Ep 02

Better Meetings and Improving the Remote Innovation Process

Learn how to make virtual meetings better and improve your innovation process with Douglas Ferguson of Voltage Control and Author of Beyond the Prototype and Magical Meetings.

Presented by
Robert Kaminski
Senior Product Strategist
Ryan Hatch
Head of Product Strategy & Innovation
Douglas Ferguson
President of Voltage Control
Douglas Ferguson
President of Voltage Control
Andrew Verboncouer
Partner & CEO

Rob Kaminski: Good morning, everyone and good afternoon, depending on where you're you’re joining us from -Rob Kaminski here, I'm joined by my cohost Ryan Hatch, with Exploring Product. We also have Jacob Miller, on keyboards today playing a little background producer and we are super lucky to have Douglas Ferguson join us today.

He’s going to be talking about a bunch of things. We want to pick his brain about what he's doing over at voltage control. Leading the way with thought leadership  meetings and prototyping. So we want to get into all that Douglas, thank you so much for joining us again. We really appreciate it.

Douglas Ferguson: Yes. 100%. Thanks for having me- excited to talk about my favorite topics. 

Rob Kaminski: Right on. So for those of you who are joining us on the stream as well if you enter in your questions as we go along, you know, we'll be combing through those as we go and can bring them up on the board to, to ask Douglas, but uh, kick us off.

It would be great. Douglas, we're curious, tell us about, you know, your work with. Voltage control. W what are you doing over there for the folks that don't know what you do? And tell us a little bit about that. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, absolutely. Voltage Control is a change agency, and we help enterprises accelerate and scale innovation.

And when I say change agency what I mean is that we help organizations who are wanting or needing some change and it could be that there's a product or initiative that's stalled or stuck, or they're just, they're seeing some opportunity. Maybe they want to be more design focused, but they're not sure how to get there.

They maybe they're in the middle of an agile transformation and it's just not going well. Or. They're trying to shift the way they work in some way. And we do that by helping them adj- adjust their culture and how they work together. Really focusing on the people that are internal it's in in a way it's like applying design thinking human centered de- design principles internally on the employees.

Versus externally on, on the teams. And it's can get a bit meta because sometimes we're doing that stuff on the we're playing the mind games on the employees while they're doing the human centered to help them do hum- human centered stuff 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  … on their customers. 

Rob Kaminski: That's fascinating.

So you're doing, you're like doing the work at that micro level, the interaction space and how people connect and share ideas while guiding the people who actually doing the work against product.

Douglas Ferguson:  That’s right. Yeah, because I don't, I mean, I think you have to have a top down and bottoms up approach working in unison. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: And because if we, if you just do bottoms up without any clear strategy and there's no clear direction, then you've just got everyone rowing.And I mean, you might be efficiently rowing, but everyone's just going in crazy different directions. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: And then but if you, and if you don't, if you do just do the strategy, you're not inspiring, and you’re not informed by the boots on the ground. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. So you said you're working with enterprises, like who is that? Who's coming to you for help? Or who are you knocking on the door and saying that you can help? 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah have, we're doing a workshop with Cisco this week. And you know, we've worked with companies like. Adobe Apple, Nike we've worked with Google. You know, even some we've done some work with the air force, which is really incredible, you know, they had this really fascinating challenge around you know, it's very lucrative to be a pilot for commercial purposes, whether that's FedEx or, you know, a.

A passenger airline. And so it's really hard for them to retain pilots. Even if they get them in and train them, they don't necessarily stick around. And so one of their goals was they're try… This is a complex problem, right? They had to attack it from 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …a lot of different angles. And the thing we were looking at them, we were working with the pilot next program on a, one of the ways we can um, shorten the time to mastery.

And one of the things they were building, which I thought was really incredible, was an AI. Flight coach. So it's like this computerized voice that's telling them like, Hey, wait, you didn't that loop, you just did was crappy. Like, here's what you need to do instead, like, you should have set, you should have set this when out seminar hit, like, whatever.

Right.  And So they're getting this like, 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …And if you think about from and you guys as product folks might appreciate this. I know from my software development days, that's that reducing your feedback loop is so critical to to learning rapidly and being able to adapt. And so that's what they're doing, right?

They're shortening that feedback loop because they don't have to land the plane and then go and talk to their instructor instead there, there's like a computerized instructor telling them right then in the moment, like you should've done this. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Ryan Hatch: And, you know, I love to unpack before we unpack more of what you're doing in voltage control and like all the things your customers are struggling with and what you do.

And when you go in, maybe it'd be helpful for the audience to hear a little bit about like the rewind, like what's your story? What led you  …into this type of work in the, to begin with? 

Douglas Ferguson: Absolutely. You know, I, as I mentioned, I was a software developer. So I think I might be one of the only CTOs that's gone into facilitation,  you know, usually a rare breed, that…  but I got my start, as I said, writing software in the mid-90s, early in my career, I stumbled upon this realization that, you know, technology for technology's sake serves no one.

And the elegant solution that's like easy to fall in love with, as a creator of technology is it's very dangerous. And if we we had to really be considered of the market as well as the design and the user. And what does that experience like and the technology? So I was. You know, my vocabulary has changed over the years.

You know, we didn't really have like user experience back then as a term, but I was starting to like clue in, on some of the stuff and sure. There's been people that sh-, demonstrated to me how to think about this stuff better. But I was noticing that there was something there that we needed to account for these kinds of three domains.

And if we didn't the things could go South real quick. And that awareness shaped my traj- trajectory as a leader and as an engineer and as a software professional. And I also started to get really curious about how to help teams collaborate and how to build resilient product teams that are robust and remain curious and stay on the truth path.

