A timeline of the use and spread of the term "Group Genius"

1980: Inspired by her observations and reflections on her time teaching second grade in the late 1960’s and her exposure to the work of Lawrence Halprin, Gail Taylor coins the term. It finds its way into the business planning documents and collateral of Taylor Associates in the early 1980's.

1997: Fast Company Magazine publishes Group Genius, a feature article on Matt and Gail Taylor and the DesignShop process they created with MG Taylor Corporation (formerly Taylor Associates).

1998: Leaping the Abyss: Putting Group Genius to Work, by Chris Peterson and Gayle Pergamit published by Knowhere Press. This book was the first, comprehensive mass market publication detailing the MG Taylor frameworks, processes and methods. Currently unavailable in print at a reasonable price, the book is available for free online.

1999: The Foresight Institute, where Leaping the Abyss authors were Senior Associates, hosts Group Genius Weekend at the Knowhere Store in Palo Alto, California. This marked the first appearance of the Group Genius logo (pictured below right) created by Christopher Fuller and Claire Arias.

2000: The inaugral "Group Genius Awards" are presented by MG Taylor to individuals, event teams, and NavCenters that exemplify Group Genius in how they work and release creativity in groups.

Around 2004, Architectz of Group Genius forms as a design consultancy in Milan, Italy, inspired by the work and methodology of Matt and Gail Taylor.

2007: Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration by Keith Sawyer, a renowned and highly regarded scholar on the science of creativity, is published. So far as we can tell, this is the first public appearance of the term not directly connected with the original usage of the term, though the context and meaning has much overlap. The book has been well received and is typically receives the highest Google page rank when doing a search for “group genius."

2014: The Difference Australia, a subsidary of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, launches a promotional video that appropriates the term, indirectly referencing the Taylor methodology as a core source of their own methodology. Gail and Matt are frequent advisors, educators and co-designers to The Difference Australia team.

2014: Tomorrow Maker Todd Johnston appears at TEDx Livermore and gives a Talk on several of the core conditions that contribute to the realization of Group Genius.


TEDx Livermore: Uncorking Creativity with Group Genius

Screenshot from Todd's TEDx Livermore Talk via LivestreamNote: The following is the written version of my talk at TEDxLivermore: Uncorking Creativity on September 20, 2014. When the talk is available online, a link will be posted here.


Good morning.

I want to begin with a simple assertion:

To be human is to be creative..

It is in our nature. Unlike batteries, creativity is included in the package.

Now, we may each have our own means of expressing this creativity, and our own perception of our creativity relative to other people may vary.

And, certainly, good arguments have been made that as we grow up and are socialized into the world, our abilities to tap into and express our creativity may diminish if they are not developed and practiced.

But at a fundamental level, whether it is expressed by baking cakes or writing code, painting portraits or snapping selfies, architecting buildings or building businesses, we are all innately and unavoidably creative.

And it is this creativity which lies within each of us that has largely brought about and enabled the world we live in, with all of it’s incredible in its beauty, sophistication and capability.

And, we have no reason not to think that immeasurable good things will continue to be brought into the world with this creative force.

And yet...

The sum of our creativity is not enough.

It is not enough to solve for the kind of complex problems that we, as a species have and will continue to create as a natural course of our lives.

It is not going to be enough to solve the challenges that matter most in our organizations, institutions, communities, ecosystems and so forth..

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Spark Card: Finding New Search Images

We are prepared to see, and we see easily, things for which our language and culture hand us ready-made labels. When those labels are lacking, even though the phenomena may be all around us, we may quite easily fail to see them at all. The perceptual attractors that we each possess are the filters through which we scan and sort reality, and thereby they determine what we perceive on high and low levels. - Douglas Hofstadter
todd_0755.jpgHofstadter's 'perceptual attractors' are what we call search images. These images are the perceptual cues we look for to identify and assess the systems that make up our world. Kevin Kelly's Out of Control, Chapter 4: Assembling Complexity, provides a great example by telling the story of what ecologist Steve Packard learned over numerous attempts to grow a prairie from scratch. He has some of the necessary search images going into his exploration, but they proved insufficient:

... He felt yet another ingredient must be missing which prevented a living system from snapping together. He started reading the botanical history of the area and studying the oddball species...

"What the heck is this?" he'd asked the botanist. "It's not in the books, it's not listed in the state catalogue of species. What is it?" The botanist had said, "I don't know. It could be a savanna blazing star, but there aren't any savannas here, so it couldn't be that. Don't know what is." What one is not looking for, one does not see.

... An epiphany of sorts overtook Packard when he watched the piles of his seed accumulate in his garage. The prairie seed mix was dry and fluffy-like grass seed. The emerging savanna seed collection, on the other hand, was "multicolored handfuls of lumpy, oozy, glop," ripe with pulpy seeds and dried fruits. Not by wind, but by animals and birds did these seeds disperse. The thing -- the system of coevolved, interlocking organisms -- he was seeking to restore was not a mere prairie, but a prairie with trees: a savanna... once Packard got a "search image" of the savanna in his mind, he began to see evidence of it everywhere.

What search images are you using to identify the key ingredients and instructions for assembling the project or venture you're working on?

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Spark Card: Build A Model

Words - whether exchanged through conversation or composed into a written document - can get us only so far in expressing ideas. Our words are abstractions that live purely in our heads, and rely upon shared, implicit assumptions of what they mean and represent.

Get out of your heads and put your hands to work!

Use any physical materials you have available and build a three-dimensional model of your idea. Make it as detailed and explicit as you can - bring the idea that lives in your head to life in the space where your working.

