Dificilitation…a challenge to our Pattern Language?

We explain our approach to facilitation as coming from the roots of the word: to make easy. This really runs back to the roots of the method, which is grounded in part by the writings of Christopher Alexander and his concept of patterns in architecture which either encourage or inhibit a natural flow.

It’s a wonderful concept; create a flexible work environment and patterned working process which removes all barriers and inhibitors which stand in the way of highly productive work. The concept has equal force whether it is applied to work or environment, or in the case of how we use it, when both are combined.

That is why I read this article in the New York Times (with an excellent audio slide show) with such interest. Artists and designers Arakawa and Gins have created spaces that run counter to the paradigm of designing for comfort…they have designed a house that challenges. The floors undulate and are bumpy (yes, bumpy!), the plugs and switches are helter skelter and there is barely an even surface in the place.

The idea? In their sworn effort to defy death, they have made it their mission to design spaces which force work and adaptation, creating stronger, healthier individuals.

This got me thinking. When is it better to “make easy”, and when is it better to make things difficult? There are definitely parts of our process which, I know, push people outside of their comfort zone, and it’s the hard work and cognitive dissonance of being out of the status quo that often encourages superior results.

In one of our internal sessions a few years ago, we removed all the furniture and fittings from the center in order to force the group to consider what was truly necessary in a space. It was uncomfortable, but some great dialogue came out of it.

I’m curious; who designs their sessions with comfort and discomfort in mind? When, in your mind, does facilitation mean making things harder for people?

2 Responses to “Dificilitation…a challenge to our Pattern Language?”

  1. Daniel Rose
    April 4, 2008 at 4:45 pm #

    That’s a great question. I like the root of the word, “to make easy”. I would say that applies to the overall goal. If it’s difficult for people to be collaborative and creative, our work helps make that happen. The micro steps along the way may not be comfortable or easy but we know as facilitators that if they don’t do it, they won’t achieve their macro goals.

    Some things that I do to make things “difficult” might be to have participants force combine seemingly incongruous concepts, rapidly design solutions with little to no context, have them set the space (something you referred to), have images and music in the space that I feel will be somewhat unsettling.

    If the session is about a product evolution, having people go out into a public space to chat with customers is usually an uncomfortable experience for a lot of managers. Even having different levels from within a company can make things uncomfortable. Having a really junior person working side by side with a senior exec can make things uncomfortable, but I think that each needs to understand the other’s perspective.

  2. Aaron
    April 10, 2008 at 2:30 pm #

    A very good point, Daniel…with one kid and another on the way, I tend to think of everything from a parenting perspective these days, and something you said rings true with that; it’s not the uncomfortable little steps along the way, but the facilitation towards the macro goals that is the focus (I try to keep that in perspective with my son!)

    What I sense in your suggested approach, too, is the concept of stewardship as opposed to mere “emceeing”; taking the time to truly understand your client’s greater goals and being the person to help push them along the path to the final objectives.

    It is that outsider role and the stewardship that I find interesting in the context of this article. There is always the balance between wanting to keep a client happy on one hand and, on the other, applying the brutal compassion that is necessary to help them transcend their current struggle on the other.

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