 And and you know, ultimately though, like you started off with. Extreme programming, if anyone remembers that. And then agile and you know, the agile manifesto came out and I was like, okay, finally, someone articulated this stuff in a way that like, I can like that explains some of the frustrations that I've been having.

And then, you know, and then flash forward all the way to, to lean. And then design sprints. You know, I think it was one thing that was really pivotal for me was when Google ventures invested into my startup. And, you know, I had already had my team doing design sprints, and we were communicating with Jake through like email and stuff and asking them questions.

And then when Google ventures invested. It allowed us to turn that Penn power relationship into an impersonal relationship. And he got, he came and like ran a design sprint with us and just watching him work, just like, made me even more curious 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …about like these things I had been doing with teams.

And him doing that as an outsider with a team, it just started to click for me like, wow, this could be a whole thing. So then when I left Twila to start my voltage control, I just, was just for racially curious about this world of facilitation. And I noticed all these silos, there's so many different disciplines of facilitation.

it was typically tied to some kind of industry or need, right? Like you've got healthcare, mental health, you've got architecture, you've got design industrial design, you've got civil engineering.  Like all of these different folks had different ways. They were solving similar problems and then ultimately these like, facilitation disciplines that come up. So you've got the international association of facilitators, which is more kind of business consulting type of facilitation with like flip charts and stuff. You've got design facilitation. That's like similar to design sprints where we're like guiding people through an explorative process of the double diamond.

And then you've got. Folks that are doing mg Taylor and charrettes and the architectural space. You've got art of gathering all of these different silos and how they relate. And And work together is is something that I got really curious about and how I can help bust the silos. And so that's a big passion for voltage control is like, rather than being tied to one discipline or one framework, how can we bring a lot of different perspectives to the table?

And I, I realize my video's frozen, so, Let's see if I can 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …fix that maybe. There we go.

Ryan Hatch:  There you go.

Rob Kaminski:  We got you back.

Rob Kaminski: Douglas. That's so great. Like hearing your story. I'm so curious, like when you started talking about how you connected with Jake and Google ventures and you got the eye for facilitation. The way you said it, were, did you have a knack for facilitation with what you were doing with your teams already to where, like when you saw what Jake was doing?

I was like, yeah, I could do that. Or did Jake like blow you away? And you go, Oh crap, I'm doing something wrong, but I have a lot to learn. 

Douglas Ferguson: Well, I think it was all of the above. You know, 

Rob Kaminski:  Okay.  

Douglas Ferguson: I definitely saw areas where I'm like, Oh, wow, this is fascinating. The way he's thinking about this. And but also and also it wasn't just Jake, it was Braden and John Zeratsky and Jake all there.

And they sent the whole crew down and it wasn't just about how they showed up in the room. It was what they were doing before. In fact, in my new book, magical meetings we've got a broken down into before the meeting, during the meeting and after the meeting, I think those are really critical to think about, like, it's not as about how you show up in that moment.

It's about how you prepare it's about the expectations you set. It's also about the follow-up and how you reflect and how you bring people together to embrace and think about where new potential lies and what we've accomplished and how we continue to share that narrative. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. Hey, I'm going to follow the rabbit hole. You brought up magical meetings. I'm curious. Tell me and and our viewers, like, what is that about? Can they get it yet? Like what's going on with magical meetings? 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. So the official, the, so we've our published dates changed three times, but. The book is at the printers right now. So I'm confident 

Rob Kaminski: Awesome.

Douglas Ferguson:  …it's not going to change again.

Douglas Ferguson:  It's going to be released on 420, which I'm a big fan of. That's a way to make me- meetings more magical, maybe 

Rob Kaminski: There you go.

Douglas Ferguson:  …depending on your company culture, [laughing] but Yeah, we're gonna we're going to launch it on 420 as part of the spring series with the some of the other non-obvious guides that are coming out on the non-obvious press.

And the series of non-obvious guides is really fantastic. I'm a big fan of it. In fact, I thought I had. I think I brought it in the other room. because I was looking up something, but the non-obvious guide to creativity was sitting on my desk,  but they're really fantastic. And I, you know, I think they're all just very actionable, really skimmable.

You're gonna flip through it and just pick out some great advice, not a ton of stories. Not a literary book by any stretch of the imagination. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: You know, I think some business books try to become a bit literary by having like the double helix and having stories and stuff and it stitches together.

But they went to the extreme, which is just like, let's distill this down into just like the most actionable stuff you can. And so that's what this, our book is part of that series focused on meetings. And really how we can collaborate together and, you know, get better results and and be more intentional about how we meet.

We know one of  one of the things we talk about is to, people should rename meetings. You know, Eskimo, how many words do Eskimos have for snow? Right?

Rob Kaminski:  Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: Right? Because they're inundated with it. They've got a lot of like nuance, right. But we're inundated with meetings, but we just use the word meeting all the time.

So like, how can we be more. 

Rob Kaminski: Right.

Douglas Ferguson:  …creative about like what we throw on our calendars? Even if it's just like a blank creation session? Like, what are we creating? Like, let's just say we're, it's a like, pitch deck creation session. Okay, cool. Boom. Like We're really clear on what it is. And we all know because expectations set in the name.

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: So, so yeah, that's the Magic of meetings book coming up on April 20th. And we've been got magicalmeetings.com, which we have a bunch of free resources associated with the book. I'm starting a new series called magical meeting stories where I'm going to interview people about magical meetings.

They're having so lots of stuff there to check out. 

