The human library has its roots in the city library of Malmo, Sweden, which allows curious visitors to check out living people for a 45-minute conversation. The experience is designed to confront prejudices and promote understanding. The people available to be “checked out” included a gypsy, a transvestite, a blind man, a journalist and an animal rights activist, and the conversation allows people to learn about the life and beliefs of an individual that had been misunderstood, stereotyped and often avoided.
Prophet’s version of a human library is designed to provide inspiration to a team that wants to develop a big innovation, improve an offering or user experience, enhance a brand relationship, or improve a sales or marketing program. With context and objective in place, a wide array of human “books” that are relevant but tangential to the context are purposefully selected to create unexpected sources of insight.
An apparel manufacturer found that its multi-product sales team was delivering an inconsistent and redundant customer interface because its ability to coordinate and cooperate was deficient. A human library experience focusing on partnership and teaming helped them revise their culture and system so that they could be more effective, particularly with a significant national retailer. In this example, there were four “books.”
A jazz ensemble helped the firm explore the dynamics of communication and flexibility. How do jazz musicians develop enough cohesiveness as a team so that they maintain a cohesive sound, even when they went ‘off script’ in jam sessions? How, when improvising, could each member of the musical ensemble know when to throw a solo from one player to another, and how could others read cues to know when a solo might be thrown their way? Answers to these questions suggest how a team can have enough knowledge and intimacy so that it can align and be capable of adjusting even in the face of a changing environment.
A dance troupe helped the firm explore the relationship dynamics of partnerships and trust. During their conversation, one of the dancers said, “When I do a lift, my partner has to believe that if I were to drop her I would also do everything in my power to break her fall and protect her. I would let her fall on me before I would let her hit the ground.” This comment led to the question, “How do you build a level of trust so that you know have full confidence that someone has your back and is protecting the mutual interests of the team?”
A marriage counselor helped the firm explore how relationships change over time, and how you manage those changes constructively. The counselor pointed out that relationships change naturally over time, from the honeymoon phase to the familiar phase… and they need different things at different times to maintain a high level of engagement and closeness. This insight led to a realization that even the best relationship dynamics change over time and catalyzed a discussion around how to stay adaptable as the relationship expectations change.
A chef & sous-chef helped the firm explore the dynamics of delegation and efficiency. In their conversation, the team explored the question: “How does the chef set the strategy or “menu” and delegate some aspects of that to the remainder of the team for execution?” The conversations were ultimately about how to foster trust among all members of the team – up and down the chain of command. What’s the right development plan for your team, and how do you trust them to execute against your vision once you’ve set the strategy?
The human library employs the classic creative thinking approach of lateral thinking–looking at the problem with a fresh new perspective that is removed from the context but highly relevant to the objective or problem. It really works.
Geof Hammond, Innovation Director at Prophet, contributed to this piece.