Dave Gray on Drawing Conversations and Liminal Thinking


Today I talk with Dave Gray Author of Gamestorming and his new book,     Liminal Thinking. We kick things off with a Zen story and dig into why Dave wrote this new book. We hit on a wide range of topics from the nitty gritty of facilitating group conversations to organizational change being fueled more by emotion than reason. Dave's books have always opened new pathways in my brain, so I hope you enjoy unpacking some of the lessons inside with me.

One of the reasons I pulled the opening quote about drawing is that it's without a doubt the most powerful way to transform ANY conversation. Most conversations have one interface: the air. Once it's past your eardrums, I have *no* idea what's really going on inside someone's head! Drawing makes sure there's a tangible record...hell, a paper trail, of our conversation, what we've agreed to, what is in or out of the conversation. A few months ago now I helped my mom and dad work out some scenarios around selling their house and moving someplace else. Me and my brother, together with my folks, generated as many options as we could: They move, and rent out their big house, they sell it all and rent something else, they sell and buy and so on...we made a big poster for each option and then stuck up comments on each, using a format called "Rose, Thorn Bud"...which not to be too meta, is also a conversation design: We could have just done plusses and minuses, we could have done a SWOT analysis on each...but Rose Thorn Bud (which is from the boy scouts of america) is a kind of "friendly" design for conversational analysis.

We used different colors for Rose Thorn Bud, a trick I learned from teaching design thinking with the LUMA Institute...and after our meeting we had a visual heatmap of how the whole family felt about all the options on the table. It really helped my folks step back from the confusion of choice and get some clarity about the steps ahead. And it helped my mom realize that she and my dad haven't tried living in enough other places to make a choice about living somewhere else...and that they ought to figure that out before they sell.

That, in essence, is Dave's point about drawing making a series of triangulations for a conversation. Rather than one person trying to hold all those points in mind, we used color and space to do it for us...a board for each future for my parents, and a map of each future.

Another point Dave makes towards the end that I want to highlight about conversation design...when I'm designing a group workshop, the question of size and time comes up. He talks about watching people at parties, and how 3-5 people can "hold" together pretty naturally...but at 6-8 it splits, unless there's someone holding it together, someone famous, magnetic or especially entertaining. There's some math there, just like how paper increases the points of triangulation to give clarity. If 4 people generate 3-5 post-its that's about 20 stickies, and lot's of possible combinations as they try to discuss and organize them all...if you add just one more person, that's 25% increase in raw information...and increases the combination possibilities exponentially. To expect that group to process the increased information in the same period of time is just unfair! That's where a facilitator can help, by making a first action clearer (and taking some options off the table) or by giving more time, a clearer organizational framework, making the stickies all contain the same types or categories of content, or by making sure the group sizes are all consistent. On the face, conversation design for group work can seem so fuzzy, but I feel like there's a lot of quantitative thinking and actual MATH that goes on beneath it.

Show Links:




Liminal Thinking


LUMA Institute


zen flesh zen bones



Power in organizations



Finite and infinite games



Morning pages and journaling





Monkeys watching monkeys



Candid Camera Video of elevator conformity