Archive for ‘Combinational Creativity’

January 27, 2014

Plans for 2014

bmanscientistlab“I have always been more interested in experiment, than in accomplishment.” Orson Welles

2014 looks to be a very exciting year around my house.  Professionally, I’m poised to make a big change in order to tackle some long contemplated goals.  I will be leaving UBC Faculty of Law after 14-1/2 years in June 2014, and am looking forward both to the next 5 months of transition time which will allow me to complete some long term projects and to the 6 months of new projects that will follow.  In personal terms, the year might best be characterized simply by saying that all three of my daughters will be travelling to their own new adventures in the far corners of the world (Poland, Ghana and Philadelphia!).  And with my own transition happening at just the right time …  I may just get the chance to visit them there.

CoRe Jolts will be receiving a few jolts from a few projects connected to my transition plans, so you can expect:

  • Posts that reflect the work I am doing with Carrie Gallant at CreativityZone,
  • Development of Impasse Breaking Cards, and
  • A Game Jam!

Join me in any or all of these projects!

Blog posts – MBTI series

In late November, Carrie Gallant and I led a workshop on advanced applications of the MBTI to conflict resolution.  We focused on understanding possible uses of the Step II instrument for conflict resolution practitioners, and on exploring “Jungian functions” in more detail than one normally can in an introductory workshop.  In respect of the latter topic, we specifically looked at the different ways that we collect data and the different ways that we make decisions.  The discussion led me to spend some time over the vacation generating ideas for impasse breaking based entirely in each of these eight functions (e.g. I began with a list of impasse breaking ideas that reflect Extraverted Sensing, then generated a list of tools that reflect Introverted Sensing, etc.).  I plan to share these ideas in two ways: I will blog about each of the eight Jungian functions and ideas derived from an understanding of that function, and I will incorporate many more of the ideas into the first set of impasse breaking cards for the project immediately below.

Impasse Breaking Cards

I have been intending to collect impasse breaking ideas into cards specifically designed for use in mediation, and this is the year I intend to create that deck.  In fact, I have given myself a deadline of March 29th for completion of a prototype because I have committed to present the deck at the NWDR Conference in Seattle!  You can see more details about this project on the Impasse Cards page.  Check out the focus group sessions there and consider joining me in any of the testing sessions in the next two months.

Game Jam

I wrote about my interest in collaborative board games last summer.  And now I’m planning to hold a Game Jam for Collaborative Professionals in order to bring together like-minded, but differently skilled, folks to create more collaborative games.  I’ve set aside May 9th-11th for the event.  If you’re interested in a weekend of fun and creation, save the date!  And let me know that you’d like to attend.

horse_signJolt for Mediators and Mediations:

Since this is a planning-for-the-year post, I’ve decided to offer a New Year’s jolt despite the date.  (I will note that while my planning may have been triggered by the start of 2014, the post comes just before Chinese New Year, so still might pass as timely…)

#3Words Exercise

You may be familiar with the Three Words Concept.  Chris Brogan and C.C. Chapman have each contributed to the idea of coming up with three words as a focus for the new year, as opposed to resolutions.  It was Jason Dykstra’s 2014 post, however, that inspired me to finally take a stab at choosing and blogging about my own words.  I admit, I was particularly taken by Jason’s creativity in applying his words, as opposed to the words themselves.  His approach reminded me of exercises in the use of symbolism or combinational creativity to shake up one’s thinking.  Jason’s word descriptions made it easy to imagine using this exercise as a jolt for mediators and as a jolt for mediation.

For Mediators:

The #3Words exercise can be a jolt for mediators or other dispute resolution professionals in the same way that it is intended to be a New Year’s jolt for anyone looking to shift gears.  Wanting to improve your practice?  Use the #3Words technique for self-reflection to guide your progress.  You might focus on aspects of your work that you struggle with and wish to improve (e.g. self-reflection, listening, silence, etc.) or you might focus on business development and kickstarting an exploration of a new practice area (e.g. connect, system, leap, etc.)

And, of course, there’s no reason you can only think of focus words for the year.  Why not consider focus words for a single mediation?  If you’ve come from a difficult mediation, you’re probably already reflecting to some degree on whether there was something you might have done differently.  Or you’ve co-mediated with someone and observed an entirely different approach that you’d like to add to your toolbox.  And for that matter, what about those mediations where everything seems to happen without any effort on your part: are there aspects of those mediations that you want to carry forward into your next session? Why not think about three words immediately following one mediation that will be points of focus for your next mediation?

