On this episode of the conversation factory, I talk with Elliot Felix, founder of Brightspot Strategy, a boutique consultancy. Elliot founded Brightspot almost seven years ago, and as a former founder of an even smaller design consultancy, I'm totally impressed by what he's built and grown. Elliot has a background in Architecture, which I tease him about (only an architect uses "sightline" in a sentence)...different types of designers talk about and see the world differently: we manage different materials. I studied Industrial Design, and so I often look at an idea and think "can this be made at scale?"...even if it's a service, I break it down and ask if it can be manufactured, reproduced. This tendency can annoy people! It's been recently suggested to me that when people tell me about their ideas I should just say "that sounds fun!" and leave it at that...
Elliot was kind enough to do our episode on site at Brightspot's offices in the Financial District here in NYC and as we walked around chatting about various artifacts in the office, Elliot's love of space as a primary material of design was clear. As he says in the opening quote: the right space can facilitate work, help express ideas, support and reinforce or make culture manifest.
I've seen this in my own facilitation work: I can't tell you how many times I've seen a group get stuck in rut, literally because they'd run out of wall space to work with. Just giving them a new wall to work on gave them a new space to have a conversation, got them unstuck. Walls help make work visible, and when work is visible we can have more productive conversations. Without it, we slow down. Designing the space work takes place in *is* conversation design. Change the space, change the conversation.
At Brightspot they frame challenges as a three conversation checklist: Examining the Spaces people are in, the services offered in those spaces, and how people are organized in that space. This checklist is, itself, a design for a productive client-consultant conversation. Trying to shift a system by approaching one of those conversations and not all of them is going to be harder. On the other hand, changing all three at once might be tough. But having the conversation about space, content and people is clearly crucial, that's why Brightspot designs their client conversations to include each of these three aspects of work.
When I teach facilitation I always tell people that they have to make the space they are facilitating in their own...and my favorite story of this is one of my first days working with Applegate Farms, an organic food company, back in 2013. The room we were working in was large, cavernous, and had three big tables arranged in a "U" shape, with a screen projecting at the mouth of the U...the room had been designed for presentation, for the "sage on the stage"...but I wanted the group I was coaching on design thinking to collaborate, not focus on me! The U made everyone sit on the outside, facing me, not each other.
So during the break, I took the foot of the U and rotated it, so all three tables were parallel. The team walked in and was a little disoriented...the room was the same, but the energy was different. They sat in the chairs, facing each other, and we could get down to work in the style I was trying to cultivate.
Thinking about your own work: Is your space working for you or against you? Do you have the right variety of spaces, large, small, intimate, public, to do your work? In conversation design, we talk about the Q: the requisite variety of talent on your team, the right balance of familiar faces and fresh blood...it seems like, in talking to Elliot, that there's a similar quality of balance to be found in the spaces a truly functional company inhabits. If your space isn't working for you, shake it up!
Links and Notes
Making a War Room for projects (but can we find a better name?!)
Expertise Audit: What do our people know? What knowledge aren't we tapping?
Vertical years and Horizontal years: Alternate Keeping the work the same and adding people with new skills and Evolving the offering.
Idiosyncrasies of Leaders can be scaled unintentionally: Elliott over-analyzes, so his org tends to as well! Be intentional about communicating what's optional and what example you're setting, what aspects (quirks) of your personality you're transferring to the culture.
Focus and Time: Choosing our battles and having the time to fight them: Is there a better word: Where to learn and how to grow?
2X2: Size and Structure of conversations
Larry Greiner: The Greiner Curve