The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Visualising Complexity: with Possibilitarian Dave Gray

John Carter
April 29, 2024
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Visualising Complexity: with Possibilitarian Dave Gray

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Episode shownotes

Welcome to another episode of the Human Centered Design Podcast, this time with someone I hold in the highest regards for their contribution to the world of design. It's Dave Gray, co-author of Gamestorming, and author of The Connected Company, and one of my favourite all-time books, not just design books, Liminal Thinking.

Now this episode was really open and free-flowing, mainly because I think it was recorded quite late in the night for me, so we discussed lots of topics. Different topics, but mainly going to cover off some of the main points here. We talk about the power of drawing and visualisation, the influence of belief systems on reality, and the importance of finding common ground with those that we're working with.

Dave shares his insights on facilitating workshops and encouraging active participation, something many of us are really struggling with. As well as nurturing creativity and challenging beliefs. This conversation really highlights the need for trust and open-mindedness. How do we get that in order to drive meaningful change?

Dave also discusses his experience and how he got his first break, really creating infographics for newspapers, and then teaching others to draw to create that alignment. Now he shares the story of starting his company, XPLANE, and the power of information visualisation.

We really stress the importance of creativity and design, and the challenges of that the notion that only some people are creative, something that I face many times when I'm training. Now he introduces the concept of being a possibilitarian and encourages testing assumptions and pushing boundaries.

Dave also discusses his new endeavour, School of the Possible, a community that you might be interested in as it explores creative projects and cultivates positive possibilities. It's an incredible episode, Dave's incredible. Go grab a coffee, a slice of your favourite cake, or maybe a few biscuits. Sit back and enjoy.

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Episode Transcript

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[00:00:00] **Gerry Scullion:** dave, how would you describe what you do and have done over the last 20 years?

[00:00:04] **Dave Gray:** 20 years in a sentence.

[00:00:05] **Gerry Scullion:** Just give you in 20 words or

[00:00:07] **Dave Gray:** I like to, I like to use my creativity and imagination to, find interesting, traveled pathways. I

[00:00:21] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:00:22] **Dave Gray:** guess that's how I would describe it. Yeah.

[00:00:24] **Gerry Scullion:** And I think that's a pretty, it's a pretty decent summary like, you know, because from the outside in, like, we've never spoken before folks. So I've been a fan for quite a while, a game storming era. And there's a bit behind all of this stuff. Like, there seems to be a common thread through it.

[00:00:44] **Gerry Scullion:** And I have my perception of what the common thread is, and I'd like to understand what your common thread is between, say, gamestorming, into liminal thinking, into connected company. What underpins all that for you?

[00:00:56] **Gerry Scullion:** What'd I would say there is a common [00:01:00] thread and, it's like, it's not evident, looking forward. It's more evident looking back as, Steve Jobs famously said, but, I think it was like sort of, pretty early on. I learned that, drawing was a really incredible, tool for thinking and learning and, kind of feeding and fueling your imagination.

[00:01:27] **Dave Gray:** And, I can go all the way back to grade school where, you know, I would try and draw what the teacher was talking about. They weren't drawing for me, but, I would try and interpret what they were

[00:01:39] **Gerry Scullion:** look like?

[00:01:40] **Dave Gray:** And try and draw a picture of it. And, the, I quickly discovered that my picture was always wrong. And, but I also discovered that if I went up to the teacher with a picture, they might not be able to create a drawing, but they could fix a drawing.

[00:01:58] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah,

[00:01:59] **Dave Gray:** [00:02:00] so I was in a way, even very early on was teaching. My teachers, how to teach me or something like that.

[00:02:07] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:02:08] **Dave Gray:** Yeah. It was like I was forcing them into a visual realm by saying, okay, did I think I, this is what you said. No, But, and then they would pick up a pen and that would, so there's some, some kind of, I don't know, that's this kind of magical discovery that I've been applying my whole life in various ways that, so the number one, People don't naturally teach in this way or explain their ideas visually.

