At Open we identify and examine customer issues. At DNA we deliver on that thinking.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein

Making ideas work

Old – meet new

Sherryn Macdonald November 2012

De Bono meet theatre tools. Maslow meet The Business Model Canvas. 

Old models are old for a reason. They have stood the test of time. They made sense at the time and they continue to make sense. Much of this is due to their simplicity. Six hats, each representing a human mode of thinking. Five hierarchies, each representing a human need. Such simplicity means they still have life and value in them, you just have to look to apply them in new ways. More recently I threw De Bono's hats into the theatre ring.

I was introduced to the power of theatre by Adam St John Lawrence (@adamstjohn) of WorkPlayExperience in his workshop at the Service Design Global Conference 2011. The mantra, Doing Not Talking, means you have to get up and try stuff out. Learning comes from the doing and the experiencing. It's a process you have to lean into. The leaning does get easier.

Facilitating a spatial co-create session, I invited stakeholders, staff and customers to lean into the theatre process with me. First off, we broke open the usually hidden dusty dark corners of the Black Hat (the Devil's advocate who judges why something won't work). Creating a new technique now named 'Chuck A Chicken', everyone got to throw a squeaky rubber chicken at the wall while asserting their issues of the project. Rubber chickens are a ubiquitous theatre tool. Check out #rubberchicken on Twitter.

An essential theatre technique in service design is playing out a likely service scenario and progressively iterating it. In the space to be designed, staff played out customers, stakeholders played out staff and the rest of the group played the crowd. Playing out different roles enables participants to put on the Red Hat (emotion) and truely feel what its like to be that person in that situation. Empathy is a powerful emotion.

Being in the crowd enables participants to absorb the macro view of the service scenario. Putting on the Green Hat (creativity), they can yell "cut" at any point, interjecting with an idea to improve the experience. In the spirit of Doing Not Talking, you show your idea by moving the props, adding props, introducing a new role, taking over an existing role. Moving people about means everyone gets to wear different hats.

De Bono's hats are a way of organising thinking. Theatre is a way of experiencing our thinking. A perfect meeting I will be repeating.

As for Maslow and The Business Model Canvas, that's another post.



Sherryn Macdonald 27 November 2012 at 5:32pm

Thanks Adam - excellent resource.

I am fast developing an appreciation of theatre techniques. The more I do, the more I learn and want to do more.

Master point about the cheapest and fastest prototype tool - could just be the tipping point in getting people to try.


Adam Lawrence 26 November 2012 at 1:38am

Hi Sherryn,

Oh yes, there is plenty of room to experiment and expand on these techniques.

I love using theatrical techniques - they are the only prototyping tool I know which can cope with emotion with any degree of fidelity. And I find that, once we use our whole bodies in our work, emotion becomes far more present, and many questions just evaporate. It's also the cheapest, fastest prototype I know. "Stand up; you are ready!"

If you want to look deeper into this and other service development techniques borrowed from theater, check out the latest Touchpoint "Service Design on Stage".

Sherryn Macdonald 21 November 2012 at 4:54pm

Brilliant. Thanks Adam for inspiring variants to the process.

Really liking this open dialogue which advances learning by doing in this newish space of theatre and service design (at least in NZ). Is rather like your Third Rule "Use What You Have"


Adam Lawrence 20 November 2012 at 11:15pm

Thanks for the reply, Sherryn.

Our work integrates whatever models and knowledge are in the room - it is part of our Third Rule of "Use what you have" - which includes the contents of everyone's heads.

This mostly comes to play in our second, "Understanding" phase where we run the scene using only the "Stop" command, without changing anything at all. We pause the scene to point out anything which anyone notices - body language, semantics, positioning in the room, handling of props, whatever - comment on it without any evaluation, then resume the scene without changing it. People often bring up their knowledge of NLP, various personality models and so on in this phase.

The final phase then includes changing the scene as you describe above. We usually only "rewind" to the last practical break, though - we are interested in keeping things moving very fast, generating many alternatives, and losing all feeling of individual authorship.

(We describe our three-phase technique "Investigative Rehearsal" in Touchpoint 3.3. Let me know if you need a copy.)

I would urge great caution with video, unless the group is extremely confident. It can massively injure the atmosphere of Safe Space, which I consider the single most important success factor for these tools.

Cheers and keep rocking!


Sherryn Macdonald 20 November 2012 at 6:12pm

Hi Matt

Yes. After each "cut" the entire scene was replayed.
The value in going back to the beginning each time was to see the full effect on the experience from interjecting just one idea.

What I did not mention in the post was taking the time to reflect and learn after playing out each iterated scene. The crowd reflects on the macro view "what did we notice?" and players reflect on themselves "how did you feel?" The macro view is great for seeing changes to the flow and synchronisation of the service experience within the space. This also gives cues for supporting process and system design.

Am sure others play out the replay process differently according to the goal of the session – be interested to hear from people how and to what effect

With regards to capturing the iterations, video is ideal - also great for spotting nuances missed (behaviours, language, expressions) and of course for extended stakeholder engagement. Unfortunately, due to seemingly insurmountable pragmatics, we did not video. Live and learn!

What I did do was capture each change noticed during the reflect and learn time – using the one idea per PostIt rule. These can then be mapped to the interjecting idea or to each other (illustrating common problems and shared solutions)

So..what do you think about enabling such techniques at GSJ13 Matt? See you there!

Matt Currie 20 November 2012 at 3:05pm

Great story Sherryn. I like the yelling cut technique for iterating the service scenario on the fly. Do you restart the roleplay after each interjection? How do you capture the evolving scenario for use after the workshop?

Sherryn Macdonald 20 November 2012 at 11:44am

Hi Adam,

Thanks for your interest

Most definitely a preliminary lens. Both De Bono's hats and theatre tools were integral in the initial shaping of the session framework. Some of the participants (stakeholder and staff) had been part of a team coached in using the hats as design thinking tools. For the other participants a very high level interactive 'hat' intro was given.

We found that little intro was actually needed. As mentioned in my post, the simplicity of the hats enables people to quickly grasp the concept of differing types of thinking. Your mantra of 'show me, don't tell me' easily moved people into acting out their thinking. Another plus in having the hat concept socialised with the group was using a specific 'hat' to refocus the largish group (24) when it started to spiral into theatre bedlam.

No tangible 'hats' were actually used. There was enough going on with chickens and props. Am sure you can attest to this.

I hear you regarding chicken use. They are a tool to be respected.
In this instance, no chickens were harmed.

Be interested if you integrate any other models of thinking with your theatre expertise,

Adam Lawrence 19 November 2012 at 10:07pm

Sherryn, thanks for the mention!
Tell me, how did you handle the "hat" theme during the workshop - or was it a more retrospective lens here?
Cheers and use your chicken wisely,

What do you think?