Our are typically outfitted with “modeling kits” for just this purpose. These may include items such as clay, foam, wire, string, construction paper, popsickle sticks, egg cartons, wooden dowels, straws, sacks, glue, tape, and all sorts of other odds and ends. In our view, no social or group meeting space is complete without resources and tools that enable 3-dimensional model building.

This is the fourth in a series of Spark Cards being published to the Tomorrow Makers Journal.

Spark Card: Why It Won't Work

Having doubts about an idea? Do you see gaps, oversights, unsound assumptions? Is there an elephant in the room that no one is talking about?

Take 10 minutes and storm a WorkWall (or whatever whiteboard you have available) with all the reasons the idea in front of you just won’t work. Don’t try to refute or defend your reasons - just let them all pour forth.

After you’ve exhausted your selves of why it won’t work, step back and take a look at all the reasons you've listed.

Cluster them into groups of likeness & similarity. For each cluster, what are the underlying assumptions and reasonings?

Which are rooted in fear - fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of what other people may think or do? Which of these clusters are within your power to change? This is where to focus your energy -  turn these ‘reasons for failure’ into design specifications for success!

This is the third in a series of Spark Cards being published to the Tomorrow Makers Journal.

Spark Card: Humor Yourselves

“If you can’t have fun with the problem, you will never solve it.”
- MG Taylor Axiom

"No ha-ha, no ah-ha."
- My version of the same

Humor plays a huge role in our ability to solve problems.  When two or more ideas come together in an unexpected way, they can cause surprise and delight -- our minds reframe. Humor can help us realize totally new emergent ideas.  

Jokes are a good example of this, where two seemingly conflicting ideas come together and are resolved by "getting the joke." At the moment you get the joke, the tension from the initial conflict dissolves in laughter.

 Take a few minutes and share some jokes with each other.

Now, take a few minutes and create some jokes about the ideas you are playing with.

This is the second in a series of Spark Cards being published to the Tomorrow Makers Journal. 

Spark Card: The Big World of Possibilities

First, to answer the question, "What is a Spark Card?"

A Spark Card is a tool for perturbing imagination, furthering ideas,  and seeing with fresh eyes.

Gail and I began developing them for our Collaboratory at Sonoma Mountain Village that we share with the Livability Project. We have a set of 12 and have sketched out as many more. Spark Cards are part of the Collaboratory’s way of working. With this post, we'll begin publishing them in journal form. Look for a downloadable deck in the near future.

These cards can help you facilitate yourselves -- a task which is often very difficult.  Even high performance teams and groups get so focused on immediate tasks at hand that they forget to reach out, to explore an idea from different vantage points. Think of Spark Cards as a Creative Whack Pack for collaboration. Use them to begin your meeting, or at a point where you feel stuck or stale.  They can also help you take a last look at your work. They serve as a check to what really matters about your enterprise and the immediate next steps.  

In our haste to succeed with deliverables and goals, we tend to race to the finish line.  These Spark Cards are meant to entice you to “make haste slowly”. They have been proven to save time and enrich the products and services being developed.  

Happy perturbing! May you have meaningful, rich, worthy conversations!

Without further adieu, our first card...


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Designing Design: The Weeble Principle


If you're an American between the ages of 5 and 50, or the parent of children within this demographic, chances are you are familiar with Weebles®, and their catchy slogan:

"Weebles wobble but they don't fall down!"

And sure enough, try as you might to knock one over, inevitably it will right itself. Well, it turns out these little guys not only provide youngsters with hours of fascination, they also provide a valuable principle for process & event designers:

Create a design that won't fall apart when it takes an unexpected hit.

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follow up: Creating A Cultural Shift

Following up on a previous post, further evidence of the cultural shift within the World Economic Forum:

  • I see that they have selected "The Power of Collaborative Innovation" for the theme of their 08 Annual Meeting in Davos - a theme well outside the imagination - collaborative, collective, or otherwise - of the Forum only a couple of years ago.
  • The WorkSpace has continued to get prominent placement and widespread engagement this year, with return deployments to the Middle East and Africa, as well as inaugural trips to China (including sessions entirely in Mandarin) and India (coming in December).
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A Playshop for Evolutionary Leadership, Collaboration & Systems Thinking

A few weeks back, I had the honor of designing and facilitating a 3-hour event - or "playscape," as Professor Laszlo called it - with a class of MBA students at the Presidio School of Management studying "Evolutionary Leadership, Collaboration, and Systems Thinking."

With such a juicy course title, I wasn't a hard recruit. I knew from the get-go that I did not want to try to present to the class, opting instead to first give the students a participatory experience of the kind of collaborative design processes I like to create, and then open the room for conversation and questions generated by the interaction.

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In less than three hours, the class created six new enterprises, defined the guiding principles and organizational practices of each, incorporated key insights from three dozen world-class writers and authors and, finally, presented these business models to each other in way that could be readily understood in about three minutes.

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It was a rich and immersive afternoon of collaborative design and social learning, embued with emergence and playfulness.


Creating A Cultural Shift

"People don't resist change. They resist being changed."
—Peter Senge

Since the premier of the WorkSpace at the World Economic Forum 2005 Annual Meeting, it has hosted well over 50 sessions and workshops, traveled from the Alps to Egypt and South Africa, and brought several thousand participants into an unprecedented depth of collaboration and co-design. From climate change to the creative imperative, ending chronic hunger to ending intellectual property rights, tribal dynamics to information epidemics, WorkSpace sessions have taken on issues that touch about every individual, community and society on the planet.

Individually, many of these sessions have been a highlight of participants' experience, and have done as much as any other session to shape the Forum's annual agenda. More importantly for the Forum, the cumulative impact of the WorkSpace has been a cultural shift within the Forum community.

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