[00:02:37] **Dave Gray:** But, I have a very strong visual, I need to make abstract ideas, concrete, if you're Plato and you're going to talk about, Abstract philosophy that's not as helpful as being able to describe a cave, you know, people chained inside the cave and looking at the shadow. Now, I can see now I can [00:03:00] imagine that it's a way of taking an abstract idea and making it concrete and, and drawing is another way to do that.

[00:03:07] **Dave Gray:** Storytelling, drawing, whatever, but creating the. the metaphor or the visual concept that encapsulates the idea. And then, the second, the, so the part of that whole magical thing is drawing, part of it is sharing and having a conversation. And there's a third part, which I learned later, which is there is a, there's an artifact that's created in that process that can be useful to other people later.

[00:03:37] **Dave Gray:** So it's almost like, you know, you, when you, All the interpretation and the work that I had to go through to figure out how to take this abstract concept I was hearing from a teacher and trying to articulate it into a picture, With a little extra annotation, that's kind of like inserting the conversation part of it, you know, [00:04:00] putting some words into it,

[00:04:01] **Gerry Scullion:** Mm.

[00:04:02] **Dave Gray:** can become a really powerful, learning tool and that's pretty much what my, kind of my whole life has been, about exploring this, idea of taking information and, and, Using info, you know, using information and landscape, mashing up information and landscapes into this, these kind of information landscapes, which can be used to,

[00:04:31] **Dave Gray:** make whatever abstract idea, tangible, concrete,

[00:04:37] **Dave Gray:** you can walk around in a garden, instead of trying to manipulate a bunch of abstractions in your head, you can, you know, You can landscape, a mountainside with all this information in it and, kind of, you can walk through it mentally.

[00:04:53] **Gerry Scullion:** Absolutely. I think having that, draft of how you're seeing it, [00:05:00] your version of reality, and how it compares to other people's realities, like, is super, super powerful. And I mean, I don't know if you're aware of just how much of an impact some of your work has had, like, in the change making world. Like, I call designers, service designers, UX designers, researchers and stuff.

[00:05:21] **Gerry Scullion:** If you say Dave Gray, liminal thinking is synonymous with that.

[00:05:25] **Dave Gray:** Wow.

[00:05:27] **Gerry Scullion:** it really is, like, I put, like, we've launched a new, community in the last couple of days and there's, like, I think there's definitely a hundred people in there already. And I was like, Hey, I'm speaking to Dave Gray tonight, any questions?

[00:05:38] **Gerry Scullion:** And there was a couple of people responding to me, DMing me. So they know straight away, like, you know, and they're still kind of, I think liminal thinking is still provoking. which is great, like, you know?

[00:05:50] **Dave Gray:** Yeah. And that's another story that there's a story there that's about, you know, again, comes down to following your nose,

[00:05:57] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:05:58] **Dave Gray:** like every, [00:06:00] problem that you kind of solve, you know, upstream from that as another problem, that's even more interesting. And like, so solving the problem of visualizing and explaining complex information leads to the next problem, which, okay, now everybody understands this.

[00:06:17] **Dave Gray:** Why aren't they? Changing their behavior,

[00:06:19] **Gerry Scullion:** That's definitely true.

[00:06:20] **Dave Gray:** understands it, but they're not doing it. So now what's the next question is, what is it that's keeping them, even when you understand something that's important for you to do your job well, and even for you to keep your job, people still wouldn't do it.

[00:06:35] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah, I think that's definitely true for, say, complicated problems. When it comes to complex problems and complexity, it's in my experience, it tends to be A lot more of emergent practices and a lot more kind of methods like you're talking about, like, you know, that break the standard convention of the workplace.

[00:06:59] **Gerry Scullion:** [00:07:00] So bringing a pen like this is how I'm thinking. Like I'm still kind of, apparently I'm old school 'cause I've a, I have a pencil on my hand for, most of the day.

