What's important to us
We’re a funny kind of company. It can be more challenging than you would think to describe what we actually do. We don’t deliver any specific services. What we do instead is bring a group of people with a common attitude, a strong set of values, a whole lot of determination and a fundamental belief that there are better ways out there to engage with a whole bunch of disparate challenges and head-scratching questions. Rather than focusing on delivering services, there are six key components that are central to our approach:
If only you'd come out of your shell...
There is nowhere else to start. Just as looking after one another within the company is a crucial part of our DNA, so building and deepening relationships with people outside of the company is a core part of what we do. Rather than trying to ‘sell our services’, we try to lead with generosity. We find people who care about what we care about, see if there’s any way we can help them (typically giving things away for free), and invest in building a relationship with them. We have found that income-generating opportunities do follow from trying to find cool people, build relationships with them, and exploring things we might do together.
We take pains not to present ourselves as ‘experts’ on any particular matter. This isn’t to say we don’t know a bunch of stuff. We do. But we also know that context and idiosyncrasies matter. We spend a lot of time listening to people, learning, and reflecting. As facilitators, we value silence and the insights it can bring when you don’t always rush to fill the space. We recognise that great ideas can come from anywhere. The only way to surface great ideas is to create spaces in which people feel safe to share, and then listen and encourage people to make their unique contributions.
The very first piece of work we were involved in became known as ‘Learning is a Luxury’. Most organisations are too busy ‘doing and delivering’ to focus seriously on what they’re learning. But of course, any society, organisation, or individual that fails to learn will be condemned to repeat its mistakes, so we spend a lot of time helping organisations and systems to think differently about learning. Rather than being an afterthought to delivery (the ‘evaluation’ frame), we work with partners to build learning into the heart of what they do. We’ve learnt that being structured and disciplined about learning is one of the most important changes any organisation or system can make.
Yeah, it can be really hard to do this at the same time as building relationships. Puncturing expected approaches, asking the awkward questions, challenging unspoken assumptions, and trying to think differently from the conventions are all core parts of what we do. One of the main tensions in our work is saying to people “You don’t have to do it that way” (or often “You’re crazy to do it that way”) while also trying to build or maintain a good relationship with them. It’s also one of the reasons why building good relationships is so important in the first place.
The work we do is fundamentally experimental. All our so-called projects involve working with partners to ‘try a bunch of stuff together’. Rather than falling into the trap of thinking that ‘being data-driven’ is the be-all and end-all, we recognise that the data we already hold is restricted by the questions we’ve already asked. We try to ask new questions and run experiments to generate new answers. As Einstein said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
All this stuff – running experiments, disrupting, reorienting around learning – can be uncomfortable and intimidating. A core part of our work is helping people to be brave, to try new things, and to take new risks. We do this by focusing on emotions, relationships, and collective approaches. We don’t shy away from the fact that human beings are fundamentally emotional creatures - we embrace this. We encourage people to be honest about how they’re feeling, because it is only by understanding and overcoming emotional barriers that great things can happen. This can get messy, but we welcome the mess.