Visioning a successful future: How to use visioning techniques in workshops

We use visioning techniques in almost every workshop because they are positive ways of aligning the team, stretching the project ambition, and creating a true project purpose beyond a boring objective. Visioning helps people to understand what a successful future looks and feels like, without getting bogged down in the day to day, or being worried about how to make things happen. Once people can imagine what the future could be together, the ideas of how to make it happen come more naturally.

In our visioning tools, we ask people to describe the future in 5 years’ time, when this project has been an amazing success. People work together to design what a positive future looks like, putting all their hopes, aspirations and emotions into that vision. We encourage future visions to be ambitious, optimistic and even idealistic.

Listen to this podcast where Pam reveals all about how to supercharge workshops and teams: here

Visioning helps the team to consider the positive impact that they can have on the future and creates a powerful emotional framing for the rest of the team’s journey together.

We use 3 simple visioning exercises:

Planet Of…
Newspaper Headline
Four Futures

I will usually explain all 3 techniques to people in a workshop, and give people the choice of which they’d like to use. You can also choose the best one that fits your team or project. Make sure people work in small teams of 3-5 people on a vision.‘

This is the most creative and fun visioning tool because people to draw rather than writing words, and we all get a bit playful when we draw. Turning thoughts into pictures rather than words can be a powerful way of holding meaning and memory. Sometime people worry about whether they can draw well enough, but once they get started they always surprise themselves and enjoy it more than they expected. This technique creates an actual picture, and in countless projects we’ve done, people remember that picture more than they remember any of the other words. The picture becomes a symbolic direction that helps keep the team on track.

‘Newspaper Headline’: Create the front page of a newspaper that features your project when it is successful in 5 years.

This visioning tool feels a little safer than the “Planet Of”, and yet it can be very creative too.  Because you are creating the story of your project that is worthy of being on the front page of a newspaper, it elevates the direction of the project and helps to people think of something highly impactful and more ambitious, in order to be newsworthy.  Then in the process of having to describe the lead story, the supporting image and the related news gives a bit more depth and colour to the vision.

‘Four Futures’ Exercise: Imagine what would people say about this project when it is successful in 5 years. 

This is a great one to use with more rational teams.  Never make it a general question, always think about 4 possible angles, or 4 types of person you’d want to be saying good things.  When we use it we ask what would I say to my friends and family about this project, what would my boss say about this project at the Christmas party, what would our competitors say to each other about us, and what would I overhear customers saying to each other in the supermarket (all when this project is a huge success).    

Imagining the project impact from four different perspectives means you create a very well-rounded vision of what success looks and feels like. When people present these sentences back it is always very energetic, and people enjoy hearing what each person has said – you tend to find lots of similar thoughts, but some really stand out funny and clever ones too.

Great future visions have been an excellent foundation to all the successful projects we have done over the years.  ‘The Hive’ is a charitable organization that was created with a Visioning Exercise. We were in a Project Bridge workshop on volunteering, and using the Planet Of technique, we created a planet with bees (people being busy) that were all pollinating different flowers (sharing information), then they said well at the center of that pollination was a hive (a centre for people and information).

The Hive is now a central resource for people in Portsmouth to share information and services, and is helping us build stronger and more connected communities in our quest to create the perfect planet of Portsmouth!

Why successful learning is all about earning people’s attention

Pam Hamilton has a few thoughts about how you can make your learning and development efforts stick. There are so many different things competing for our attention that we have to invest our time wisely. You can make a difference – here are a few ideas.

When you study creative writing, you learn that the best stories have something called ‘narrative traction’. This is the way the story pulls the reader in, posing questions that need answering and creating dramatic situations that the characters react to.

In a successful story, the reader is willingly led along a journey towards a resolution that feels both inevitable and yet surprising. Powerful stories deepen our understanding of the human experience and teach us something about ourselves.

We emerge changed for the better.

When it comes to training adults, it’s too easy to forget this. Whether it’s a new framework we want people to learn or a new behavior we want colleagues to adopt, too often we assume that all we need to do is tell them about it – and they will change.

One of the most difficult lessons I’ve learned in my years of designing adult learning journeys is that it’s not enough to write a good toolkit and hope people will read it. To misquote Field of Dreams, if you build it – they will not necessarily come. People don’t read anything anymore. And they don’t often listen either. Are you still reading this paragraph? Good – just checking.

Why don’t we read anything anymore? Too much information, too little time, and change fatigue have led to low motivation levels. It doesn’t matter whether a new toolkit is brilliant or if a new framework is going to make you better at your job – none of us have any attention left to invest.

