. Although it’s a great presentation aid, I sensed that the group needed to teach itself, rather than be lectured by an outsider. So I asked them to describe what they thought the elements of good problem solving might be. Together, we identified the four essential thinking preferences and why each might be an important contributor.
Then I asked who among the group felt energized by clarifying. Several hands shot up. I chose one young woman to come to the front and talk about herself—why clarifying energized her, why she thought it was important, and so on.
I repeated the process for the other preferences (ideator, developer, implementer). In the end, four young people were sitting in front of the group talking about themselves, highlighting what made them feel productive, and what frustrated them about the other styles. It was a great session. I was able to disappear almost completely, as the students carried the discussion, based not on theory, but on their own experiences.
Next, I presented a tower building task. I assigned the four original volunteers to be one team and had the rest of the group form random teams.
The results were better than I could have hoped. The ‘balanced’ team did not build the highest tower, but they sure did build the best one, just a tad shorter than the highest, but sturdy, portable, even elegant. We talked about each team’s experiences.
Then I emailed them their assessment results and had them pair up to unpack them. By this time, they were eager to see their preferences and how they matched to others.
Finally, we cleared the room of tables and desks and made a circle to share observations and insights. We held the circle for over 90 minutes—much longer than I had anticipated, but not as long as they wanted to continue exploring. We just ran out of time. The discussion was rich and powerful. It was clear that they came away with a new sense of themselves, of their colleagues, and of what working together would really entail.
It was a wonderful session, galvanizing to the group, and ever-so-rewarding for me.