Thirteen years ago I discovered the profession of collaborative design through a meeting, when a facilitator came to explain his job in the company where I worked as a project manager. He illustrated his presentation with many examples from past sessions of his experience. That day I experienced a wonder akin to a child watching his first magic show, and I must have had those same wide eyes. I was deeply moved to discover that this kind of profession existed, so I spent the following months finding a way to join this small circle of practitioners of this curious profession. I exhausted every method I could think of to become one as well, a collaborative designer.
There were few books that described this profession at the time, so I learned most of the tricks of the practice from peers who had the patience, kindness and generosity to explain the underlying job. They helped me to make sense of this apparent magic, to answer my billions of questions, and this allowed me to understand beyond simple processes, the essence of collaborative design. They shared their knowledge and experiences, gave me advice and feedback, allowing me to grow, and take my first steps.
Long have I considered myself a ‘young’ facilitator, continuously exploring a universe with infinite ramifications. I proceeded by observing, analysing, experimenting, hypothesis checking. Thomas Edison responded to those who asked him how he had persevered despite his thousands of failed attempts to invent the light bulb: “I didn’t fail, I just found 10,000 solutions that didn’t work”. Similarly, I have worked out hundreds of designs in my notebooks that did not work. Fortunately, more often than not I was able to identify design flaws before presenting them to clients, usually with the invaluable help of conversation partners. What a richness in those conversations with my peers, where we dissected methods, design principles, models, modules, and much more! We have assembled, disassembled, evaluated options, tested variants, in a quest for the best design that would allow our customers to live a unique experience, solve the problems they faced, engage participants in bold and high impact decisions. Each new project was a new opportunity for me to explore, to renew the challenge of co-design in a new context, with new sponsors and new participants.
Without realising it, I had accumulated a lot of knowledge on different aspects of my job. From apprentice, I went autonomous, then unwittingly to referent. I could have selfishly guarded this knowledge, like the miser on his treasure who is reluctant to share, but knowledge is nothing without sharing. It does not nourish and quickly becomes obsolete. Our profession needs to be constantly renewed and nourished by exchanging points of view and experiences. So, I started to share my knowledge and skills with new facilitators, in the same way my peers had guided me a few years ago. At first, I felt — and I still do today — that I was just the echo of my first mentors. I gradually realised that the stories I was telling were more and more the ones I had experienced and less and less the ones I had been told. Probably out of professional distortion, I started to think about how to transmit this knowledge, until I designed how to share my own stories by adjusting the content and form to those who wanted to learn.
Exploring educational engineering logics, I have discovered a multitude of ways to develop a learning path and a myriad of possible methods, models and modules: reverse pedagogy, gamification, exemplification, learning expeditions, the list goes on. It’s a kind of fractal where collaborative design comes to the service of educational engineering, and vice versa.
This is why today, as a coach, trainer and transmitter at Openfield Institute and Evolusens, I specialise in learning and support for individuals and organisations in their transformation.
To all those who wish to strengthen their skills in the areas of supporting individuals or groups, here are some tips:
● Do not go on your journey alone: find mentors who are willing to feed your appetite for knowledge and eager to share. Your learning journey will be greatly facilitated and accelerated.
● Nothing beats experience: do not wait until you have accumulated your treasure of knowledge or read all the books on the field before embarking on the adventure! Of course, don’t go for it headlong, but surround yourself with the right people (often the same people identified in the previous point), and get involved as soon as possible. Try(!) and draw in the learnings. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge.
● Feed on feedback: because you always have something to learn from others.
● Take a step back from what you are doing: be critical of yourself, and don’t take anything for granted, because the progression curve is constant in these areas.
And finally: be a transmitter yourself: sharing with others allows you to identify what you have accomplished, and therefore what you still want to discover. You are already rich in your own history.