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Liberating Structures Unleash Collective Intelligence

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, July 12, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012

How could you reliably get the worst results imaginable if you wanted to prevent infection in a hospital, help patients take care of their own health, get all shifts in a plant to agree on new hours, or launch a new product? What strategies and behaviors would it take to produce the most absolutely wretched outcome? And how many of these things are actually being done right now? The questions can have pretty funny answers, but the laughter that follows can lead to productive new questions and thoughtful discussion. Imagining the worst opens up new thoughts on how those destructive practices can be stopped so that the most valued goals and deepest purposes can be achieved.

Heretical thinking to design the worst possible system allows creative destruction, and that makes space for positive innovation. The exercise is called TRIZ, and it’s one of a growing number of Liberating Structures (LS) that members of small and large groups can use to make radical changes in the way they interact and work together. In their new website, Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless present an exhaustive explanation of this extraordinary collection of practices and processes they and other scholars and practitioners have developed over years of work with organizations. They tell how each structure works and how different structures can be used together. They present stories from the field illustrating how people in different professions, working on different issues, have used LS to overcome obstacles and find solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Lipmanowicz is former president of Merck International and Japan and a co-founder of Plexus Institute. His current passion is developing LS and disseminating them across all five continents. McCandless is a founding partner of the Social Invention Group who is skilled in business management, organizational development, complexity science, and graphic facilitation, all with an improvisational twist.

You can learn how Liberating Structures have been used in health care, education, leadership and innovation in organization in the US, the UK, Canada, Europe and South America. Liberating Structures are easy to learn and easy to use, and the new website takes visitors on a provocative and enjoyable learning adventure. There is edgy and surprising material here in stories, frequently asked questions, and assorted videos. Have you come across "wicked questions?” Here’s an example: How is it that evidence-based practice relies on practice-based evidence-making for generating scientific insights? Complexity scholar Brenda Zimmerman describes a wicked question as one that contains paradox, challenges sacred cows, and can serve to dislodge self-fulfilling prophesies. It’s the kind of question that exposes assumptions and lets us see the thought patterns that may have escaped our notice, and this LS website provides examples of how wicked questions can be used.

Want to know about Helping Heuristics, the 15% solution, or Improv Prototyping? Go to the Liberating Structure home page, scroll down, and you’ll find a chart with icons for 33 Liberating Structures. Click on any one that piques your interest, and you maybe surprised how simple processes can be used to probe complex issues and prompt new action to address them. Whether you’re a newcomer to complexity science, or experienced with its applications, this website has engaging and thought provoking content as well as the opportunity to ask questions and contribute your responses to blog posts. Click and enjoy!

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