Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Rainbow After a Brainstorm (Collaboration Patterns Project #1)

"Collaboration is the secret to breakthrough creativity"
Keith Sawyer, author of Group Genius, concludes in the first paragraph of his book. Collaboration is the theme at the Iba Lab this year. With fifteen members, over half of them being newcomers, the lab was hyped up to create their new pattern language: The Collaboration Patterns.  

Still not getting used to the weird nicknames they were given, members who arrived at the lab Monday afternoon were each handed out a black marker and a rainbow of post-it notes. Despite the cherry blossoms hinting the arrival of spring, the day heading towards dusk was brisk. The original plan to brainstorm outside by the pond had been postponed for next time. 

In the brainstorming process, members jot down attributes they think are important for successful collaboration, talk about it briefly, then sticks the note onto the paper on the table. Their goal: to use up the whole stack before dinner. 

The fifteen sat around a rectangular table, with a huge sheet of white paper spread across it. They started out by each reintroducing themselves with what types of collaboration they've experienced in the past. From gymnastics to marching band, dancing, fashion, theater, part-time jobs, and previous work at the Iba Lab, their specialities covered a wide range of fields. 

The process itself had a slow start. Not really knowing what to do, the new members hesitated to speak up. To get the process going, old members who created the Presentation Patterns last year started out by pinning down a few: things like "respond quickly", "listen to others closely", or "have pride in your work". The first few were the obvious, but a good place to start. 

Soon everyone got a handle of it. Members found out it was easier if they used specific examples from their past experiences when explaining. Watching the table becoming covered with post-it notes, their progress was visible. Repetitions, add-ons, opposite opinions: all were welcome. Selection and grouping were put off for later; just produce. 

With a brief break in between, the process lasted for roughly three hours. Forcing the last of their knowledge out, their brains were fried by the end. Everyone was ready for a nice dinner. 

With a feeling of accomplishment, the members look back at the paper now full of reds, yellows, blues, and greens, somewhat scared of the K-J method to await them.

Next week, the lab members will go through another process of brainstorming. Their next theme is about creation and work environments for groups. 

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