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I have read two posts by Ian Fitzpatrick from Almighty about how he has been using Artefact Cards to frame challenges and overcome them. Read the excellent Intake and Interruption about resource and time allocation, and the equally excellent Towards a Portable Toolkit for New Ideas, which Ian posted this past week.

So, creating a framework for transforming and informing. This is something I know a bit about. Enough that I have put together a business based around this premise. One so new that it still doesn’t have a website, only a name and a couple of clients: Formation London.

I’m not going to talk too much about now. Instead, I’m going to talk about the frameworks that Ian has outlined and how I use similar thinking to help clients, agencies and individuals overcome challenges, think in different ways, and generate ideas.

Every challenge is individual
Lots of articles will tell you that there is a single process that works. There isn’t. Of course, there are similarities for any business or challenge, but there will always be some degree of ‘personalisation’ that needs to be considered.

For example, Ian’s decks will undoubtedly be a great place for anyone to start, but I’d bet my last penny that people augment them to make them fit. These things are organic and change over time. No framework for thinking of new ideas or working through a problem can be rigid.

There are patterns to things, but like all patterns, sometimes they need to be broken to get you further – often via an uncomfortable position that creates uncertainty. In a workshop environment, I will employ play to move on, something I’ve written about before.

Three is a magic number
I noticed that in Ian’s Isosceles deck he used three colours, and he talked about blends in a number of forms. Three has appeared in society as a mythical number for millennia.

A recent deck I created for a workshop with a global electronics company used this blending concept using three inputs.

Each input set contained 15 cards:

      Pink – online and offline comms channels and media types


      Green – data feeds for input into something, or platforms for output of data


    Blue – Wildcards that referenced the online world (memes, cats, etc)

Each person took one card from each pile and used them to generate ideas. To ensure they were relevant, I had a number of strategic positions the company was using at the time.

They were asked to come up with communications ideas – PR, advertising, social, etc – and write them on a card. What was interesting to them was the ability to shuffle the cards into different orders, which generated new ideas each time.

Being Non-Creative
I had a recent email conversation with the incredibly talented Leon Jacobs. This was about a process we’d both been exposed to through our respective advertising agencies. It’s fast-paced concepting, iterating over a number of hours and days, sometimes with the client present. Leon commented that he’d refined it to the point that he was able to get amazing creative ideas – and even polished scripts ready to shoot. I don’t doubt that at all, especially with his facilitation and ability to spot a smart idea.

Leon wrote: “I am very interested in the potential of humanity if [I] can figure out how to make the everyman more creative.”

I’ve taken this out of context, but the meaning is there: What about ‘non-creative’ people? Leon also popped out a similar theme in a Tweet the same day.

I recently ran a workshop for non-creative people – that is, those who are in job roles that require less ‘thinking’ and more ‘consistent doing’.

This time I used a number of concepts that are proven – one of them borrowed from John V. Willshire who kindly let me in on one of his secrets in an email. I was also indebted to Louisa Heinrich from Superhuman for helping me refine my initial approach.

We spent an hour benchmarking the company, using Artefact Cards to write down what we liked and what we didn’t. Next, we concentrated on what the company might look like if we were starting from scratch. What would we do different? What would we retain?

I took the cards from the second exercise, shuffled them and dealt them back out to people. I then asked them to use these as a brief for a new start-up company, which they then pitched to each other.

These pitches then formed the basis of our ideas for the brand, its website and other collateral. So many good things came out of the day that I’m now working to shift the company in new directions I don’t think we would have known about had we not gone for a transformational workshop.

As you’ll have no doubt noticed, none of what I’m doing is achieved in isolation. I’m working with groups of people within organisations, and testing out ideas with friends to see how they might evolve things. Much like Ian is doing by giving away his Isosceles decks, and the effect asking his wife to organise the deck of cards he needed to work out how to plan resources had on his business and personal goals.

Where’s this all leading?
I’m really interested in Ian’s experiment, if that’s what I can call it. That by using formations, he is working through challenges – some tough ones, too – and inviting others to get in on that. How it’s adding momentum, and an acceptance by others around him. Ian has moved into uncertainty and begun the transformation, through informing his thinking with ‘artefacts’.

I’ve been on my own journey for almost three years. Since I first met John and grabbed myself a pack of Artefact Cards and began to put together the principles by which I wanted to live and work. It’s only recently that is has coalesced, formed; like igneous rocks –a formation caused by change of one thing to another. Slowly, it’s solidifying into something tangible I can build upon.

I’m keen to see what it does for those who take Ian up on his kind offer. Something tells me, from my own experience, that it’s going to really make a difference.