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...

 THE BIG WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES

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