[00:07:09] **Dave Gray:** the Statler Mars. I recognize it.

[00:07:14] **Gerry Scullion:** This is this is my little, my when, I'm on, when I'm calls, people are

[00:07:18] **Dave Gray:** of those too.

[00:07:19] **Gerry Scullion:** You know in Gerry's thinking, this is my prelude to whenever you're finished, I'm going to start drawing.

[00:07:26] **Dave Gray:** So it's, I'm really thrilled that liminal thinking is, coming up and change context because, it was the, I mean, I had up until the point where I wrote that I had been focusing on clarity. And, but clarity is only part of the change equation. It's clarity doesn't, inherently in itself.

[00:07:49] **Dave Gray:** I mean, we all know, even the people who are in denial about it. I think, no, the earth is warming. The climate is changing. It's, I don't think it's a, [00:08:00] I don't think it's a lack of understanding. It's like, you know, it's like y'all, you almost have to have a flat earth kind of mentality to believe that,

[00:08:08] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:08:09] **Dave Gray:** and, Like my dad who died not long ago, but he, was a, climate change denier.

[00:08:16] **Dave Gray:** And I remember asking him, why is it so important for you to believe that this is wrong?

[00:08:22] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:08:22] **Dave Gray:** Why do you even care? Well, so number one, he didn't even skip a beat because he knew exactly why it was important for him to believe it. And it wasn't because it was a fact.

[00:08:34] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah. Tell us what was the response? What was

[00:08:36] **Dave Gray:** it had to do with jobs. I don't remember specifically, but you know, that,

[00:08:40] **Dave Gray:** they're trying to take jobs away,

[00:08:44] **Gerry Scullion:** Okay.

[00:08:45] **Dave Gray:** you know,

[00:08:46] **Gerry Scullion:** So it's all

[00:08:46] **Dave Gray:** threatening people's jobs.

[00:08:48] **Dave Gray:** And,

[00:08:48] **Gerry Scullion:** That's a Would you say that's a belief system then that he held on to?

[00:08:53] **Dave Gray:** I would say that 90 percent of everything that we are all doing all the time is beliefs that, I mean, [00:09:00] almost everything

[00:09:00] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah. Because you actually, like, I've read many, research books and, you know, working as a UX practitioner and a service designer, but your articulation of belief systems and reality, I'd love to talk to you a little bit more around that because

[00:09:19] **Dave Gray:** Oh

[00:09:19] **Gerry Scullion:** that kind of, crystallized a lot of the stuff

[00:09:24] **Dave Gray:** I would love to talk about that. I was just thinking about, in fact, I was just in a thing with Mike, just before this

[00:09:30] **Gerry Scullion:** nice. Thanks.

[00:09:32] **Dave Gray:** were talking, he was talking about beliefs. I think there's, so 90 percent of the time, most of the time, I think most of us were walking around, we're not actually operating with the world as it is.

[00:09:45] **Dave Gray:** operating with our belief system as kind of an intermediary. Which, you know, shortcuts, a lot of things we don't have to interpret every single thing we see as something new, you know, I don't have to figure out what a [00:10:00] lamp is to turn it on, you know, but it, but, it's important, I think, to recognize in the same way that like when you watch a movie, it's not real when you read a book, it's not real most of the time, the way your mind is operating in the universe, you're not actually dealing with reality, you're dealing, you're manipulating your belief systems.

[00:10:21] **Dave Gray:** And they usually they operate, they react the way you expect them to react. But there's a difference between believing and being

[00:10:30] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:10:31] **Dave Gray:** in the world. And, it's actually not that easy to just be in the world that without, you know, your belief systems are like a filter. It's almost impossible to remove them unless you're really good at meditating or, You know, it's, like, you know, we both have glasses on and we're, you know, we're not seeing the glass, we're not seeing the glasses most of the time,

[00:10:55] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah. It's true.