Ryan Hatch: I'm really interested in, you know, this book is coming out of my senses is coming out of your work with your clients in voltage control and all the stuff you're doing in these sessions, maybe can you unpack for us? Like, what does life look like for the, when clients come to you?

What are they struggling with? Like talk, let's talk about like what's life before voltage control 

 …before you're applying this stuff. What's life look like there. And then talk about some of the ways you're transforming these cultures. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. You know, it, you know, it varies quite drastically. Everyone's got, and it's like interesting from, a, you know, from a marketing standpoint, we're often talking internally, like, man, it's really hard to you.

Can't just go on Facebook and target someone who's in that moment,  You know, it's like not it's maybe partial psychographic. It's definitely not demographic. It's like, they're experiencing the situation where they're like, Oh, like I can see this future that we need, but we're not getting there because we're just like constantly hitting a wall 

Ryan Hatch: Right. 

Douglas Ferguson: Or, or either someone is thinking to themselves like I have been brought in to do this thing, but I'm going to need some help external help to like spark and create the momentum to make this possible.

And so they're generally thinking to themselves, like, I can see the vision, but how do I get this tanker moving? How do I turn the ship around? 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: Right. And so we come in and it's a spectrum. Sometimes people are like drinking the Kool-Aid already, but they just haven't put in the reps. You know, like you can read all you want about how to ride a bike.

But until you get on the bike and ride it. 

Ryan Hatch: Right. 

Douglas Ferguson: You know? 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: So in a lot of ways, we're the training wheels, right? We'll come in drr, and we'll just like create the stability, the framework for them to like, feel it, you know, they feel that wind in the air they get a sense for what it's like to have their feet on the pedals.

And then boom, it clicks. And then they're off to the races and then typically, you know, that's all happening through a series of workshops we'll typically about what is the, what, where are you trying to go? We always want to start with the outcome. I'm real big fan of backwards design and learn and learning science.

So I apply that to everything we do. Because I feel like everything's a learning experience  if you really break it down. And so we look at like, what does success look like? Where do we want to be? how are things right now? And so, okay this is the gap we need to bridge. And so how do we build that bridge?

And so we just take one step at a time and look at, like, I think these are the little milestones we need to hit, you know, almost like mile markers on a journey through from one town to the next. And then we're thinking about each of those milestones being an assessment points.

So each of those assessment points will tell us, did we get there or not? Because the last thing we want to do is just run workshop after workshop or run a workshop where we're just activity, and we're just checking boxes. We want to make sure that like we're getting to where we're going.

And if we're not, we can at least stop and course correct versus just blasting through getting there and just everyone being disappointed. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: And so we're and at the end of the day, I'd say the most common. Trend or theme is, you know, we're going to get people in a room or in the zone, and we're going to work through some activities that really unlock how they think we're going to inject curio- some playful curiosity.

You know, I think there's not enough play in the corporate world these days, 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …because there's this notion of professionalism, but let's be professional, but have some fun because that's, what's going to unlock the new ideas. 

Rob Kaminski: How do you break that down, how do you get people off the rigid edge? Because we, that's, it just resonates with me so much. Like I've been in a room trying to run a workshop of the, non-Kool-Aid drinkers and like 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah.

Rob Kaminski:  … some they're like half their, What are some of the tools and tactics and approaches you use to like start to bring playfulness in that curiosity into a workshop setting? 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, I think the there's a couple of things. One is a lot to unpack there, but  the-

Rob Kaminski:  Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson:  ... the, one, one thing to think about one thing to think about is why they're not drinking the Kool-Aid.

And I'm really understanding that because. If we understand that, then we can design in a way that embraces it, confronts it, meets it. So I always say walk into the conflict. Facilitators should always walk into the conflict because if we're just trying to avoid it and pretend like it's, there, not there.

Then we're never going to excite the room. Right. Because we're not addressing the one thing that's preventing it. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: And so, so we really want to understand that root cause we want to unpack it. We want to explore it maybe as a group, right. That's where some of our upfront work comes in too, like understanding some of the dynamics of the group what's gonna, what's going to potentially light them up.

And you know, I think warmups and icebreakers can be really powerful. But we have to be intentional about them. I always, when I'm teaching facilitation, I always love to say, if you run an icebreaker or any activity and you can't turn to the group and say, why don't we do that? And have it erupt into a pithy conversation, then you need to ask yourself why don't we just do that?

So if you come into the into the room with an icebreaker and you have an intention of why that's going to be valuable 

 …and you unlocked them and get them motivated and moving, and then you can unpack that later, then your naysayers are going to be their light bulbs are going to go off, even if they weren't animated and weren't super involved.

it really depends on you had to gauge like how many naysayers you have and what's driving their concerns. One thing I love to to start meetings off with is hopes and fears, or even just intentions, like, what is, why are we here? Because sometimes the lack of engagement or the skepticism is coming from a place of concern about something that's not even.

It's totally coming from left field. But if we're, if our job as a facilitator, as the whole space and truly include everyone, we need to include that viewpoint 

Ryan Hatch: Right.

Rob Kaminski:  Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …and we need to surface it up and talk about it. So I think our job is to understand the discrepancies, understand conflict and inconsistencies and consistencies that may not be recognized and let's call attention to them and recognize them.

And if we can do that linking, it's going to go a long way to improving people's engagement. And sometimes, you know, you eh, you may, and it's a journey. So the first workshop you're working on some of this, like just like ground level, what's going on, why are people showing up how they're showing up?

How can I get people more curious and more excited about the potential. unlock that stuff. And then we can grow as an organization, but we got to understand where they are on the maturity curve and what some of those forces are. 

