“Jammin”: Fast-Paced Idea-Generation in a Playful Space

I love “Jammin.” To me, it’s far more than a facilitation tool or a cool group activity. It’s an example of what can emerge from truly playful collaboration in a Community of Practice (or in any work environment that promotes flexible, creative thinking). Here’s the back story: 

I have previously written about UW-MANIAC, the Madison Area Network for Innovation and Collaboration. One morning, I received an email from my friend, Darin Eich, who was on layover in Europe after doing some consulting. He had witnessed a neat idea-generation, consulting process in San Francisco that he was now mulling further, and he wondered if we could convene a meeting of the MANIAC Design Team to discuss it. He would be back in Madison by 3pm that afternoon – might we pull whoever could make it together to talk over coffee? I wrote back that I could meet him and I’d put out the word to the others, and we gathered at the Lakeside Coffee House later that afternoon. Though Darin was tired after traveling, he enthusiastically shared his idea: Let’s do some fast-paced “speed dating” for ideas that could foster innovation. We all added our own ingredients and in the end came up with “Jammin,” as well as a more deliberative companion called, “Studio Time” that we would pilot two weeks later. We promoted the session to the UW-MANIAC network and 25 people showed up for the first Jammin’ session.

From those half-baked beginnings, there have been dozens of “Jammin” sessions involving a few thousand people. It has been used at conferences, orientations for new faculty, and as the innovation incubator for which it was initially intended. “Studio Time” was a short-lived experiment, though the more deliberative aspect of such an offering promoted deepening ideas, so innovations prompted at a “Jammin” session could be more fully developed and planned. While there are variants on the theme, here is the core process:

  1. “Play Before Work”:  Form a circle for quick introductions. In rapid-fire fashion, introduce yourself and identify one thing you really enjoy for fun. This light introduction gets people used to the pace of the session. (Variant: add an Improv, “Yes, And…”) structure to the question if it is a small group of people familiar to one another, such as a work team) (<10m)
  2. “Create Your Elevator Speech”: What is the issue for which you seek advice? Prepare to share it concisely in one minute, as if you met the person on an elevator. (<5m)
  3. “Jammin” Triads”: In groups of three, each person takes <1m to share the Elevator Speech, followed by 2m to seek consultation and advice from the other two people. Each member of the triad takes a turn (~10m). 
  4. “Shuffle to a New Consultation”: We re-sort everyone so they get a second round of consultations with new people. We actually accelerate the time frame, allowing 2m per person. (total time = 6m) This step can be repeated a 3rd time. 
  5. “Synthesis/ Check Out”: Take a few minutes to sort through ideas you may have gained. What did you learn about your idea that improves it? What resources were identified that you can check into later? In the larger group, there is a brief “check out” around the circle. 

That’s it. The basic “Jammin” format takes less than an hour. In larger groups, we have had people seated at “Home Tables” where they can develop the initial “Elevator Speech” and try it out before going into the “Jammin” rounds. They return to the “nest” for the final synthesis and check out. We have also done a variation where participants form two concentric circles and are paired off for the consultations, moving to their left each round to meet 4-5 people. It all works…

“Jammin” in Action

Why does “Jammin” matter? Frequently in our organizations, we stop innovative opportunities by overthinking the process. We inhibit ourselves by expecting everything to be carefully planned before sharing our initial ideas, thus stifling the associative thinking that can result from saying things aloud and getting others to build on the first iteration. We need to “ideate” — what many of us naturally call “brainstorming” — and then we need to prototype some of the promising options that emerge. We also need to remain in the divergent phase a bit longer so we can entertain thoughts that are truly “outside the box” before moving towards convergence and final decisions. “Jammin” lets us do these things energetically, efficiently, and with purpose.

Let’s take a moment to return to the idea of “Studio Time,” which didn’t continue beyond the initial trials of Jammin’ sessions. I remain a believer in the intention of Studio Time: We need spaces to safely marinate ideas, talk about them with trusted friends and colleagues, and get others’ perspectives on how they land in the world. All too often, we lack that in our own departments or even our companies. But thinking more about Communities of Practice (as we discussed two weeks ago) and how they support learning, perhaps this is where Studio Time has its greatest potential. I also think the GROW Model of peer coaching that was presented in What Matters at Work offers an easy way for people to gather in a Studio space to offer that support and feedback… let’s just keep marinating here and see what might be promising. 

Exercise: Facilitate a “Jammin” Session

Try it out! Gather a group of at least a dozen people, more if you have the opportunity. Then follow the steps outlined above. The process can be readily adapted to online meetings, just using the breakout room capacities of the platform. You can reinforce the learning with a virtual whiteboard, as well, so people can share their insights in real time, then do a “Gallery Walk” check out that identifies those key ideas they’ve noticed. It’s fast-paced, energizing, and worthwhile. Let me know what you think.

~ Harry

Published by Harry Webne-Behrman

I am a facilitator, mediator, educator, and consultant specializing in addressing complex challenges and disputes within organizations. I bring over 40 years experience to this work and offer two recent books, What Matters at Work (2020) and What Matters in This Moment (2021) to these efforts.

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