“We talk about ‘paying attention’, and it’s more difficult than ever to do so.”

There are so many different things competing for our attention that we have to invest our time wisely.

Businesses today face a tsunami of learning needs, but traditional training and online learning are falling well short. In a recent McKinsey study, 87% of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in their workforce, 70% of employees say they don’t have mastery of the skills needed to do their jobs, and 41% of the global workforce are considering handing in their resignation.

However, Harvard Business Review says that 75% of 1500 managers surveyed from 50 organizations were dissatisfied with their company’s learning and development function, with only 12% of employees applying new skills learned in L&D programs to their jobs; and only 25% believing that training measurably improved performance.

I’m sure you will agree with me – every adult learning journey seeks to create behavior change – but you will also admit that we are creatures of habit and behavior change is hard. If we are going to change people’s behavior, first we need to change how they feel. We have to draw them in, tempt them, surprise them, entertain them, delight them. We have to simplify it for them. And we have to earn people’s attention to do all of that.

At the Global Education Summit in 2021, Seth Godin said “Gamification will continue to play an increasing role in how education will adapt in the future”.

We have to gamify learning, we have to entertain our learners. To combat attention deficit, provide learning in bite-sized chunks. To draw people in, use visually powerful materials like infographics, film and animations.

For entertainment, encourage peer cohorts, a sense of a shared experience. To gamify, use quizzes, competitions and develop skills in teams. And to cut through, boil down to the bare essence of the learning message, and then allow people to pull themselves along the learning journey because they want to understand more.

“In today’s competitive corporate environment, almost every company has access to the same information but it’s how that information is brought to life, actioned and applied that ultimately makes all the difference to performance, whether as individuals, teams or at a company-wide level.”

The same goes for adult learning. We can teach people new frameworks, approaches, or toolkits, but it’s how we bring them to life that will make them memorable and behaviour changing.

Successful learning journeys for adults need to create a sense of narrative traction, engaging you on a journey from the start and pulling you along, keeping you motivated through the whole narrative arc until you reach the end.

And like any good story, you reach the end, still yourself, but also somehow changed for the better.

First published by Unleashed

Building deep consumer connection through immersive consumer experiences

Businesses have been realising for some time that the only way to develop their edge is by genuinely putting their consumers at the centre of their business. What’s changed though, is it’s just not Insight or Marketing who should be the voice of the consumer. Everyone – Commercial, Finance, Sales should feel closely connected to their end user. In fact, the most consistently successful companies (think The Four Seasons, Apple, Amazon) mandate all stakeholders have their consumer at the forefront of their mind whenever a business decision is made.

To date, this is something most organisations have only paid lip service to. However, greater access to information and the rise of social media has created a more savvy, sceptical, demanding, empowered and confident consumer– one that is not afraid to call bullshit when a company is clearly not focused on categorically meeting their needs.

To walk the talk, Insights needs to be firmly placed at the centre of a business and it is this team that needs to lead the rest of the company into the world of consumers. No more doorstop PowerPoint decks, no more high level, esoteric insights which sound good, but leave you emotionally cold and strategically lost. The focus needs to be on:

  • Motivating connection – making it simple to step into the world of the consumer
  • Provoking emotion – do it well. Develop content that gets the whole business feeling the consumer. Cheering for them even. Be motivated to really try and help them
  • Stimulating action – where the business so deeply ‘gets’ the consumer, that creating a solution is intuitive. Effortless even.

All nice ideas, but the question is how?

The concept of bringing insight to life is not new. Over the last decade (give or take) clients have been progressively attracted to agencies offering creative services. Taking the tomes that are U&As, consumer data and qual reports and translating them into something beautiful, tangible relatable and most importantly usable.

With developments in technology and the growing field of design research, the opportunity now exists to take this a step further – creating deeper more immersive consumers experiences for clients that truly allow them to step into and explore their world.

At Paraffin, we have taken this step. Whilst still offering powerful infographics and evocative consumer films, we also now translate sharp insights into 3D design expressions which invites our clients and all their stakeholders to step into the world and really get under the skin of their consumers. The incorporation of visual and sensorial cues create a shift from people nodding their heads saying ‘yes, that seems right’ to ‘oh my gosh, this totally reminds me of my sister, brother, father, mum, teacher….or even myself.’ Powerful stuff.

Talk to us about connecting deeply with your consumers and building a consumer-centric mindset with immersive consumer experiences.

