What’s a Mindwalk?
A mindwalk is a structured group dialogue experience that‘s a conversational twist of classic brainstorming. Here’s how it works…
Every participant can offer any question to the group for consideration as the subject of their brainstorming session. Once a subject has been chosen, participants take turns around the circle suggesting possible answers. The brainstorming session ends with each participant offering a personal reflection on what they discovered in the dialogue, followed by lively conversation among fellow participants and curious observers.
The possibilities of subjects that can be explored in a mindwalk are endless! Its only limitation is the collective imagination of its attendees.
The inspiration for mindwalks come from a number of sources, but most notably: Lee Glickstein and Joy-Lily, founders of the San Francisco Brain Exchange, a non-profit brainstorming community that started in the 1980’s; Condorcet methods of social choice theory; and Socratic circles, a version of the Socratic Method. Ultimately, it has come from my lifelong desire to create and share great ideas with others, if only to help better understand ourselves and our possibilities.
The first phase of a mindwalk is called Prologue.
All of the participants, including the guide of the mindwalk, arrange their seats in a circle facing one another. If the room or its furnishings cannot accommodate one circle for everyone, a second outer circle should be created for half of the participants. For that scenario, the guide would be seated on the outer row but no one seated directly in front of them.
At the start of the mindwalk, the guide introduces themselves to the participants and thanks everyone for attending. They provide a brief overview of how a mindwalk works and its various rules. They then tell the participants that input from the guide is limited to facilitating the selection of a quest (the subject of the mindwalk), clarification of insights (when needed), preventing cross-chatter, managing time for the group, and providing their final observation of the dialogue. Participants are advised to…
1. Express your insights as single-sentence statements. By keeping insights brief, it avoids long-winded arguments that slow down the mindwalk.
2. Give only one isight per turn.
3. Speak in the imperative (‘do this, try that’, instead of ‘have you considered…?’).
4. Keep things open by not criticizing or ‘yes butting’ anyone’s insight (including your own) before you speak.
5. Don’t be afraid to make your thinking as counterintuitive or as provocative as possible.
6. (Re)mix previous insights freely and often.
In a clockwise order, starting from the left side of the initiator, participants either propose a one sentence question as a possible quest for the mindwalk or pass their turn to the next participant. A “quest” (the question that will serve as the subject of the dialogue) must meet a simple but important set of criteria for approval by the mindwalking guide:
A quest cannot be resolved with a “yes” or “no” answer.
A quest cannot be resolved by searching for a knowable fact.
A quest cannot be resolved by conducting a popular vote.
Participants are free to modify another participant’s quest as their own, but only if it is a qualitatively different question. On a second round, each participant restates their proposed quest, followed by a show of hands for participants who want it as their quest. Each participant can vote for as many proposals as they wish during this round. The three questions with the highest score become part of a run-off election. Each of three restates their question again, followed by a show of hands for their their first and second choice of a quest for the mindwalk. The question with the highest score between the two becomes the quest of the mindwalk. If there is a tie, the Initiator will make the tie-breaking vote. The guide will then give everyone a five or ten minute break, which will help them with collecting their thoughts for the next phase of the mindwalk.
The second phase of a mindwalk is called Dialogue.
In a clockwise order, each participant provides one insight to the quest of the dialogue. Participants are free to use another participant’s insight as their own, either by repeating it, rephrasing it, or adding onto it. By going around the circle(s) twice, each participant gets two turns to propose an insight to the group. The guide shall intervene if any participant speaks for too long.
A third round of Dialogue can be added if the vast majority of the participants collectively request one and the time allotted allows for it.
At the end of the dialogue phase, the initiator will invite everyone to stand and stretch during a 5 to 10-minute break. Participants are free to chat with one another about what they’ve heard during this time.
The third phase of the mindwalk is called Epilogue.
In a clockwise order, each participant says their first name and then tells the group what they thought was the most compelling insight they encountered in Ideologi and why. It can be one of the insights they heard in the dialogue phase or an epiphany they had after listening to the other participants.
After a brief pause to collect their thoughts, the guide offers their observation of the dialogue, such as any meta-insights about the dialogue itself or how things evolved from prologue to epilogue. When the initiator is finished, they announce to the participants that the quest has now ended and start them in applause for their participation.
Video: Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From. 21 September 2010.
Article: Gregg Levoy, “Public Access Brainstorming”. 31 March 1988.
Book: David Bohm, Thought as a System. 1992.
This work by Michael Christopher Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). All other rights reserved.