Rob Kaminski: That's feel like I'm getting a master class right here.

Douglas Ferguson: 

Rob Kaminski:  Like it’s Awesome. I guess, because we do a lot of workshops that are trying to run them on our end and so really insightful stuff. It looks like we're getting a question from some of our audience here around. What other icebreakers do you recommend? So I don't know if there's a go-to place you have, or a few off the cuff. You mentioned a couple. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. So -

Ryan Hatch: And nuggets. 

Douglas Ferguson: yeah, I for one, one thing really quickly, if you I'll give you the Motherlode, if you go to voltagecontrol.com/resources, we have a bunch of resources that can be downloaded. And one of those is our facilitation methods and and activities guide in this PDF. Like I was telling one of my employees.

Suggested that we make like a  a library, you know, like a system that you can go in and we would maintain a library and like, you know, it'd be like the voltage control approved methods and all this. And -

Douglas Ferguson:  … and, I’ll, I meditated on that for a long time and couldn't really figure out why I was pushing back on it.

And the epiphany I came to was like, there's so many of those libraries and stuff out there. that, And and I was like, I don't know if I just want to make another one because it's like, the world is inundated with these things. And so I said, I want to do a roll-up. So what I did is I did a blog post that was just like every CRA.

It was like the encyclopedia of like frameworks and and libraries. And and then we turned that into a PDF. So that's one of the PDFs on the resources page. 

Ryan Hatch: Cool. 

Douglas Ferguson: And give you a few, one of, one of my favorites is three to five things, and this is where you can do this in pairs or small groups, or you can do it as a big group.

If you do it in pairs or small groups, you're just taking turns as the partner. If you're doing a big group, this is just one person's in the hot seat. 

Rob Kaminski: Okay. 

Douglas Ferguson: And that person, either your partner or the person in the hot seat is going to you're gonna, you're instructed to look at them, just check out their environment, and just look at them for a second.

And then they're going to turn off their camera. So, so essentially my camera turns off and you know, I'm gonna I'm gonna change a few things about myself. Right. And then I'm gonna come back.

Douglas Ferguson:  …and now you have to tell me what I've changed.

Ryan Hatch: Yeah, the...

Rob Kaminski:  That’s great.

Douglas Ferguson: So that’s the-

Rob Kaminski:  I only noticed the shirt.  

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. So you guys were already right? This is like -

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  … it is fun, you know, when people do. I mean, when there's more time and we're not live and stuff, people 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  … can have more fun with it and play with it. So that's, that's three to five things. That's pretty cool 

Ryan Hatch: I love that because like, there's, You know, we talk in our end, in our product team, product people it's about, you know, what, que-, the questions that we're asking, lead us to the observations, right. Lead us to the answers. And so we are we asking the right questions that teaches 

Rob Kaminski: Hmm. 

Ryan Hatch: It's like, are we observing for the right things? Right. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yes, I love that 

Ryan Hatch: To be observant 

Douglas Ferguson: We talk about the questions being the facilitator, Swiss army knife. And got another resource on that same page called the facilitator's guide to questions.

And it's just tons of great questions. But Hey, here's another warmup. That's really fun. It's about like acknowledging this weird box that we're in. So like everyone, like 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson:  …you know, you guys just like...Right. And it's like,imagine that the top of your box is a pull up bar let's just all do chin-ups together, right?

Or how strong are you? Can you make it all the way up You’re, Are you struggling? Is it easy? Okay, cool. And then...

Rob Kaminski: That’s great.

Douglas Ferguson:  …you know, there's a lot and then you can, we can say, all right, like who would you If you had to like entrust your bank password with someone who in this room, would it be. Maybe- 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: man, I don’t know. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. yes. So the thing is like here in Streamyard, we have a predictable order, right. Because it's laid out, 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: but in zoom everyone's like mixed up and you don't know who, where anyone is. So that's this notion of pointing to people. On a question that you may not want everyone to know the answer to.

It's fun because they can't actually tell who you're giving up something vulnerable-

Rob Kaminski:  Yeah, maybe they’re still there.

Douglas Ferguson:  … but no one really knows. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: so there's I don't know. There's tons of cool stuff that you can do. And anyway, there's lots of examples there on that. 

Rob Kaminski:  That, That's awesome. I love that we were able to just do some of those.

Rob Kaminski: And so we're actually getting into a space that I'm just super curious about And So, people don't know actually connected through Douglas. In-person you were setting up sessions at a place called capital factory for running facilitation in person. And you know, my assumption on your businesses that you guys were getting on planes, getting face-to-face with people. What is, what does it look like for you this past year and a half?

Like, how are you dealing with this all remote, what you showed us a little bit of what you're doing. But are there other changes, the hind, like how the icebreakers and the workshops are actually run now that they're almost all virtual, at least for the time being, can you talk a little bit about that? 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. I mean, 100%, we certainly don't get on planes anymore, you know?

And we don't order supplies anymore. We've had to lean in really heavily to virtual collaboration techniques. We use mural pretty heavily or and if our clients are Miro client customers we'll use them. We built our own software called control room. That's actually free. We have a $10 subscription, but only if you want the, some of the premium features, but you can do some cool stuff with it.

In fact, one of my favorite liberating structures is called 2510 and we made that free. And you know, it's taken a lot, I've invested in a home office set up where I can stream and have high quality experiences. And, you know, I can do things like give my users timers. So that's a 10 minute timer.

