Label Free Zone

New York

In the run up to last week’s Unconference, Tim Casswell and I were talking about the toys we were going to play with, or if you prefer, some methods we were going to utilise (yawn).

Guests at the event had been invited to prepare Pecha Kuchas as a way of seeding some ideas into the day, and we were going to use the World Café method to facilitate conversations.

Tim was railing against the processes, saying something like ‘This Pecha Kucha stuff is too restrictive, artists don’t like being told what to do’, and ‘Who cares that it’s called a World Café? Naming all this stuff just means you Doug, have to waste time explaining to people that they are going to hear a few short talks and have some great conversations!’

I take Tim’s point about a Pecha Kucha being restrictive, given that once you press play, your slides (all 20 of them) are each on screen for 20 seconds before autoforwarding to the next one. It’s extreme sports for presenters and though not for everyone, I think this method is very helpful in encouraging people to get a point across quite quickly. So we kind of agreed to disagree on this one.

The point about naming stuff though – that was a lightbulb moment for me. ‘OK Tim’ I said, ‘Tomorrow will be a label free zone’, and between us, we worked hard to make it so. I confess the term Pecha Kucha did creep in once or twice but not a mention of World Café, just conversations. And it worked – powerfully.

I think we have a tendency to over-complicate stuff. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s a sense of insecurity that convinces us that our work has to be tricky to understand, and so helps ensure our survival in the workplace hierarchy? Simplification strikes me as really powerful, simplification breaks down barriers. If we take last week’s event as an example I believe one of the reasons people responded to the opportunity so positively was that it we made any process very simple to understand.

That simplification left everyone’s brains free to respond to the much more interesting and useful challenges like defining ‘Why are we here today?’ ‘What do we want to talk about?’ ‘How are we going to make today’s conversations into tomorrow’s reality?’ None of these are easy questions to answer but thanks to an uncomplicated and largely label free approach, I think we helped make it easier for people to engage with something more meaningful to them.


I’m catching up on some reading and this post on The Future of L&D by David Goddin caught my eye. In the post, David says that ‘The opportunity is for the L&D function to engage more consultatively with the business’. I agree, and though I’m biased I think this is why a sales background can be so useful in business. Great sales people inherently ‘get’ the consultative approach, and so from the start appreciate the critical importance of relationships.

We often hear people use phrases like ‘I can relate to Sophie because she talks my language’, and I think that understanding is best forged from a balance of taking the time to understand the other person’s business/perspective/environment, and keeping things simple. This second point is less well practiced, and the comments in David’s blog posts are well worth a read as they dig into this area in more detail.

The simplicity of work matters.

photo credit

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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