[00:10:56] **Dave Gray:** not even feeling them on our face most of the time, [00:11:00] but they are yet they are changing reality to conform better with our brains and,

[00:11:08] **Dave Gray:** um,

[00:11:10] **Gerry Scullion:** So, what do you think? There's, a, there's kind of a common thread that I can see from the work at game storming into liminal thinking in terms of wanting to provide the stimulus and the kind of the environment and the contextuality to get a better outcome with liminality and belief systems.

[00:11:31] **Gerry Scullion:** The work in game storming is going to challenge those belief systems and hopefully unpack opportunities to. I kind of, you know, redesign or, you know, rethink how those social structures are kind of, have been built. What advice do you give to people who are working in, those kind of roles at the moment?

[00:11:53] **Gerry Scullion:** Are

[00:11:54] **Dave Gray:** well, I mean, number one, if you're working in one of those roles and you haven't been laid off, I you're lucky.

[00:11:59] **Gerry Scullion:** [00:12:00] Yeah.

[00:12:00] **Dave Gray:** So,

[00:12:01] **Gerry Scullion:** know at the moment.

[00:12:02] **Dave Gray:** advice is appreciate your job. Appreciate your boss. Hang in there.

[00:12:06] **Gerry Scullion:** True.

[00:12:07] **Dave Gray:** Like, be, be grateful that you have a job. In this environment that we're in.

[00:12:15] **Gerry Scullion:** I know everything's changed, but in terms of. when we understand the belief systems and when we've identified them, through reading liminal thinking now available at all your bookshops now, folks, by avoid from buying amazon. com if you can. but. once, once they've read the book and they literally on, like they understand what we're talking about here in terms of belief systems and how it alters your reality and my reality and your reality now are two different things when you land on that and you accept it, what advice do you give to people taking the step beyond that to try and get, common ground?

[00:12:57] **Dave Gray:** Well, yeah, common ground is [00:13:00] kind of what, it's the grease that, you know, greases the wheels of, of progress in so many ways

[00:13:10] **Gerry Scullion:** And change.

[00:13:11] **Dave Gray:** and change. Yeah. you know, I was just, I'm reading this book about trade. I forget what it's called. The splendid exchange is what it's called. It's a history of trade.

[00:13:22] **Dave Gray:** And, He, is talking about the time in which the Dutch East India company was formed and the English were forming. Also an East India company at the time, and they were the first corporations. They did a lot of terrible things. but the, in the context of what kind of, what is interesting to me is, in the Netherlands.

[00:13:49] **Dave Gray:** There was already a huge amount of trust in the culture and the society trust in, because it was one of the first, kind [00:14:00] of, you know, it wasn't really a kingdom. It was a bunch of kind of principalities that came together and united to fight against the king of Spain or Portugal. I forget which, but they were, the.

[00:14:11] **Dave Gray:** group of people that resisted, the Catholic, emperor, I guess at the time. And, so they had come together and they had, there was a bunch of things. Number one, they had to form their own government. So it was the first kind of like United, kind of government had, you know, it was, you know, and then the second thing is they had to, Reclaim their land.

[00:14:35] **Dave Gray:** It was mostly swamp and ocean and they had to, they really had to work together. Speaking of common ground in order to even like reclaim, farmland from the ocean, they really had to work together and they had to loan, Money to common projects and stuff. So in the process of figuring all that out, you know, finding their [00:15:00] way as a nation, you know, getting, figuring out how to do things democratically and together when it came time for them to, invest in, the spice trade and other things, they, they had a major advantage over England.

[00:15:15] **Dave Gray:** They got there way quicker because they had trust. of, governance and finance that they trusted, interest rates were 4 percent in the Netherlands and they were 10 percent in England and also, you know, like, a Dutch person would be investing in, like a fleet of 12 ships. And, the English would be, well, okay, we're going to invest, you know, okay.