That's going to elapse for them. I can I can bring my slides up and over my shoulder, which I don't have them running right now, it's like the, all that stuff matters a lot. And I will say this, the even though we don't have to travel, there's still, there's like an equal amount of time spent preparing and organizing.

For the virtual workshop. So we got to get the murals designed up. We've got to get we’re just got to like cross all the all the T's dot the I's. We even now have the new role, which is a technical facilitator. Especially if we're dealing with more than like seven, eight people, we're going to have someone there that's like moving the the breakout rooms around.

Because we still do sessions with like a 100 plus people. Where we're we're, we'll break it out into-

Rob Kaminski:  Re- remotely. Like you're in digital with a 100 people. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. Yeah. 

Rob Kaminski: Okay. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. Yeah. And they'll break into separate rooms, separate breakout rooms, and then we'll have facilitators in each one of those rooms where before it would be facilitators at each table.

And we even did our conference remote this year. That was really fascinating. And you know, we would have been at capital factory. It's like how we used to do that all the time. And now we're in this realm of everything's virtual. But it was a lot of fun and we were able to design in some cool experiences for folks.

Even though it was on zoom, but I think that the trick is not being a lot of folks would go out and look and say, all right here's the conference software, Or, here's the remote meeting software or this tool or that tool. And they let the tool dictate what they're going to do. And I think now you certainly need to learn enough to know the basics of what's possible.

So you know, the edges of limitation, but then step back and throw that stuff away and design an amazing experience and then figure out how you're going to force the tool. Like how do you like distort reality and make that  and create the thing you want to create rather than just saying, all right well, what does the tool do?

I'm just going to do what the tool does. So that's my biggest advice in this remote world is design the experience you want for your participants and then figure out how to make it happen. And I know that's more, that's daunting to think about like, if you haven't explored the tools first, 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …but was advising some students over at general assembly that were taking the, their design class.

And they're end of semester or end of course, project was to make a website because a lot of these students are going to go out, become freelancers. And what's the most common thing they're going to get I asked some random like bookstore or like Pilates studio needs a website.

Right. And so everyone's using Squarespace, which is like, That's pretty obvious choice to you. Right? And they, the thing I know, but one person used Figma, which I found I saw a markedly different situation, right. Because Figma is a design tool, Squarespace is a website builder, 

Ryan Hatch: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: the students that built Squarespace were like forced within these constraints of the tool.

The student that designed it and Figma, was was like, anything was possible. They designed for what they want it to create and then guess what they were, they ended up using Squarespace, but then they were forced to figure out how to make what they wanted. 

Ryan Hatch: Right. right. 

Douglas Ferguson: Versus figuring out like how to invent something.

You can just flow in through the tools. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: So all of the stuff, everyone that designed inside of Squarespace, it just all looked the same. because they were just working through templates. Right. 

Ryan Hatch: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: Whereas the other folks who were trying to figure out how to bend the template to their desires. So. 

Ryan Hatch: Imagining, I love that.

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. 

Rob Kaminski: Do you think you're going to stick with some of the remote stuff you guys are doing in a we ever get there a post-COVID world where you have the opportunity to jump back on planes? 

Douglas Ferguson: Just to be clear I don't think there's such a thing as post-COVID. If you look at the science, I think it's going to be a new it's going to be a cousin to the flu.

It will be here. We're going to have coping strategies for it, but I don't think the technology to eradicate it has been invented yet. And so, we're basically going to be taking COVID shots every year or may, or at least some subset of the population will just to keep the herd immunity down.

But that being said, we're, all going to be able to travel soon. I think it it could be as soon as like late summer, but it might be 2022. We'll see. If these vaccines can keep rolling out, but the thing is people have gotten a taste of what it's like to have real remote collaboration. That door is not going to shut. 

Douglas Ferguson: Also people experienced this stuff through a pandemic. What happens when this opens back up and now others they're, they've had this awareness of what's possible, but now they're not confined in the same way. 

Rob Kaminski: Right. 

Douglas Ferguson: You know, like now I can go to an office that's like near my house and then have a remote collaboration with someone in Hong Kong.

Whoa. Okay. Like, what's this look like we don't, you mean we don't have to fly people from five different States in, for this thing. And what does that mean? 

Ryan Hatch: It's more feasible. 

Douglas Ferguson: That's right. And it's and we're not dealing with the constraints because not everyone wants to work from home. But it doesn't mean that not everyone wants to remote collaborate and you know, some people are working from their kitchens still, you know,  like their spouse is walking by every now and then.

So I'm really like excited about when offices come back online, become available, even if it's just a studio or even if it's a we work or, you know, capital factory has an amazing. Streaming set up that you can rent as you know. And and I didn't even thought about what does the voltage control office look like?

You know, whenever we get an office again, and I, my vision is that we have  a studio that can Because all this stuff that I have in my home office has to be pretty locked down because we're pretty space constrained. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: But imagine if this room was twice the size, right, that means I could probably have two or three people in the viewport.

I could also have stuff on wheels and you know, it can all be modular and moved around a lot easier than just having a crammed on the corner and bolt it to desks and stuff. Right. And so that's my vision is that we have what people were calling telepresence, you know, 10 years ago but done in a way that really embraces this live streaming, remote collaboration stuff that's really unfolding and happening so that we can connect in these different spaces.

And that's what I'm excited about. I think it's really gonna come down to hybrid, but we're gonna approach hybrid in a totally different way because previously, if someone was remote. They were they had a real subpar experience. Right. I mean, I don't know if you-

Rob Kaminski:  Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …you were ever like home taking care of kids or like like waiting on a package or something and the all hands meeting was happening and they're were like, you know, they fire up the poly-com and they're like, yeah, just dial in.