Style and substance: Why good content design is good business

Thomas Watson Jr. said “Good design is good business” and here at Paraffin, we couldn’t agree more. Our in-house design team carefully designs every single piece of content we create; from workshop invites to comprehensive toolkits and everything in between. This is not to say that excellent, inspiring and thought-provoking content is not important. High quality content is the foundation of everything we do, but beautiful design ensures that our content is user-friendly, easy to digest and seamlessly leads to action.

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good design fits our needs so well that the design is invisible” (Donald A. Norman).

Design thinking has a human-centred core. We might be designing infographics or powerpoint slides rather than computers or handbags, but the user experience is still central to everything we create.

In this article, we’ll share three reasons why we believe style is just as important as substance:

  1. Humans are visual creatures

Vision has always been the most dominant sense for humans; in the past it allowed us to quickly assess major threats, potential food supplies and reproductive opportunities quickly and efficiently. We are incredible at remembering pictures: hear a piece of information and 3 days later, you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65% (source). Pictures beat text every time because reading is so inefficient: our brains see words as lots of tiny pictures and we have to identify certain features in the words to be able to read them, which takes time. The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text (source). As technology has progressed, we’ve seen this human love of pictures mirrored in increasingly sophisticated visual digital offerings, from social media to online learning and e-commerce.

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today” (Robert McKee). 

It’s clear we live in a visual society but what does this mean for the design of our content, in practise? We don’t simply present data; instead we marry meaningful content with beautiful design to tell engaging visual stories which are memorable and inspire people to act. The journeys and experiences we create may be in the form of short films, carefully designed infographics or clever slides. Careful copy writing ensures that we never use more words than are absolutely necessary.

  1. Our clients are overloaded with information

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” (Herbert Simon). 

We are blessed, and cursed, by an abundance of information and knowledge. In both our personal and business lives, we spend our days bombarded by e-mails, articles, research, social media posts, Whatsapp messages and more. Psychologists have long acknowledged that human beings have a very limited ability to store and process information. Influential psychologist George Armitage Miller proposed that people can only process about seven pieces of information at a time (source) and that when overloaded with information, people make poorer decisions.

With this understanding of human psychology in mind, we ensure that our content is as simple as possible; that we “chunk” connected information together into stories and that our use of visuals enhances the end user experience and makes our content easier to process and remember.

  1. Superior design delivers a better return on investment

“Design is intelligence made visible” (Alina Wheeler).

Some agencies might argue that what you say is far more important than how it is presented, but at Paraffin, we believe that superior design maximises the investment that our clients have made.

A focus on style and substance in everything we do ensures that we get the most value out of the information we want to share as well as the clients who are working with the content; ultimately leading to the most competitive results. In today’s competitive corporate environment, almost every company has access to the same information but it’s how that information is actioned that ultimately makes all the difference.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can bring our signature Paraffin style to your project or business question, please contact us.

Design thinking in a hybrid world

The biggest surprise during covid was that online design thinking journeys have proved far more successful than in person workshops ever were.

As innovation facilitator, my job is to harness and activate the collective intelligence of a team of people so they can create better ideas than their competitors and grow their brands.  I’m the author of The Workshop Book, and my agency leads innovation projects for global teams at Unilever, Diageo, GSK and Essity.

Pre COVID, we were all used to doing most stages of important innovation journeys in person, which meant that they were attended by the senior extroverts who were based in the right location or could afford to travel to meet for intensive in-person experiences.

When we moved all our innovation journeys fully online by necessity, we were both shocked and surprised to see how much more commercially successful the experience, engagement, and outputs were. The main reason for this positive shift was the change in our use of people’s time and attention.

Instead of the intensive 4-8 hour in-person workshop sessions where the most extroverted, confident people were heard, online meant we split the journey into smaller, tighter engagements across a week or two. This not only allowed a far more diverse group to join from other locations, it meant that people had downtime and reflection time between sessions, both of which helped introverts and neuro-diverse thinkers to participate in ways they weren’t able to before. I saw our workshops became far more diverse, global, democratic and, despite what many feared with the addition of tech platforms, far more human-centred.

However, as we come back to a past-pandemic hybrid world, where some teams will now be in-person and some will join online, our greatest challenge is to remember what we learned, rather than going backwards to the bad old days of an in-person team getting all the airtime and someone joining remotely from a spluttering conference call phone on a desk, completely forgotten about. New hybrid working models bring a fresh challenge to design thinking, particularly if you are considering some team members joining working sessions in-person and others joining remotely, because it creates an imbalance of power that needs to be addressed rather than ignored.

The reason fully remote, online design thinking journeys work so well is that every team member has equal access to information and an equally powerful voice to help to guide and shape the outcomes at each stage.  To put it simply, when we are all square boxes on Zoom (with cameras on and in full participation mode), we are all equal and included, especially when we are given time between sessions to refine our thinking and contribute ideas.  Particularly when user empathy, constructive challenges, rule-breaking ideation and prototyping are crucial, online brings better engagement for each of those stages.

Play is the highest form of research: Einstein

‘Life is a serious business. But new research shows that the way to get the most out of it is to be more playful. So get out there and have some fun!’

Play and a playful attitude are not just enjoyable, they are essential ingredients for best business planning and personal development. We understand this at Paraffin and directly implement this into our workshop design.

Let’s define our terms. In English, play is the opposite of work. But the act itself is more complex. As psychiatrist Dr Stuart Brown puts it: ‘The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.’ He believes that play, of any kind (there are seven different types, from ‘object play’ to ‘narrative play and storytelling’), is essential to brain development. ‘Nothing,’ he says, ‘lights up the brain like play.’

We know this instinctively when it comes to bringing up children. But research shows that adults need to play, and be playful, too. Prioritising it might seem frivolous when we live in a planet-sized tangle of problems and injustices. However, these problems need creative solutions. What if play could help us find them? What if play was one of them? Dr Brown is just one scientist who suggests it is. Einstein was another. In his words: ‘Play is the highest form of research.’

Play isn’t slothful, it’s useful. It is recreation with the emphasis on the last three syllables. Play is indispensable to human progress and good for individuals. A culture that encourages it will enjoy cumulative benefits. Denmark – officially the happiest country on earth – is an example. Flexible work and free childcare are the norm, which means more free time. In addition, there is greater gender equality and a work-to-live culture that includes the expectation that people should pursue private interests.

But play isn’t only a human luxury. We know that goats play, dogs play, monkeys play and humans play. You don’t have to be taught it and there is an evolutionary reason for that. By abandoning play, we’re abandoning an important part of ourselves.

Certain kinds of play are more geared toward learning, discovery and curiosity such as cooking, or composing a song- you might throw some ingredients in a pan simply because it is fun to do so, the focus is on play rather than the finished product so nurture your creation as it cooks rather than waiting for an expectation of a finished product. You might be plucking at random strings on a guitar and discover musical patterns you hadn’t noticed before that once organically experienced become forever part of your skill set. There is no need to sit and learn it – you have found it through play.

On the other hand, when you’re building a block tower, or putting together a motor, that kind of imaginative development has a learning goal, and we’re moving toward it through our exploration.

We devise creative tasks in workshop so delegates can enjoy group play in problem solving, dialogue and deliberation. An experimental approach in the workplace, to tasks as well as the structure of the working day, can boost productivity and profits. ‘Smart’ not ‘hard’ is the new way to work.

We encourage you to use play in workshops. Some examples could be:

  • Sculpture competition.  Ask different teams to physically create an ideal world, for example their dream office, the perfect planet, or the perfect job.  Give each team a different set of materials to use like playdoh, kinex, pipe cleaners or arts and crafts materials. Through play, participants will express their imagination, use analogies and find new perspectives to think from.  Laughter releases endorphins and help the brain to think faster and more creatively.
  • Play a game or compete in a quiz. Present each team with a basket of products and boards with different amounts on and challenge them to match the price with the product. Create a true or false quiz with some trick questions that help your participants bust some myths about their consumer.  Gentle (or even fierce!) competition is great to get people engaged, energetic and paying attention, and a time limit or score adds excitement.
  • Drawing outside of the lines. In pairs ask people to draw portraits of each other but you can’t take your pen off the page and you only have 30 seconds to do it! NEW RULE You can only draw your partners face using geometrical shapes NEW RULE You have 10 seconds to draw your partner only using horizontal lines. This encourages creativity without judgement- you can then ask people to take these drawings and turn them into product shapes or packaging ideas.
  • Consequences-  Fold a piece of paper over and pass it around the team members. Each line has an instruction, when unfolded and read out at the end it will make a new story. The instructions make the story make grammatical sense. You can adapt this game to fit the objectives of a workshop.

Once upon a time ——- met ——-

He said ———-

She said————

And the consequence was————-

Nonsense may come out of the game, but the outcomes are a productive conversation starter, or a set of new perspectives from which to view the problem.  Games and play keep energy up throughout the workshop, constantly navigating participants back to the topics, to team dynamics and objectives.

For more information please find the full articles here:

For more on the benefits of play, also see Brigid Schulte’s book:

Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time.