[00:15:42] **Dave Gray:** I'll I'm investing in the ships, but I own the stuff that goes on the ship. And then they had to kind of try and man, it was very, it was much more kind of micromanaging the whole, system on the English side because there just wasn't a lot of trust. And they also had this queen [00:16:00] that they didn't really trust either.

[00:16:02] **Dave Gray:** And so again, the, actually the, I think it was the queen didn't pay her debts very off, a very, she would default on debts a lot. So that, that made their interest rates higher. And so when you're a Dutch person, you know, your dollar, you know, you get a lot more return on your dollar when you're investing in a corporation.

[00:16:24] **Dave Gray:** Then when you're an English person, you get a, you know, you can get 250 ships for the price of. You know, that, the English people could get 80 ships and the Dutch people could get 250 for the same amount of

[00:16:35] **Gerry Scullion:** Right.

[00:16:36] **Dave Gray:** So, you know, like you, you're asking about common ground. What do you do with that?

[00:16:42] **Dave Gray:** Well, I think the number one thing to think about is. Sorry for the digression, the

[00:16:46] **Gerry Scullion:** no. I love the digressions. This is where the, this is where the meat and the bone is.

[00:16:52] **Dave Gray:** but, you, so trust, is a huge part of it. And the way that people build trust, is [00:17:00] by doing things together, by being in the same, boat by recognizing that they have shared, a shared, a threat or a problem that they can only resolve together.

[00:17:11] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:17:12] **Dave Gray:** And so, yeah, I mean, I think, you, if you're able to recognize, Your beliefs for what they are and other people's beliefs for what they are, then there's nothing stopping you from, suspending your disbelief, just like in a movie, adopting, even a strange, weird or absurd belief for a period of time in order to, you know, try and see the world the way this other person sees the world.

[00:17:41] **Dave Gray:** Their experiences are different than yours. you don't necessarily have to agree with someone to try and see their point of view and see their perspective on it and try to understand it. there was a really great, kind of experiment that happened in St. Louis, actually, I think it was in the sixties or the seventies, [00:18:00] it

[00:18:04] **Gerry Scullion:** hold it together, man. We've listeners in St. Louis.

[00:18:07] **Dave Gray:** this is not a light topic.

[00:18:09] **Dave Gray:** It was around abortion and, there were, somebody reached out to somebody across the political aisle and said, Hey, Where obviously we disagree about this issue and, but can we try and figure out how, what we can do as far as common ground and they got together and one of the rules of their, they had a kind of, they had a little bit of, rule binding, which was, okay, one side listens.

[00:18:41] **Dave Gray:** To the other point of view, and then they have to rearticulate it back, say what you heard. And then the person who you're reflecting back to has to agree that, yeah, that's not, you understood my point of view. So you're in a position [00:19:00] now of like, okay, you're in a conflict situation. You're trying to work through it.

[00:19:05] **Dave Gray:** People are there hopefully because they want to, but before you can be heard. You have to show that you have not only heard but understood from that person's point of view that they feel heard.

[00:19:20] **Gerry Scullion:** one,

[00:19:20] **Dave Gray:** It's a really

[00:19:21] **Gerry Scullion:** stuff. Keep going.

[00:19:22] **Dave Gray:** It's a really

[00:19:23] **Gerry Scullion:** Keep going.

[00:19:23] **Dave Gray:** Well, so what happened? What happened? they didn't come to, you know, nobody really changed their mind on, the abortion issue.

[00:19:31] **Dave Gray:** You know, people who, but they did find that they had common ground in this area of child welfare. They wanted to, they, both sides found that they had agreed, you know, some, they had a shared, Interest and passion and emotional connection to, for kids who were born into difficult situations to try and make sure that they were given the best [00:20:00] chance they could have.

[00:20:01] **Dave Gray:** And, so that was something that they found they could work with. Not only could they agree about, but they could work together on. And, the outcome of that story was that, it wasn't that the, I don't know that there was a political outcome so much as the people had something that they could build common ground on.