For Mediations:

Alternatively, in a mediation (and perhaps in a strategic planning session or when dealmaking), consider a #3Words list as a means of focusing parties on joint goals.  We often assist parties to generate lists of interests or criteria for settlement; why not consider instead a list of three words to guide the discussion, or three words that reflect for an individual party her goals for settlement or his hopes for the future, or three words that capture the type of process that parties wish to pursue in their discussions?  Such exercises might well assist parties to shift gears into a more reflective and problem-solving discussion, and might be easier to launch than a discussion of individual interests where parties are especially distrustful or uncomfortable with speaking directly about their own wishes.

My 3 Words for 2014

It seems appropriate to share my own three words for the year:  Experiment, Delve and Concatenate.  And yes, they are all verbs even if I had to force one of them to be.  For me, 2014 involves doing, so my words are doing words.

  • Experiment

I am not typically shy to experiment, so may not need this word to remind me to do so.  I have chosen it instead to reinforce that experimenting is a positive aspect of my current work life that I want to retain.  I may have to be more creative in developing opportunities to truly experiment outside of the academic world.

Clearly this will be a year to explore, and my list should include a word to recognize that fact.  But explore doesn’t resonate the way delve does.  Delve requires more digging, more extended effort.  I’ll be delving.

  • Concatenate

Much more commonly seen in the form “concatenation”, concatenate really is a verb – just one that doesn’t get much play.  But I love the notion of combining that it evokes.  My professional life has always concatenated a series of ideas, experiments, and explorations, and I am excited to continue concatenating this year!

August 9, 2011

Banana writing for mediation?

“I think cheese smells funny, but I think bananas ‘are’ funny.” – Joe Murray

If there was ever a tool designed to promote combinational creativity, it has to be the internet.  And social media makes it so much easier to “stumbleupon” wonderful ideas from entirely unrelated fields that – with a little bit of “yes, and-ing” – can provide a nice jolt of new thinking to one’s mediation practice.  This post was inspired by a friend’s facebook status – just one part of a long, and growing, chain of online sharings and re-interpretations that led me to consider how an idea for making one’s children feel loved at lunchtime could be utilized to good effect in a mediation (or in a strategic planning meeting, board meeting, etc.)

Thanks to Pinterest.com, a not-so-recent blog post in Cute Food For Kids has been making the rounds.  Back in October, Vancouver mom and blogger Tiffany 楊茜茹 showed “How to Draw on a Banana.”  Thanks to the amazing connectedness of everything on the internet, Tiffany’s blog for a very specific audience was picked up first by the slightly more broadly aimed Come Together Kids craft blog, and from there by the much more mainstream and widely read The Bloggess.  And suddenly banana writing is everywhere!  And hence the inspiration to consider its application to mediation.

Banana writing is simple: take a banana, lightly scratch your words (or a picture) onto it with a toothpick or similar sharp object, and allow the letters to darken.  Over the course of an hour or two (depending on the initial ripeness of the banana), the letters will become more and more visible.  You can cover bananas in a fruit bowl so that the words emerge suddenly, or leave them out on the table to see who spots the emerging words first.  Or write only on the underneath layer of a bunch of bananas, so that the words are seen only as time goes on and bananas are consumed.  However the writing appears, it’s a quick pattern interrupt!  and a chance to refocus a discussion on problem solving.

Jolts for Mediation

I imagine a variety of approaches to banana writing in mediations.  Here are a few ideas for how and where to introduce a little banana jolt.

1. The evaluative mediation

The commercial mediation has been dragging on all morning, and it’s clear that parties will be taking a quick working lunch together at the table.  As a mediator who is comfortable evaluating but has a preference for solutions arising from the parties themselves, you take a quick break to come up with a number of possible approaches to resolution and to jot them on the bananas that will sit on the table as dessert.

I’ve commented in many presentations over the years that my preference in making suggestions about solutions is to make at least 3:  it always promotes discussion and brainstorming, whereas a single suggestion tends to limit creativity, and too often polarizes parties further.  So how about three or more ideas on the bananas?  I won’t try to generate ideas for a specific case here, but some ideas that might be used in almost any situation are:

Rock, paper, scissors?

Settlement value = (damages X probability of liability X likelihood receiving full damages) – cost of proceeding”  coupled with a banana that reads: “Do the math.”

Donate the disputed amount to charity?

What is the value of finality?

2. Peace songs

Keeping with the triggering notion of idea generation through social media, it so happens that another facebook friend chose to post a series of links to music that have been formative for her musically and ideologically.  Given that she was born in the early 60s, it will not be too surprising that she has posted a number of peace songs.

So, you’re mediating a family dispute between baby boomers; maybe your bananas have some catchy 60s and 70s folk song lyrics on them?  The parties both are infected by “ear worms” that keep lyrics like  “Imagine all the people, living life in peace…” or “A time for love, a time for hate.  A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late” running through everyone’s head as they discuss parenting plans.

