Glitter bombs and minimum viable change

Someone recently asked me my view of what constituted a minimum viable service (a worthy and necessary pursuit), but my response was, let’s talk about minimum viable change. What is the smallest increment of the change you seek to create? How will this one thing cultivate enough value, so you can test your ideas further?

In complex issues, they appear open; you can’t draw a circle around who owns it, you’re unable to determine where it starts and ends. But by testing and shifting this circle’s boundaries, moving in and out and back and forth we establish a scope in which we can create impact in the current context.

When you apply a sensemaking approach to an issue across the human and organisational layers, the systems and the ‘invisibles’ at play, you start to piece together an understanding of the architecture of the problem space you find yourself within. Here, it is common for designers and the like to articulate the problem, and desired outcomes or values in Parnes’ ‘How Might We’ statement. But its worth noting that simply articulating potential root problems upstream will not always get you the result you’re after in complex situations, and so often the construction of these HMW statements are half-baked.

Reframing is critical to achieving a new way forward. Radically new perspectives can unlock a positive and unique viewpoint from which to make sense of the tangled issues, the dynamics at play, the patterns of behaviours and the interconnected elements.

This new perspective becomes your experimental lens from which to view the problem. It then means we can test the creative new stance, to find alternative ways of interacting, new ways to organise, new patterns and ‘elements’ that we may need to introduce (such as products, services, experiences and change programs) in our problem-solving rationale.

And so it is here that I bring us back to Minimum Viable Change.

Imagine a group of stakeholders trying to find a way to collaborate around a critical social issue in a City. Each party brings their personal views of the situation, their organisation’s historical outlook and actions, values, motivations and indeed each organisation’s measures of success driven by funders and business models.

I’ve sat in many of these meetings and workshops; passionate, hard-working (often expert) people who all believe they are doing the best they can in the situation. Measuring against a set of their own metrics or unable to see any other way to go on to create more sustainable impact. But by unpacking how each organisation views this problem and collaboratively reframing it, we seed the emergence of change.

A design-led, generative conversation moves us beyond off-the-cuff blocking, proposing, challenging and analysing to a place where all views are recognised, multiple points of information synthesised for new insights and the co-created new stance arises.

It’s in that moment of reframing you’ve dropped a glitter bomb into the middle of the stakeholder discussion that you can long witness the positive fall out. This MVC moment may have taken months of data harvesting, research, and synthesis, or it could, in fact, happen quite rapidly with the intuitive nature of many experts in a room, who have proactively approached architecting a collaborative conversation. Either way, it’s a sight to behold.

In achieving this collective reframing, without any further prototyping, demonstrator projects and road mapping (this can come next), something positive has occurred that can change the entire trajectory. This group of stakeholders have aligned around a newly formed, shared and unique perspective. A value co-creating system has emerged that will see ways these organisations behave change ever so slightly in next situation they encounter; impacting decisions, galvanising new relationships and enabling new ideas to emerge.

It’s this minimum viable change I always seek. Because from that glitter bomb, little shiny pieces of biodegradable matter spread amongst the dark matter of the system, creating beacons that can spark change.

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