The inevitable question: “So… what exactly do you DO?”

Every first meeting seems to begin with that inevitable question: “so what exactly do you do?”

Some people have the luxury of summarizing their day job with a single word response – architect, doctor, teacher, accountant. I am not one of these people. Luckily, I am also of the philosophy that individuals amount to more than just a job title. But I still have to answer that inevitable question. Seeing as this is our first meeting in blogland, I thought it useful to pre-empt the question.

My response usually begins with “I am a Solution Designer at the difference.” This response is typically followed by a long pause as I assess whether the person asking the question really wants to know more, or if my one-line response – which is fairly meaningless to people outside of my line of work – will satisfy their urge to conform to the social etiquette of introductions.

If your eyes are glazing over at this point, stop reading now. If you fall in the other category of people, read on – the backstory of my day job might provide some context to my subsequent posts.

I work at the difference

The difference is a business unit of PwC that supports groups of people to tackle complex problems in rapid timeframes. You can read more about us here: http://www.pwc.com.au/consulting/the-difference/index.htm.

It is difficult to describe the difference without using jargon, so I will unpick the sentence above:

  • Groups of people means anywhere from 20-80 people – these people might belong to the same organization, or they might belong to different organisations and represent different stakeholder groups in relation to a particular problem.
  • The complex problems we tackle usually:
    • involve multiple stakeholder groups with diverse perspectives
    • may be politically sensitive
    • have large scale change implications
    • require accelerated solution design (some refer to these types of problems as wicked problems[1]).
  • Rapid timeframes refer to events that run for 1-3 days (Design Forums), or a series of smaller events designed to tackle a problem iteratively over time.

the difference uses the MG Taylor methodology (I might refer to this in my posts)

This methodology was spawned by an architect (Matt Taylor) and an educator (Gail Taylor) in 1979 (http://www.mgtaylor.com/I7/index.html). Matt and Gail Taylor developed their approach in response to the changing environment in which organisations were operating. With the increasing pace of globalization and innovations in technology, the world was becoming more and more interconnected and organisational problems were becoming increasingly complex. Business, governments and non-profits were struggling to adapt to this change and respond to problems quickly and competently. The old way of working just wasn’t working.

Matt and Gail Taylor’s approach to tackling these problems is different. Their approach draws upon learning from diverse disciplines including business, education, design thinking and psychology. It is a process that is carefully designed to:

  • include rapid proto-typing and iteration of solutions
  • remove barriers that undermine the productivity of groups in problem solving situations
  • enhance group collaboration, innovation and creativity.

The MG Taylor process has delivered astounding outcomes again and again throughout the past few decades. Over 40 centres now use the MG Taylor process globally, targeting problems that range from 20-year corporate strategic plans to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy development in Australia. The World Economic Forum in Davos has used this method to tackle complex social, economic and environmental challenges for over 11 years. (See Leaping the Abyss  for a comprehensive account of what it is and why it works: http://www.foresight.org/SrAssoc/99Gathering/lta_toc.html)

I am excited by the potential that the MG Taylor approach has to help people work together to solve the biggest and hairiest social problems in future.

I am a Solution Designer

Solution Designers work collaboratively with clients and the event Facilitator to understand the problem, scope the planned event(s), and design the experience that event participants will undergo.

We aim to design events that will maximize the productivity and creativity of all participants as they solve problems, enabling them to collectively generate solutions that are innovative, feasible and effective.

Solution Designers operate using a co-design philosophy to ensure participant ownership at every step of the process – from event design to solution implementation. (Unlike traditional management consulting approaches, there is no place for ego in this line of work – it’s not about us, it’s about the participants!)

We project manage the engagement from start to finish, and work with a team of talented Knowledge Workers during the event delivery.

In a nutshell:

I work across the business, government and social sectors supporting groups of people quickly design solutions to complex problems. My particular interest is in problems that have a social change focus.

I have a mixed background in international development, applied anthropology and management consulting – which comes in handy in this line of work.

If you still have no idea what I do…

I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Until you experience the difference or the MG Taylor process, it is not easy to grasp what we do.

Not knowing what I do doesn’t keep many people awake at night. But if you are one of those few people who would like to know more about this type of work, you have a few options:

  1. Find a way to experience it!
  2. Ask me questions
  3. Get your hands on a copy of Leaping the Abyss: Putting group genius to work (Peterson & Pergamit, 1997). (Try this link: http://www.foresight.org/SrAssoc/99Gathering/lta_toc.html)
  4. Check out these links for examples of this type of work in action:

And finally… keep reading this blog. Some of my posts will focus on how the MG Taylor approach can be used to effectively drive social change.

[NB: all of the opinions that I express in this blog are my own personal views, unless otherwise referenced – I am not writing on behalf of the difference or MG Taylor].


[1] Churchman, C. West, “Wicked Problems”, Management Science, Vol. 14, No. 4, December 1967. Guest Editorial