[00:20:22] **Dave Gray:** They could work together on and, got to know and like each other. I think that's kind of one of the problems that we were having. I think social media has created a lot of divisions. Because it's easier to be in rooms where everybody kind of agrees with you.

[00:20:38] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah. It's an echo chamber.

[00:20:40] **Dave Gray:** Yeah, it's easier to find echo chambers. I think so that's part of like the power of if you can get people in the same room together and they do have, you know, kind of riffs or divisions. Well, the one thing you need to start just getting them to hear each other.

[00:20:57] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah. It's really, [00:21:00] powerful. Can I just go right back to a little bit?

[00:21:02] **Dave Gray:** Yeah. Um,

[00:21:05] **Gerry Scullion:** and say you're facilitating a workshop or something, one of the challenges that I see when I'm training is people kind of go here's the creative person. Yeah. They're going to start doing the, creative lifting and we're going to feed into that process.

[00:21:23] **Gerry Scullion:** And it's the reframing of that scenario to say, well, look, I'm, the facilitator here. I'm just the grease. How do you handle that in your experience in your career? You know, because, you know, a lot of the thread here is creativity. What advice do you give to people who are in that scenario?

[00:21:39] **Dave Gray:** well, I don't, I mean, I'll tell you, I'll tell you, I had that experience. I was, in working in Spain.

[00:21:46] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:21:47] **Dave Gray:** there was a Spanish consulting firm. my job was getting in and help them. And I started to facilitate in the way that, I'm accustomed to. And, one of the guys just literally [00:22:00] said to me, Whoa, wait a second.

[00:22:02] **Dave Gray:** You want me to do the work? You're the consultant. You're supposed to do the work.

[00:22:07] **Gerry Scullion:** you say to that?

[00:22:08] **Dave Gray:** I don't remember. I think I just said, okay, well, I guess you're not the right customer. I guess, you know, we don't, you know,

[00:22:14] **Gerry Scullion:** This is not how it's going to

[00:22:15] **Dave Gray:** you know, if that's, if, you want to hire someone to do the work, then that's not the kind of consulting that I do.

[00:22:22] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:22:23] **Dave Gray:** it also, I would say, if you're not willing to do the work, then you're,

[00:22:36] **Gerry Scullion:** So,

[00:22:36] **Dave Gray:** I, think the, it sounds a little flip, obviously you can't always choose the customer, but you know, if, you're in that situation and they want you to do the work, then I suggest you do the work. tell them to fuck off.

[00:22:52] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah, pretty much. but, in the scenario where they, believe that they are not creative. [00:23:00] And for me, design is not a creative exercise.

[00:23:04] **Dave Gray:** Oh, a, well, if people don't believe they're creative, there's lots of ways to get them over that if they want to get over it.

[00:23:12] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah. So most of the time, people I'm training, they're there for a reason. They're, interested. They have that ceiling of curiosity. And I guess reframing that initial question, like, how do you provide the nourishment for that seed to blossom?

[00:23:26] **Dave Gray:** I, so this is also going to be a little bit of a dig digression into a story.

[00:23:34] **Gerry Scullion:** do it, Dave. I'm ready. I'm going to take a drink.

[00:23:36] **Dave Gray:** We, so, My background, I told you what I did when I was a kid. I would draw pictures to try and understand things. And I learned that the pictures then became these useful kind of information learning artifacts. I've, my first kind of, office job was in a newspaper. I was doing exactly that.

[00:23:57] **Dave Gray:** You know, I was making infographics for the [00:24:00] newspaper.

[00:24:00] **Gerry Scullion:** Ah, yeah.

[00:24:03] **Dave Gray:** there's going to be a parade this weekend, let's show people where, what streets it's going to go down to, you know, explaining how, the fishing boats work or how, you know, whatever, just about anything. But, my job was to make that stuff visual, how to cook, how to make a stew, whatever, it doesn't matter.

