“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.”
― James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds
Cross the line is a session format in which the goal is to help the participants get new insights into a hot debatable dilemma they have (i.e. engineering PhDs deciding whether to commercialise IP through licensing or to start a company based on that IP; Should we use Android or iOS; Should we vote stay or leave on the BREXIT referendum).
- mapping the space of arguments about a certain choice and how others thing about them
- creating very hight energy and fun
- getting a feeling of where does the audience lean and who are the thought leaders or highly vocal participants among them
- managing large groups of participants while engaging all of them in the action
Not useful for:
- creating thoughtful in dept discussions
- problems where people could contribute intellectually, but few have a strong opinion on
- an audience which has made that type of choice many times and is well versed in the pros and cons of each direction or is largely aligned already
Appropriate up to 60-70 ppl, after that mics are needed, more props and tuning the format a bit
Under 15 people there are probably more appropriate formats
An empty room would do. If there’s furniture make sure there’s space for people to walk around.
Recommended session time 30 min
3-5 min intro and setup
3-5 min definition of the case
15-20 min debate (set a timer here and make it visible)
5-7 min wrap up
Flipchart or Whiteboard
Start by introducing the problem and in-personifying it with a participant who personally has to make that choice. You can ask for a volunteer, or pre-select someone.
Bring her on stage and allow her to story-tell how she frames it and what the implications of the choice would be. Put them on the whiteboard/flipchart and hyperbolise them as much as possible (i.e. dying alone with pennies after others have become billionaires, based on your genius or allowing you family to starve to death while you fail at your startup; being seen as a dumb Apple fanboy vs never having sex; European economic catastrophe vs shame and stagnation to the Englishmen)
Draw an imaginary line through the room breaking into left and right representing choice 1 and 2 and ask her to commit in front of the audience that she’ll make an instant irreversible decision based on which side has more people at the end of a 15 min debate
Ask everybody to standup and move to the side of the room that relates to their opinion better. Push people who stand in the middle on the line to commit to one direction or the other without allowing hem to comment or justify
Allow the person with the dilemma to ask for advice, so you can facilitate individuals to provide opinions.
Provide a flipchart/whiteboard/postits and help her write down things of interest and organise them on the wall. (with 50 ppl small postits won’t be readable)
After each new argument and peace of information that comes out consider and attempt to get people to change sides. This is challenging, because psychologically people find it difficult to leave social groups and oppose them and you effectively just created 2 camps. That’s why it’s important to consistently clarify that you’re tackling the issue not in general, but for that particular person’s pending decision and to provoke the people that were initially undecided and were resisting to commit to move around.
If you’re successful in creating the dynamic of participation and people moving from side to side regularly, you should allow the person with the dilemma to lead. Manage time, create urgency and get people back on format while’s she’s leading.
- When the time expires, call the results and wrap up by allowing the person with the dilemma to summarise what she learned and is she happy with the decision.
The jokes help to get the energy flowing, but in the end of the day you’re likely discussing a complex and important topic, so it’s important to extract valuable insights and note them on the wall, so you can keep the group on purpose
The focus here is more to discuss a topic of interest rather then to help work on the issue of the participant with the dilemma. A good candidate for that role is someone who’ll be fun and more outgoing and charismatic on stage, but also genuinely has that problem.