Over the next few days, I will publish, in a few short extracts, a fascinating essay outlining some of the core concepts behind “group genius”, developed in the US in the 1980s by Matt and Gail Taylor (architect and teacher respectively).
Their work, some of the basic assumptions and claims of whihc are neatly summarised into the 14 axioms which this short essay pulls together, is the foundation for the work of PwC’s The Difference. This is PwC’s successful collaboration and collective problem solving practice which has been operating in Australia for over 10 years now.
The Difference, in turn, based firmly in the work of MG Taylor, provides some of the core practice disciplines for The Impact Assembly, a new venture on which I am now working, which PwC is building as part of its evolving social impact practice in Australia. More on that in the future.
This short essay pulls together the underlying ideas and assumptions in a very accessible and appealing way.
At a time when we are all rightly obsessed with good ways to work “better together” and learn the art and science of good collaboration, this brief introduction to a very deep and well practiced body of research and practice is worth reviewing.
Fundamental Principles of Collaborative Design: The MG Taylor Axioms Bryan S. Coffman 01/25/1998
[Author’s Note: The Axioms were developed by Matt and Gail Taylor in the early 1980’s based on their emerging experience and awareness of the principles that govern group genius. They were not originally predicated upon behavior of groups in DesignShop® ev ents, rather, they were noticed in a variety of other fields from architecture to education before they crystallized in the invention of the DesignShop process. Therefore, the axioms may be applied broadly beyond the scope of MG Taylor® products and servic es. Having said that, the following exposition of the axioms is my interpretation alone and may only casually resemble their original meaning. After all, to add someone else’s experience . . . ; – )]
The Value of Demonstrating the Unprovable
Beneath any practiced science or art lies a body of unproven propositions. The experienced practitioner holds that when these propositions are diligently applied, they secure the highest value and the most consistent reliability in results. A codified body of such unproven guideposts are called axioms.
This is the first of a series of articles which explain and explore the axioms and touch on how they apply to the design and implementation of DesignShop events and how they might be used in daily life as well.
The application of these axioms is both linear and nonlinear. As statements of fact, they can be accepted and applied directly, like a set of rules. When applied in this causal fashion, you may expect certain repeatable effects each time you invoke them. There is a one-to-one relationship between employing the axiom and experiencing its outcome. In this sense, they are reductionist and represent the nomenclature and anatomy of creativity as it is practiced in the MG Taylor approach to collaboration.
In another sense, they are holistic and require of the learner leaps of intuition to bridge the gap between understanding and application. One can learn the principles of good composition in art: they can be listed and memorized and identified in examples. However, applying these successfully in an original work requires the artist to fold them into her experience. There are no formulas. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the axiom and its expression. But you can see evidence of the axiom in the expression.
Experiment with these two ways of approaching the axioms. Apply them as rules and look to see the result. Fold them into your understanding of the nature of things, then begin designing events from a new perception of how things might work without trying to fit the axioms and your design together like some kind of puzzle. Make them your own as you learn to apply them.
The Bold Claim
Here’s the fundamental proposition: If the axioms are applied to a DesignShop process or any other collaborative event facilitated within the 7 Domains with diligence and discipline, the event will be successful. Period. Nothing else required. Quite a proposition.
But there’s no point in equivocating when attempting to divine the secrets of collaboration, group genius and creativity. Set a stake in the ground and survey the terrain around it. Then see if the map is of any long term value. Chances are you’ll disagree with several of the axioms or think of the whole set as incomplete. Whether you are correct in your analysis is largely irrelevant. This sounds like a demand for complete, unthinking acceptance of the axioms. Nothing could be further from the truth. The axioms must be challenged. But they can’t be challenged in the sterile caverns of intellectual argument, instead they are investigated in the field of practice. Apply them and observe the results.
There are thirteen or fourteen axioms, depending upon how they are written. I’ve chosen to represent them as fourteen–in this scheme, numbers four, five and six each stand on their own. Even if you’ve seen or heard them hundreds of time, take a few moments now to read them again. Hold a scenario or picture in your mind while you’re reading.
Here’s what I mean: imagine some portion of an organization you work with and see people within it applying the axioms (in whatever fashion you understand them at this point-there’s no expertise necessary for this exercise). If the people in your organization don’t practice the axioms, then invent imaginary situations in which they do practice them and follow these situations through in your thinking. If you’d like to be a bit more daring, picture an entire natural ecosystem (whether it’s a rain forest, or your own garden) and see how the axioms play out in a non-human world. Don’t make this exercise too analytical or cumbersome–just hold the images and scenarios lightly and see what pops up. Keep a personal journal of your ideas (many of which won’t be related to the axioms at all!).
No, I really mean it. Pick up a journal now and do this :-).
If you’re intrigued by what MG Taylor Corporation has been doing for the last 25 years, then you’ve arrived at the stillpoint, the center of the whole venture. Take time to understand these axioms.
1. The future is rational only in hindsight.
2. You can’t get there from here but you can get here from there.
3. Discovering you don’t know something is the first step to knowing it.
4. Everything someone tells you is true: they are reporting their experience of reality.
5. To argue with someone else’s experience is a waste of time.
6. To add someone else’s experience to your experience–to create a new experience–is possibly valuable.
7. You understand the instructions only after you have assembled the red wagon.
8. Everyone in this room has the answer. The purpose of this intense experience is to stimulate one, several, or all of us to extract and remember what we already know.
9. Creativity is the elimination of options.
10. If you can’t have fun with the problem, you will never solve it.
11. The only valid test of an idea, concept or theory is what it enables you to do.
12. In every adverse condition there are hundreds of possible solutions.
13. You fail until you succeed.
14. Nothing fails like success.
[The axioms will be repeated in the next installment, but Coffman plays about with their order and groups them into four sub-headings, which in turn says something more about their insights and impact. More soon…]