[00:24:24] **Dave Gray:** how to spot skin cancer. I remember that one very specifically the ABCDs. If you have a mole that's asymmetric has border irregularity, color variation, and a strange dynamiter diameter, see your doctor.

[00:24:40] **Gerry Scullion:** Very cool.

[00:24:41] **Dave Gray:** so I've, I'm also kind of become this repository of all these strange trivial, pieces of information like that, because.

[00:24:49] **Dave Gray:** Once you draw

[00:24:49] **Gerry Scullion:** found your new home, Dave. This is your home on this podcast because that's all I do.

[00:24:54] **Dave Gray:** Anyway, once you draw something, you're not going to forget it. and so I had built this whole [00:25:00] company around newspapers. I left the newspaper business, but I believed in information visualization, information landscapes. I started a company called explain. I've, we developed a whole methodology for lack of a better word, a whole system approach for, discovering, problems, visualizing them, you know, gating information and the process was such that, there was a facilitator who was asking questions, there were experts in the room providing answers, and there was an artist in the room drawing.

[00:25:37] **Dave Gray:** Pictures and synthesizing them into a picture. This how the system worked well. one day the system broke because the artist was sick and I was, my job was to be the facilitator. And, I I didn't, I was trying to figure out, okay, I could, I can draw, but I didn't want [00:26:00] to, I wanted to focus on the facilitation role.

[00:26:03] **Dave Gray:** So, I decided to teach the customer how to draw their own pictures.

[00:26:09] **Gerry Scullion:** hmm. Very powerful.

[00:26:12] **Dave Gray:** is like, and I've actually do have a link I can share with you where I put all this stuff online, but within a, pretty short period of time, I was able to get them over the hump of, Oh, wow.

[00:26:27] **Dave Gray:** Oh my God. I can draw. I know how to draw

[00:26:30] **Dave Gray:** not necessarily so they could like put their stuff on a museum wall, but enough to be able to think. And so within. I spent about 15 or 20 minutes to do, give him the drawing lesson and then, I said, now draw the problem. And, lo and behold, their pictures were about a hundred times more creative than I, or the artist that would have been there that day would have

[00:26:58] **Gerry Scullion:** Wow.

[00:26:58] **Dave Gray:** they were a [00:27:00] thousand times better because, you can draw a landscape of something, you know, better than.

[00:27:09] **Dave Gray:** I can, even if I'm a really good police sketch artist, you know, if I'm good at asking questions and kind of trying to like this, but if you, if I can teach you how to draw that, you can draw the guy you're. Oh, yeah, it's the guy who mugged me.

[00:27:23] **Gerry Scullion:** What are your thoughts, Dave, on the word creativity and how it relates to design? Do you think it's a positive or a negative or how do you see

[00:27:32] **Dave Gray:** All right, well, I mean, so to me, creativity is, it's a very. Clear, characteristic of being a human being.

[00:27:43] **Gerry Scullion:** Absolutely.

[00:27:44] **Dave Gray:** a lot of tools. We don't have a lot of claw, we don't have claws, big teeth. We don't have a lot of tools, for. we're a very generalist kind of species, you know, we're not, you know, our main, tool is our brain and our [00:28:00] creativity and our ability to, you know, you put a person in, a room or you put them in the woods and they'll figure out what to eat probably, and we'll figure out what,

[00:28:09] **Gerry Scullion:** On the build shelter. at Bill's shelter. It, I mean, too often it gets wrapped up in the whole kind of sense of like, oh, you're so creative, you made your own, you know, card for a birthday, and like, oh, you must be very creative, or, you know, you've got big funny glasses and you've got no hair, you must be a creative.

[00:28:30] **Gerry Scullion:** That's the kind of stuff that gets thrown back at me, and it can be sometimes, you know, cool. an educational piece when you speak to people and say, well, like actually everyone can be creative. Like it's, not just a case of, I went to design school and I do design day in day out. A lot of people seem to fall into the buckets of, I'm just not creative.