And you're like every like third word and like nothing against Polycom, but like let's face it. If we're doing a this is a zero confidence system, right? Because you got no, no one in that room has any idea what your experience is like. 

Ryan Hatch: No. 

Douglas Ferguson: Right. And that's the only way for hybrid experiences to work is that we know the quality that the other person's receiving and that we make sure that we have direct feedback and a direct signal of what their, if their experience’s degrading.

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: And also because we've reset the norms because of the pandemic. If someone's having a crappy experience, they're going to speak up the days of dialing in to the all hands and being like, I can't hear anything are gone because people are going to be like, Hey. You got to fix this. I know what's possible like this ain't right, 

Rob Kaminski: right.

Douglas Ferguson:  So I think the mindset shifted. 

Ryan Hatch: shifting into this remote first model, right. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yes.

Ryan Hatch:  Where you're not a third, you're not going to be the like third wheel. Like that's not in the room that can't hear anything that has no idea what's being right. We're going to go to a remote first kind of...

Douglas Ferguson: That's right. And if people you know, have remember mobile first, you know, like, I don't even think anyone says that anymore because now we've figured out what we're doing.

But when mobile first came out, it was a total disaster because everyone, no one was thinking about, they were trying to cram the mobile designs in later. So then they came up there, everyone's like, “All right, well, let's think mobile first. So that then it's a lot easier to expand out And I think so that analogy you're drawing is pretty, pretty solid. Yeah. It's like, let's be thinking about remote first. because in-person is easy. 

Ryan Hatch: Yeah. So getting back to like, your work and, you know, when I was reading through some of the quotes, I think on your website or even the, in your books something that came up that sparked curiosity for me were people saying, you know, this will change how you view meetings.

This'll change working with voltage control will change. Even Google talking about this will change how you view design, sprints, and how you apply them different things. I'd love to hear more about that unpacked out. like what's a story that kind of shows that arc  … of how you're able to transform some of these cultures.

And more, you know, in a more real way, a visible way for the people to hear about 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. The, so here's one that I, that's really cool. And it's a local Austin story. So, we did a design sprint with favor, like, ah, gosh, was it? Three years ago now? And we were looking at how to re-imagine the runner experience, and you can imagine that at favor, the, While they care about their runners.

They take second place to the consumer, right? It's only natural that if they're trying to deliver an amazing experience to the consumer um, the consumer is  going to get a lot more attention than the runners, but they had to build two pieces of software, right? The runners get software and the, the consumers get software.

And for any of your listeners that don't know favor is like, Austin's version of DoorDash. GrubHub, et cetera. And they will they got bought by an amazing grocery store here in Au-, Austin, in Texas called HEB. And because you know, I would say like, HEB is. I like to joke around and say, there are there are disaster prevent disaster or at least social safety net because of our deregulated government that doesn't really care about the citizens.

Our grocery store has to step in and take care of it. So, so for those of you outside of Texas, HEB is a big deal. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: So, so favor, I was working with them and we did a design sprint and. When I was talking about the riding, the bike thing, I think the, for them, that was a real epiphany because they had been reading all the articles.

They knew that they should be testing. And even the fact that leadership had hired us had sent a signal to the team that this is important. 

Right. Because it's almost like they were afraid to like stop the everyday minutia to go do testing or to like change the way they're You know, it was like this, momentum, this energy that was going to keep them, in this kind of flow of doing things.

And as soon as leadership said, no, we're doing this, it made them stop and think, right. It took them out of the day-to-day So they could get really curious it also as we we went through the motions of the design sprint, just things are clicking for them. Oh, wow. This is much different reading a book versus actually experiencing it.” And then 

Ryan Hatch: What clicked in that session for them? 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. You know, I think many things, right. I mean, for one I remember Meg, their designer. and I'll I’ll bring it back to some of the specific tactical specifics, but I'll tell you this. The outcome was afterwards. She went to PJ, that had a product and said, I want to change my role.

I want to be a full-time researcher. Now I want to be 100% dedicated to research. We need it. And he changed her role. So I would say that's very transformative for someone to realize, like, this is so critical to what we do. And we can't just like, let it be something we think about and think we should do.

And maybe do every now and then we need to do it constantly and consistently because the insights we're going to get are so nuanced. That like, we're not, it's not like you can just get the insight to know everything you need to know. It's like, no, it's a constant like observation cycle where we're like constantly asking.

So, think that once. Part of it it’s from a tactical point was how to run the interviews. So I sat down with Meg and I walked her through the our design sprint mod guide, which is on our resources page explicitly how to run the interviews. I talked to her about, and I gave her some of my favorite questions, which were, you know, instead of saying, you know, we never want, yes-no questions.

And so I've got a few that are crafted over the years. It get the answers to my yes-no questions that I really want to ask, but in a way that's not like multiple choice or guided. So for instance, instead of asking someone, would you use this, ask them, who do you think this is for? If they describe someone completely different than themselves, they would not use it.

Rob Kaminski: Right.  

Douglas Ferguson: Pretty simple, right? 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. And then I'd love to ask them if you were to describe this to your friend or colleague in your own words, what would you say you saw today? really gonna tell you what’s stuck. If I say what stuck out to you or what impressed you or what was important, all that's leading, but what would you tell a friend about what you saw?

That's going to tell you what’s stuck in their mind. And then the language they use and the language they use is really powerful because if they translate a lot of times, like through the interview process, you end up leading them a little bit, you know, because they get really stuck and you have to get them unstuck.

