"As the pandemic was spreading and we went in lock-down, the teams I am coaching got caught in the panic: how can we continue collaboration now? At one customer we had an upcoming large review and planning scheduled with more than 25 people. In a bit of panic they turned to me as their coach: we urgently need tools and tips for doing this remotely! I convinced them to first Take Time To Think. The end result was a remote review and planning session that went very well and even better than the face-2-face sessions we did in the past with the same group. The price-to-pay was to take time to think about the problem-to-be-solved and invest in a solid preparation".

Take Time To Think … about the problem, before you jump in solution mode

During this pandemic crisis we get bombarded with the 4 T's of working remotely: Tools, Technologies, Tips and Tricks. But there are 4 T's that are so much more important: Take Time To Think! When taking on the challenges of working remotely, you should take some time to think about the problem you are trying to solve before jumping into solution mode or action mode.

The value of "negative capability"

As we grow up and get "educated" we learn to develop all kinds of "positive capabilities": problem solving, action orientation, result orientation, ... . However, in that process many people unlearn what John Keats called "negative capability", which is an essential capability for anyone hoping to find a creative answer to a challenging problem.

"Negative Capability is when someone is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason" John Keats, 1817

Not only artists practice negative capability (either consciously or unconsciously), also designers should know this skill all too well. As Don Norman explained, the most difficult part of design is to figure out what is really needed. You need to get to the root of an issue and solve the correct problem.

"A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all. Solve the correct problem!" Don Norman, 2013

In a world where some designers prefer to call themselves hackers and where every problem needs a solution in a short sprint, we seem to unlearn the indispensable skill of negative capability. Yet, it is one of the most essential skills in creativity.

Threon's collaboration canvas

Before jumping into problem solving mode or just start using those wonderful tools, technologies, tips and tricks, you need to spend time and energy pondering the question: what problem are we trying to solve? But the fear of a blank sheet of paper can be so overwhelming that you get stuck. To get you going, you can use Threon's canvas for designing collaborative work forms like meetings, workshops, training courses, webinars, ... . This canvas helps you frame your thoughts as you explore the problem you are trying to solve.

There are two dimensions in Threon's collaboration design canvas:

  • looking at groups vs looking at individuals
  • looking above the surface at the clearly observable things vs trying to look below the surface at unconscious aspects

At the clearly observable level, you need to think about all aspects relating to:

  • Individual input;
  • Dynamic interaction;
  • Co-creation.

At the unconscious level, you need to think about all aspects relating to:

  • Strengthening self-efficacy (or a person's perception of or person's belief in his or her ability to succeed to accomplish a task or master a challenge);
  • Avoiding chaos induced anxiety (as most people, but not all, experience chaotic situations as unsettling and anxiety inducing);
  • Building psychological safety in teams (or building a group's ability to make all members feel safe to show their self and contribute fully without fear of negative consequences, embarrassment, marginalization or punishment of any kind).

This results in six "problem zones" in Threon's Collaboration Design Canvas, as shown in the first drawing below this blog.

​Mapping the possible solutions to the canvas

When starting to map the problems-to-be-solved on this canvas, it helps to have an overlay of what types of solutions you will need to come up with. In Threon's collaboration design canvas there are six types of solutions:

  • Visualization
  • Structure
  • Methods & Approach
  • Roles
  • Tools & Technology
  • Rules & Etiquette

This results in six types of solutions in combination with six problem zones, as shown in the second picture below.

Morph the canvas to fit with the challenge at hand

Before you kick into action, there is one thing left to do: you need to morph the canvas to fit the challenge you are facing. Designing a (remote) workshop is something completely different than designing a webinar. Improving your (remote) meetings is something completely different than setting up a (remote) co-creation workshop. The way to morph your canvas is to enlarge or shrink areas to fit their relative importance in the challenge at hand. E.g. for a co-creation workshop the collective creativity is much more important than individual input.

When designing a webinar, the picture is completely different: the individual side becomes most important and a lot of attention has to go to the structure solution area. A webinar's structure can be designed to fully cover the needs for dynamic interaction and individual input. But you can never fully control the unconscious side.

Example: co-creation workshop

Once you have morphed the canvas to the challenge-at-hand, you can fill it up with things-to-consider. Below you can see how the third picture could look like if you were designing a remote co-creation workshop.

French, Robert. (2001). “Negative capability”: Managing the confusing uncertainties of change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 14, 480-492
Keats, J. (1970), In Gittings, R. (Ed.), The letters of John Keats: a selection, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Norman, Don. (2013), The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition, Basic books, New York.

Jurgen Denul

Jurgen Denul
Sr. Lean Agile Consultant at Threon

Contact me