Of course, music can be very generational, and tastes vary considerably.  My favourite artists all have great advice about negotiation in their lyrics, but my personal mission to expand the fan bases of Todd Snider and Marian Call might be more effectively accomplished by playing the music than by including their lyrics on bananas.  In other words, you do need to think about your audience – as always.

(That said, here’s a link to one of my favourite songs about power in negotiations.)

3. Conflict resolution quotes

The idea of having conflict resolution quotes visible during a mediation, perhaps only as a subliminal message on the pens or notepaper that the mediator hands out, becomes much more overt when the quote appears mysteriously on food!  Check out John Ford’s Conflict Management Quotes as a great place to start the search for ideas.  I liked the Lily Tomlin quote below.  It requires a bit of thinking, and might just lead to conversation; especially if you’re as unpracticed in your banana writing as I am, and you need to help with the reading.

“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

4. Pattern interrupts

And let us not forget that banana writing might simply be funny.  The Bloggess speculates on the best phrases to carve into supermarket bananas to startle unsuspecting shoppers.  While I don’t see myself writing “Act natural.  You’ll be contacted soon.” on a mediation banana, I can imagine quite a few things that would strike me as funny if I were a party, and would help me to break out of a pattern of frustrating deadlocks.  What about a quote from television mediator Kate Reed of Fairly Legal?

Coffee, muffins, [bananas], anything that might make grumpy men feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Or a horrible flashback to the old knock, knock joke:

Orange you glad I brought bananas?

Or the punny:

I a-peel to your sense of ________  [Fill in the blank with appropriate sentiment. e.g. compassion, fairness, etc.]

And I’m sure there’s a great banana split joke to be made!

Do add your own ideas as comments below!

April 26, 2011

Taking the “Cake” Challenge in Combinational Creativity

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.” – Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)

After more than two months absent from this blog – and from virtually everything else that requires a reasonable degree of concentration  –  I am finally feeling clear enough of the symptoms of concussion to develop and post some new ideas.  Definitely time to “wake up the brain cells”!  And so I’ve chosen to give myself a nonsense challenge in combinational creativity: take the word “cake” and use it a launching point for five “jolts” that could be used in a mediation.  Before I get there, however, a little background on what I mean by combinational creativity…

Compotier avec fruits, violon et verre (Picasso)

Compotier avec fruits, violon et verre (Picasso)

Dr. Margaret A. Boden, OBE, is a Research Professor of Cognitive Sciences who has published many fascinating papers on topics in artificial intelligence and creativity.  She identifies three ways in which humans generate creative ideas – ideas that are “new, surprising, and valuable”.  Most relevant to this blog entry, we create through combinational creativity – the generation of unfamiliar (and interesting) combinations of familiar ideas.  (Boden also studies exploratory and transformative creativity, both of which I will look at in future postings.)  Combinational creativity surprises us by connecting things and ideas that are not normally linked.  Collages, Bizarro cartoons, and metaphors are all examples of combinational creativity.  Each combines things in ways that are unexpected, creating thought-provoking, humourous, and surprising results.

Creativity trainers encourage the use of combinational creativity to stimulate new ideas for businesses or new perspectives for problem solving.  For example, the exercise that is sometimes known as Random Input, asks participants to use combinational creativity to break through roadblocks in their thinking.  (And yes, Random Input is one of the 5 Jolts!  It’s the process I’m using to write the blog, after all.)  In this technique, you select a random word or image as a starting point for brainstorming.  Open the dictionary, newspaper or novel at a random page, and choose a word that is unrelated to your topic.  Concrete nouns work especially well.  It happens that I started out my Random Input exercise with an image that caught my eye – a cake!  You can see why it screamed creativity to me in the second jolt below.

“Cake” Jolts for Mediation and Mediators

1. Random Input

I’ve described the basic concept of Random Input above, and I’m sure that you can imagine lots of ways that it can be used in a mediation, even if it is more commonly used as a brainstorming tool for teams.  Consider, in particular, how you might use it as a “deal mediator” – someone who is acting as a mediator in the development of a business transaction or the development of an estate plan, etc.  Random Input can be fun, stimulating and a great team building exercise for groups that are not trying to resolve a problem, but instead trying to develop the best possible deal.

A few resources for Random Input:

  • MindTools – A useful educational website with lots of brainstorming ideas.
  • Roger von Oech’s Innovative Whack Pack – Small Claims Mediators have seen my Pack at an Impasse Breaking workshop in 2009.  Von Oech has created a deck of cards with different creativity strategies on each.  Instead of choosing a word, choose a strategy and try to apply it.  And he now has a Creative Whack Pack iPhone app.