And so it's not totally, they're just not totally on their own. Right. And so at some point they had these epiphanies and that's like where the test isn't a accurate kind of assessment of the real world. Right. And We're in a simulation, right. But the thing that's unique about that is bec-, once you drawn them through it and they had that epiphany and said, Oh, I see what you mean.

I see what this is, then get you to tell them what this is. They'll use their words. 

Rob Kaminski: Right. 

Douglas Ferguson: And most of the time, it's not the words you had on your stuff. And then once you do five interviews, if you hear them say the same thing over and over again, and it's not on your stuff, you need to put that on your stuff.

Douglas Ferguson:  … because that's the, right. That's how they see the world. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  Instead of you explain your product from the perspective of how they see the world, it's going to resonate more. They're going to see it, connect with it. They're going to want it. They're going to be like you read my mind. Right. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: And so, so walking her through some of those things, giving her some of those tips on how to run the interview and then having, I think then she had epiphanies about the runner's experience and they were like you know, can't talk about that stuff.

I mean, because it's NDA, but like. There. She was like, literally going, Whoa, they really think this way or they need that like, wow. Okay. It makes sense. But I hadn't really thought about it this way. And then the interesting thing is then the design team had this nuanced information where they were like that kind of, that's similar to this thing.

We're planning on building, but it's more simple. And we had deprioritized it because it was huge. But now that we know we can build this little simple thing. That's going to unlock all the potential that we thought we needed. The big thing for then, you know, it started to change their prioritization. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: And so.

And then of course she was just totally blown away. And like, I want to do this all the time. because this is amazing gathering of insights and then figuring out how they fit together how that might impact prioritization. So she transitioned her role at the company, like pretty much like weeks within weeks of the Zion's prep.

Rob Kaminski: Yeah, That's super insightful. I see Ryan and I, are, we love this stuff like we doing customer interviews and that sort of thing. And So I know we're picking up a lot. I have, I want to be conscious of your time and the time of our audience. If there's any last questions to get Douglas, please enter them into the chat. I have one for you Douglas, tied to this, you know, for a group that's learning to ride the bike with sort of you as the parent with the hand on their back and on the 

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. 

Rob Kaminski:  …part of the handlebars to keep them going. And when they're ready to take off, you know, those the training wheels, wh- what have you seen work well with? Okay. This, the teams are doing it to then spread that throughout either other teams or the rest of the organization, either to get more buy-in or to continue to do it.

When, because you said something in there of like, It's not just a one-time thing is like, aha there's the insights we’re done 

Douglas Ferguson: Right. 

Rob Kaminski: really has to be this continuous thing. What have you seen work to make sure it's continuous. And then that gets into more of how they share that information. 

I don't know if that triggers anything.

Douglas Ferguson:  Yes, 100%. So there's a lot there and I'll say because you talked about sharing information and 

Rob Kaminski: sharing 

Douglas Ferguson:  … That's one thing I want to Maybe come, I want to come back to because that's important. 

Rob Kaminski: Okay. 

Douglas Ferguson: And I spoke to this a lot and beyond the prototype. But the, I want to go up a level for a second and get a little meta. So this is the whole reason that I, I focus voltage control as a change agency, because so much.

I would say like the facility, if you look at facilitation agencies or agencies doing facilitation, it's either part of some broader goal for them. So they're like a, they're a design agency or a product b- build agency, and they're doing it as discovery and to help onboard the project. So it's project related for the work that company is going to in- inherit and go do.

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: Then you've got some facilitation agencies and then what those are, folks are typically doing or like those one-off workshops. Call me up. You need like phone up a facilitator. I'll come run your meeting. We're not either of those things. Right. And like, I saw this big need to help people on this lager journey to help make sure they experienced that transformation, that change.

And and so what you're talking about is like something I'm very passionate about, which is we got to identify the, those opportunities and attack those problems. Right. And so you already hinted at one tactic, which is the narrative. And that's really important because internal case studies are so critical, external case studies.

Like again, talk about like how, you know, Google ran design sprints, how Airbnb ran design sprints, but some mid cap, like, like logistics com- company out of Milwaukee. is going to be like, Why do I care that ain't me, I'm not a Silicon Valley startup, right? 

Rob Kaminski: Yep. 

Douglas Ferguson: And even Silicon Valley startups will have copious excuses about why they're not Airbnb or whatever.

Right. And so having those internal case studies is critical. And so the early workshops need to become those things. And then those need to find their way out in the world. Also in magical meetings I talk about after the prototype or after the meeting, And it's similar to what the share of the story, stuff that we're we’re talking about and beyond the prototype, because you have to package it up in some way that can be a shared narrative that we all celebrate.

The thing I get more clear on in magical meetings is that ideally you're doing it in the meeting. So, we've started to end all our workshops with a narrative building X activity, where we bring everyone together and think about who do we need to inform. And then share out with what do they need to hear?

What are they, what is their important need or desire? Let's make sure we, we address that. And so you're making sure you take care of everyone's needs then you're going to run into in the organization or even external to the organization. At the same time, you're also getting alliance. We always talk about starting off workshops with alignment and the day one of the design sprints, is all about alignment. We also need to double check that we still maintain that alignment. And we're also aligned on the outcomes if you get really clear on it. So at a design sprint, it's pretty action packed.

We don't usually have a lot of time to do that um, at the end of the day on Friday, but we'll do that in the retro. So when we get together to talk about the insights like the following Monday or Tuesday, we're also talking about what do we feel like accomplished? How do we share that story that gets baked into a recap?

