Are we there yet?

It’s the first long weekend of summer — which means it’s the perfect time to try out some new engagement design techniques for your workplace on your kids! Trust me — they’ll love it :)

If you’re like me, when you start to plan a summer road trip, your default approach is to do it yourself and get it done as fast as possible. When you only involve one or two people in the planning, it’s easy to retain control over who does what, when and where. As the trip unfolds, those who made the plan (usually the parents), retain control over the way it plays out. They are engaged in managing the activities of the trip. Unfortunately, that leaves everyone else on the trip — your kids — bored and disengaged because they have nothing to do. Worse, they often don’t know where they’re going or why they’re on the road in the first place.

Despite much of the hype, engagement is a pretty basic concept. To be engaged, you have to DO something. There must be verbs and activities involved.

You can’t engage with a house or a car or a book or something like, hey, a job. You can engage in doing something specific that’s part of your job — stocking shelves or answering the phone. You can engage in reading a book, watching a TV show, playing a game. You can even engage in developing a lifelong relationship with someone. But you can’t engage with a thing by itself.

Not rocket science, right? So, how can you use this idea to engage your kids on your next road trip — or your team on your next project? My research into the science of engagement shows that one of the main elements of engagement is having some measure of control over what you’re doing. Now, let’s be honest — we’re all control freaks at some level. Many of us hate the idea of sharing control over a project or a trip with our kids or our team. What if they mess it up? Yet, when the roles are reversed, we also hate being told what to do and how to do it!

What would happen if you gave your kids control over some part of planning your road trip? Maybe what to eat in the car, what route to take, where to stop, how to pack it, how to manage the trip budget? Sure, they might not know as much about all those things as you do at the beginning. And, they’ll probably make mistakes. But, letting them DO those things as part of the trip planning is the best way for them to learn for the future. Not only will you engage them, you’ll also enjoy the benefits of having more and diverse knowledge and expertise in the family.

Once you’ve tested this technique out on your kids — try bringing it to work! As you share control with others, you’ll also develop trust and collaboration that improve overall team function. For example, I worked with a tech team recently that was completely disengaged, frustrated and angry at work. I came in to help them design a strategic plan for their unit. The first thing I did was to invite them to work with me — to share ideas, vision and responsibility — to sketch out the future story of their work. In just a few hours, they were deep into the project — and identified new ways to reach several of the goals that management could not have discovered on their own.

Finding ways to engage others in your strategic or planning quest — at home or at work — is one of the key benefits of using story as a planning or design framework. It’s also one of the tactics I cover in the new book I’m working on, Story Design: An Innovation Playbook. You might also want to add Let Them Paddle: Coming of Age on the Water by Alan S. Kesselheim to your summer reading list. It’s highly entertaining and shares some useful life lessons on parenting, leadership and engagement.


If you’d like me to help you tackle an engagement or innovation problem, find out more about how I work or drop me a line. Happy trails!

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