I was flicking through some photographs the other day when I was reminded of The Bayard Christmas dinner challenge I had handed to a couple of my dining companions. In doing so, I learnt a new way of solving complex problems.

My challenge was that after the main course, with the minimum of fuss, I wanted to shuffle our guests around so we could all sit next to other people for the desert and coffee. I asked a both Phd scientist and a lawyer with years of experience in HR and people management. And although their approaches were totally different, neither managed to come up with a convincing solution in the timeframe.

To me it seemed pretty simple, something like asking every man to swap places with the man two places to their right, or something similar. But by the time the main course was nearly finished, my colleagues had sketched out various alternative diagrams but none seemed easy to implement or even workable.

It was then another colleague offered some help by suggesting a technique he uses at one of his clients.  Known as ‘world one’ and ‘world two’, it sounded very intriguing. In ‘world one’, things are just how I had approached the problem, someone calculates a solution and then shares it with their colleagues in the hope they can motivate them to accept it and bring it about.  However, in ‘world two’ all you do is let everyone know what the problem is you would like solving and then let them work it out for themselves without any further intervention. Being a Christmas party and everyone in good cheer, I decided to opt for the world two approach. The result was staggering.

All I did was to ask everyone to stand up (which was relatively easy) and then to sit back down in another place, making sure they were not sitting next to or opposite the same person as before.  After just a few short minutes and with a lot of fun and discussion, everyone was re-seated and the solution found. It seemed the motivation to solve the problem coupled with finding someone interesting to sit next to was motivation enough to tolerate all the confusion!

It appears that our younger generations entering the workplace require more of the ‘world two’ approach. The old order of top down ‘this is what we’re going to do’ no longer works. And where you might be concerned that in world two chaos ensues, you needn’t worry at all.

I was extremely impressed with world two thinking and the techniques fits nicely with my approach of facilitated ‘solution design meetings’ where I invite a very diverse group of people into a room, give them a problem to solve, but before they are allowed to discuss the way forward they have to sit in silence and write down their own solution. Only then, may they begin by reading out in turn what they wrote down. After answering a total of five basic questions, using this round the table technique, normally even the toughest challenge can be tackled in less than one hour.  It’s not quite ‘world two’ but it certainly ends up with a very similar approach.

Have a good week,