A slide deck, if you will. So it's like after the vacation you get together around the carousel, you know, and you're looking at the slides, like what is the workshop version of that? Because that's how the internal case study finds its way around the organization, the prototype of a design sprints-

Rob Kaminski:  Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  …It's also a powerful mechanism to share that story.

You've got to make sure that it finds its ways into the holes. I and that's one of the powers of bringing a diverse set of people together in your workshop, because they're going to go out into the world. into their into their departments and they're going to be advocates for what you did and what you accomplished.

And so arming them with great way to tell the story is going to make sure you're consistent because they're all telling different things. The organization is going to be like, what's going on here? Like this doesn't mean do these people know what they're doing. I'm hearing different things. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: And then also, if they're not prepared, they're probably going to go to a sense of like emotion.

Like it was fun, exciting, whatever, but like taking the time to articulate, it it will be consistent. It'll be, we'll say the right thing. It'll be robust.  That's really critical. Also. We need to make sure that we're looking at that ultimate goal. Right. And are we still heading to that ultimate goal and who do we need to bring in.

To get there. So we need to broaden the inner circle is how I like to refer to it or identify other stakeholders, other catalysts, or other superconductors. We like to call them 

And how do we ignite them? So sometimes we might do a series of workshops. focused on very specific challenges or problems so that people can start to learn the tools and the behaviors, but they're doing it from the context of solving some like project level or team level issue.

And then we'll come in with a with a capstone that's more training, more reflective. We're look, we're sharing out those case studies with a real broad group. We're also like getting reflective. We're asking questions, we're teaching techniques. And then we follow that up with coaching. So that those folks that already have been through  the work can sign up for office hours and bring up questions and things they run into.

because it doesn't matter how much work we do in the moment. It doesn't mean that they're necessarily going to be equipped to understand how to deal with this thing that pops up out of nowhere. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: They're like, look what I ran into today. And so, having that time to reserved where we can be there to answer those questions and then they go, Oh I see what you mean.

Now I can go address that. So that's generally our strategy is like, 

Ryan Hatch: Yeah.

Rob Kaminski:  Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  And the coaching is really in that sustaining piece and we'll, and then some clients will do like a quarterly. Workshop, that's more kind of future planning strategy forward kind of stuff. Just because even though they're running a lot of stuff on their own at that point where they because they picked up some facilitation skills and stuff. It’s not about bringing us in just to add an actual zo-, jolt, and also we're constantly 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah.

Douglas Ferguson:  Refining our techniques and stuff. And so we can bring new content to them once a quarter too. So, so that's the kind of. The cyclical process. 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Ryan Hatch: A lot of that stuff was, is what you meant by the word meta, right?

Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. 

Ryan Hatch: Like you just described going meta internally how to apply, how to get buy-in internally. Not just external customers. 

Douglas Ferguson: that's right. And you don't because you want to focus. I think the thing is like people struggle because they go either one direction or the other, they either go super tactical or strategical they're focused on the, doing the thinking or the doing and then some people, and then some people focus too much on the training.

The concepts, the meta, the like, you know, the techniques we're big believers that you got to fuse. The two 

Rob Kaminski: Yeah. 

Douglas Ferguson: let's get  on a project, either at the tactical or the strategic level. Let's either do some real solid thinking as leaders or it’s a real solid do- doing as like, you know, the implementers.

But then we've got to we then training alongside that, or in tandem. 

Rob Kaminski: Absolutely. That's really insightful Douglas that resonates. I love that you guys are taking that multi-threaded approach and you probably have to with the larger enterprises as well. Douglas we're over.

Thank you so much for your time and sharing your expertise and experience in this stuff. I know Ryan and I got a lot out of it, so thank you. we Really appreciate it. Hope the audience enjoyed. So again, for those looking for more tips, you know, facilitation checking out some of Douglas's books as well, check out voltage control beyond the prototype and magical meetings.

And then oh, Ryan, we got coming up next month. Another session, right? 

Ryan Hatch: Yeah. Douglas, thank you so much for today. I mean, your book coming up. I just want to mention that the magical meetings. Where can people find out and find more about you before we [inaudible 00:55:34] 

and do the next one quick?

Douglas Ferguson: Oh yeah, absolutely. Voltagecontrol.com. I think you shared a link over to our resources page. We've got a lot of blog posts there, and then there's a link to the books page too. At the magicalmeetings.com Is a site that's all dedicated to resources. So we've got an online class, we've got a live in-person workshop and tons of blog posts, and even a series on magical meeting stories where I share cool meetings that people have designed.

So lots of stuff there for free that people can check out. 

Ryan Hatch: Very cool. 

Rob Kaminski: That's Awesome. 

Ryan Hatch: Douglas, awesome. I do want to mention that we have one the next exporting product episode coming up check us out March 22nd. Next month, we Shashank, Varma really great guy talking about his innovation work at Kohler company in Kohler, Wisconsin, and the innovation accelerators.

He set up internally there all the internal corporate innovation stuff, as well as startup consulting that he's done outside. So I look forward to that. 

Rob Kaminski: All right. Thanks for joining everybody. We really appreciate it. We'll see you next month. Thanks again, Douglas.

Ryan Hatch: Thanks, Douglas.

Douglas Ferguson:  Bye.

show notes
  • About Voltage Control - A Change Agency
  • Journey to Building Voltage Control
  • ‍Magical Meetings - New Book
  • ‍Common Struggles with Innovation Team
  • Ways to Create Playful Curiosity
  • ‍Virtual Meeting Ice Breaker Ideas
  • ‍Virtual Collaboration for Workshops
  • ‍Remote Workshops During COVID