Mike: ‘Let’s put a huge Google Maps marker flag on top of The Economist building so it appears on Google Earth.’ [Here’s one Aram Bartholl doing pretty much that:]

At the end of their first week, Mike asked each member of the team to produce a map of where they had been so far and to ‘sell’ their map to the rest of the team.

Three of the maps were 'geographic', in that they plotted where the team had been physically (they had been on a couple of ‘team-building’ trips in London and had been to Regent’s Park to have a meeting where they shared their own ‘big ideas’ for Project Red Stripe. Stewart had used Google Maps to record where they had been on their trips, while Steven used Google Earth to show his journey from Beijing, his natal Canada and the team’s current digs. Both were technically excellent and applauded by the rest of the team. Mike, who was the only one to remember his own instruction to ‘sell’ the map to the others, produced a map on tracing paper, which could be overlaid onto an atlas, given to others as a walking tour of London or resized on a photocopier.

It became clear from Mike’s comments that he had intended them to produce a physical map of where they had been, rather than something that would only qualify as a map in a fairly loosely metaphorical world. This immediately raised some anxieties among the others about whether they had done the exercise wrong and this, on and off, was to be an anxiety that recurred for some members of the group. Perhaps there’s a lesson here for innovation teams, where the notion of getting it right is even harder to pin down than it is for most teams. It’s a cliché in business that it’s only by making mistakes and getting things wrong that you learn how to get them right. So, in a group like this, it may be really important to work out at the start in what ways team members are allowed to get things wrong. It ought, according to the theory, to be an all-embracing acceptance, but getting things wrong by not turning up or not doing any work or consistently failing to meet self-imposed targets might be too much for any team to bear.

Six-second delay

[An enchanting possibility emerges from recent brain research and the making of mistakes:

‘we can predict the likelihood of someone making an error about six seconds in advance, with gradual changes starting as much as 30 seconds ahead of time’.

The research is reported in The Economist and the article goes on to suggest that people could wear hats that would alert others to the likelihood of them making a mistake. Clearly this relates only to certain types of task, at this stage, but the principle of detecting changing attention patterns could apply more broadly. Imagine the mounting pressure on a chess grandmaster or World Cup penalty-taker or business decision-maker or woman trying to decide whether to dump her bloke. Would a flashing dunce's cap (alerting themselves and others to the impending error) help prevent the error or increase stress levels to a point where a different error was more likely?]

On with the maps. Ludwig used a piece of visual content management software called TheBrain [which for a long time was the rabbit glue holding together your viewing experience here, before it got too clunky] to represent the areas that the project team had been working on rather than the geographic places they had visited. He was on something of a mission, announcing in his soft mid-Atlantic accent (which can make it hard to tell that he’s German until a word with a leading ‘w’ looms into view) that:

‘I no longer want to be the scribe, but if you want me to be the master of TheBrain, I can do that’.

The team never took him up on his offer and he continued to do most of the formal writing for the team, although he largely didn’t record their discussions any longer. In spite of his suggestion that the team used TheBrain to save and display information, they opted to use Central Desktop. With its traditional, hierarchical, information-storage structure, Central Desktop was perhaps not the most creatively useful software tool for them, though it made finding stuff easy and they used it for the next six months. [How much time should you devote at the outset to getting the technology right?]

Joanna (the only Feeler in a team with five other Thinkers according to their recent Myers-Briggs initiation: game and first set to Myers-Briggs) mapped, amongst other things, her feelings – which included hesitation, trepidation and excitement, though Gerard Fairtlough later told me that she seemed to him ‘to be the person who was the strongest’. Her map was on a single sheet of A4 and showed a series of loops (sharing ideas, getting to know each other, etc.) which all turned back on themselves and on each other. She said that the first week had ‘felt like you were planning your big overseas trip; you’d been out and bought your backpack, done your research, and so on’. It was the only thing I ever heard her say that betrayed her Australian origins, though her accent and High Rising Terminal did so in a different way, of course.

[You can listen to a sound file - not of Joanna - here.]

[You can read another account of the maps exercise - yes by Joanna - here.]

Joanna judged that the team was preparing itself before moving. She named ‘severe doubt’ and ‘fear’ amongst her feelings during the week – feelings that, in another context, might have been more fully addressed by the others. Here they were heard and the next map presentation began.

Tom (observing that ‘we have been places emotionally as well as physically’) had all sorts of stuff going on including Paradiso on coat hangers and labels on the spiral staircase and Inferno under the desks. You had to crawl under the desks and lie on the trailing sockets to read the contents of Inferno. Here were to be found:

  • Failure
  • No fun
  • Hell
  • Judging
  • No hope
  • Jealousy
  • Blame
  • Undeliverables
  • Bitterness
  • Disloyalty

Gerard Egan and Bill Tate have both written about managing and auditing the shadow side of the organisation – but few others have paid it much attention. (Although, of course, it lurks under every stone in conversations about corporate governance, business ethics and the like.) And here it was, being manifested before my eyes.

I think that every work group, project or process team, department or small business should have its own version of Inferno posted somewhere significant – just to remind themselves of the things they don't get to talk about. The contents should be as specific as possible – not just greed or ambition or lust, but clear examples of these shadowy 'behaviours' in action.


Giving permission for team members to get things wrong is the new mantra. But it may not be as simple as it seems. Obviously, there are times when you absolutely need them not to get things wrong. And some mistakes are much more fruitful than others. It’s probably helpful to come up with clear guidelines rather than a blanket permission, but there’s always a trade-off between control and opportunity.

Like teambuilding, or any other form of preparation, time spent getting the right systems and technology in place is - on the face of it - always time well spent. But things change. What if you use mind-mapping software that people don't know well or find well-suited to their needs? What if you adopt a more familiar and easy-to-use file management system but subsequently find that it unduly constrains information-sharing?

Paying attention early on to the 'shadow side' looks like the perfect solution to unspoken fears, tensions and rivalries. If you don't do it, you risk never addressing those issues. Do it, and you risk unsettling team members or replacing one set of unrealistic 'hope beliefs' with another set of 'failure fears'.


Google marker video: Aram Bartholl
Regent's Park photo - Francesco Gasparetti

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