  • Tarot cards – Books, magazines, newspapers …  Anything can be used to find a random word, of course.  But images are fun too, and can lead to even wider interpretations.  Tarot cards are a handy size to carry, and the 22 cards of the Major Arcana can be especially evocative.
  • And, it’s easy to create your own Random Input toolkit.  A bag of miscellaneous objects, a collection of photos from magazines, or a simple word list – all will work to inject a new and random element into the group’s brainstorming work.

2. Battlestar Galactica Cakes

This was the image that caught my eye and made me think – CAKE! – as the trigger word for my contemplations.  It’s a glorious example of combinational creativity, of course – while the combination of baking and popular culture is growing these days, it is still surprising when one stumbles upon such a fabulous example.  This one comes from Kandy Cakes in Cambridge, Ontario, but I spotted it on the fascinating blog Between the Pages: Where pop culture and food meet.

I’m naturally thinking about what kind of cake I’d bake for impasse breaking purposes?  Anything this intricate would be a jolt, but I am decidedly not so skilled with the icing application as this, so would have to be more creative about type of cake instead.  Here’s my top 5 list:

a) Flourless chocolate cake and b) wacky cake:  Both of these cakes offer the opportunity to discuss creativity.  Flourless chocolate cake works as a metaphor for problem-solving – you really don’t have to include all the same ingredients in every cake, and there may be excellent reasons to leave some out (the guest with wheat allergy might stand in for the party with any number of interests that run counter to a “standard” way of resolving a problem).  Wacky cake, aside from having a great name, is a different variation on the non-standard ingredients idea – in this case, the cake is made with ingredients one doesn’t expect in a cake: no eggs, but there is vinegar!

c) Devil’s food cake – clearly the food for the devil’s advocate.

d) Marble cake – All of the flavours manage to work together, even if they never really blend.

e) Upside-down cake – Why don’t we look at this in an entirely different way?  (Maybe an accompaniment to a session of reverse brainstorming?)

3. You Cut, I Choose

Wikipedia calls “You cut, I choose” a “two-party proportional envy-free allocation protocol” which is quite representative of the considerable scholarly literature on the concept of fair division of a limited resource that starts with a discussion of the classic sibling rivalry over the last piece of cake.  (Between the innumerable articles on cake cutting and the ubiquitous DR references to expanding the pie, it may be time to question the eating habits of DR scholars.)  Here are just a few resources on the eternal question, all of which are specifically focussed on the topic of impasse breaking.

I haven’t read Robertson and Webb’s book Cake Cutting Algorithms, but the publisher writes that “[t]his book gathers into one readable and inclusive source a comprehensive discussion of the state of the art in cake-cutting problems for both the novice and the professional. It offers a complete treatment of all cake-cutting algorithms under all the considered definitions of “fair” and presents them in a coherent, reader-friendly manner. Robertson and Webb have brought this elegant problem to life for both the bright high school student and the professional researcher.”  Given how complicated the math is in some of the texts I’ve looked at, I may just check out a book that can be read by bright high school students!

I have read Brams’ and Taylor’s Fair Division: From cake-cutting to dispute resolution and would recommend it only to readers who are comfortable with math.  That said, the basic premise of most of the chapters is simply described at the beginning and is itself a reasonable talking point for discussing fair division options.  The book itself might be a good “prop” in specific business negotiations, much the way von Oeck’s list of creativity strategies works by asking parties to think about using a specific technique.  Thinking about why or why not the technique might work refocuses parties on criteria for settlement rather than specific points of dispute.

Both of these books are available through CoRe’s aStore.

The Cake Cutting Problem on mathematics-in-europe.eu – a short and sweet overview of the fair division problem.

4. Cake – the Band

I’m planning to write a post on music in dispute resolution at a later date, so I’m just going to touch on the most obvious points about Cake:

  • The band combines multiple musical genres to create its unique sound (ska, rockabilly, jazz, country, rap…) and so could be viewed as the musical equivalent of marble cake as a metaphor for conflict resolution.
  • Any musical interlude has the potential to act as a pattern interrupt, of course, but the music video for The Distance is itself a wonderful example of combinational creativity!  And it even has a business theme going on.

5. Make Mine Chocolate

This one is simple chemistry: caffeine and serotonin are the most commonly identified sources of chocolate’s mood altering chemistry.  Caffeine, of course, increases mental activity (and wakefulness in a long drawn-out discussion); and serotonin is described as having a similar effect to Prozac – calming and relaxing.  Make your afternoon snack chocolate cake in one form or another  for a relaxed, but wakeful discussion.


%d bloggers like this: