A part of the CT Labs engagement process – the most noticeable part – is the workshop element, the events. Events are where a client brings 1 or 501 friends, stakeholders and neighbors into open collaboration for a day or three, using our processes to enable innovation or transformation, as the situation may require.

The question asked around the client core team table is the same one asked after a wedding date has been chosen: who should we invite? Clients usually choose to go small, selecting a lesser subset than might be ideal, and they tend to invite their friends.

While this makes sense and is fundamental human nature, it adds substantial risk to the outcome – and remember, the outcome is not a happy-making event. The outcome is enabling the existence of something that previously did not, or even could not, exist.

Doing this sort of work effectively requires you to invite two groups of people:

  • the people who care; and
  • the people who will make the conversation difficult.

The second set are included in the first, but since you as a client may specifically exclude them, consciously or not, we mention them explicitly here. Your goal in putting together your attendee list is to represent the ENTIRE human system who will be affected by the change – not just the bits you like!

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Invite the people who care

Who will care? You are making changes. They will affect people. Who will they affect? This is an analysis we undertake along with our clients as part of preparatory work. If you are changing policy, don’t just invite policymakers. Invite the people who will be affected by the policy. Invite the people who will have to enforce the policy. Invite the people who will have to bring the policy into law. If you can, bring a couple honest brokers – people entirely outside the system who have nothing to gain or lose whatsoever . Sometimes they are the only ones who will name the elephant in the room.

Ensure your invitation list is broad and highly heterogeneous. If there will be conflict, if the policy will fail, let it fail here. Let it be stress tested in our living lab, where the space is designed to handle conflict, and to resolve it in the service of the required outcome.

Invite youth and the aged; they represent the future and wisdom. Invite men and women. Sit data entry clerks next to deputy ministers next to truck drivers next to chief executives. They are all human beings, they all have points of view. If they share an interest in the challenge under discussion, they deserve to be in the room. Even those who want nothing other than to stop your venture in its tracks.

Which brings us to the second group.


Invite the people who will make the conversation difficult

There are some people that you know will make talking difficult.  They’re the tough ones to invite. They’re the ones who are angry, or bitter, or obstructionist; who see the world in a radically different way or who “just don’t understand.”

Because if what you’re doing matters at all (and if you’ve come to work with us it probably matters a lot), then these people are going to stand up against you at some point. They are going to pick a battle.  And this battle may prove much more costly, much more detrimental, to the project, to your brand, to everyone, if you choose to save that battle for later.

No, you probably don’t want to pay for their coffee, much less for their travel. But you will pay a cost to those who would stand against you. You may pay it now, you may pay it later. From our experience, it’s less expensive, and more successful, to pay for hotel nights and coffee breaks now than to pay for lawyers, tarnished reputations, and poorer results further down the line.

In the worst possible case, your innovation will fail in our session. But it will be a controlled fail. It will be a financially manageable fail. And it will be a very well understood fail. You can have your initiative fail in the broad public eye, or you can have it fail in our labs. In the worst case, as I said, I can assure you that the latter choice will be far more palatable to all concerned than the former.

We believe that human systems are highly intelligent. Far more intelligent than any computer simulation could ever be. And the larger and more diverse the human system, if it is made up of caring individuals, even if they disagree with you passionately, the better the chance that you will find the optimal solution space if one is at all possible, and the quicker you will determine failure and its root causes, if that is necessary.

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Invite the people who care. All of them. We’ve had almost 400 caring, concerned people work together on a question for three days, and all of the time was highly functionally. Twice that number of participants would only be a matter of logistics – the methodology is highly robust. So invite the people who care.

And then invite the people who are going to make the conversation uncomfortable. You know who they are. Invite them. Because they care, even if they walk in the door holding the opposing point of view, working in our environment maximizes the potential that the assembled human system will develop the most robust solution set possible, if one exists.

Get the best set of people in the room that you can, and then enjoy yourself.

I assure you, we will.