[00:28:53] **Gerry Scullion:** I'm not a creative person, a label they give themselves. So, I think the work, [00:29:00] especially liminal thinking, I keep coming back to that, and the game storming and a lot of the visualization stuff that you've done over the last decade, that kind of work looks to kind of challenge that kind of convention an awful lot, like, you know, really open up the minds to become, you know, more creative, trying to get those people who've challenged their belief systems, who I'm not creative, to becoming creative, would that be a fair assessment?

[00:29:27] **Dave Gray:** I'm, I'm just making a, is there a chat in here that I can,

[00:29:31] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah, there's a chat in here. You can throw it in here.

[00:29:33] **Dave Gray:** I'm going to share this link with you because, I have, made a little free, visual thinking school that anybody can take. And the first exercise, which I got from a friend of mine named Chris Glenn is called squiggle birds.

[00:29:49] **Gerry Scullion:** Oh, I've seen

[00:29:50] **Dave Gray:** it's the first thing that I do when I'm trying to show people how creative they can be is just have them make squiggles. [00:30:00] And turn them into birds. And,

[00:30:02] **Gerry Scullion:** Dave, I've stolen this. I've stolen this, and I've actually used it. I used it.

[00:30:07] **Dave Gray:** There you go.

[00:30:08] **Gerry Scullion:** I'd say it

[00:30:09] **Dave Gray:** Well, so then why don't you use that with people who say they're not creative? Cause that's the tool that I

[00:30:16] **Gerry Scullion:** is a really That is true. That is true, actually. This is the duck one. You do a squiggly shape, and then you put a little beak on it.

[00:30:23] **Dave Gray:** Could be anything. Could, be birds. Birds are fun, but it could be anything, you know, it's like looking at, you know, if you're creative enough to look at a cloud and see Mickey mouse or a crocodile or whatever, then that's. You're a human

[00:30:39] **Gerry Scullion:** good enough. Have you seen,

[00:30:41] **Dave Gray:** what I call create, you know, creative is simply, the act of bringing something new into the world that wasn't there before.

[00:30:51] **Dave Gray:** If you have a baby, you're creative.

[00:30:53] **Gerry Scullion:** yeah, technically you are a

[00:30:55] **Dave Gray:** dinner, you're creative, you're, creating something that is more [00:31:00] than the sum of its parts.

[00:31:01] **Gerry Scullion:** A creator is kind of probably a better way of describing

[00:31:05] **Dave Gray:** or we are all creators, aren't we?

[00:31:08] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah, as opposed to the creative. So,

[00:31:11] **Dave Gray:** room. I think people, I'm sure that people mean it as a compliment when they say that to you,

[00:31:16] **Gerry Scullion:** you

[00:31:16] **Dave Gray:** you don't take it that way, but I think they mean it as a compliment and they're self deprecating for whatever reason. but if they're, if, you feel like at some level they're shirking.

[00:31:30] **Gerry Scullion:** What advice do you give to me, Dave? Beat them up? Is this one?

[00:31:35] **Dave Gray:** can like simply just look around at their life and point to all the things that they've created.

[00:31:40] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah, that's true. I thought you were going to say something different there. Look at all their life and point at how crap it

[00:31:45] **Dave Gray:** no, just point out, point, point out all the things that they have created and, and say, you know what, if I, if I put you in a, if I put you in a, if I put you in a, if I lit a [00:32:00] fire under you, you'd find a way to put it out or get away from it. I bet.

[00:32:03] **Gerry Scullion:** Liminal thinking was 10 years old. Is it 10 years old? No, 8 or 9 years

[00:32:08] **Dave Gray:** just about. Yeah, it is about, it was published in 2016. So it's, I was probably had been, I was writing it about 10 years ago, just about.

[00:32:17] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah. So, over the last 10 years there's been explainer and now you're looking at the school of the possible. Am I saying that right?

[00:32:28] **Dave Gray:** yeah,

[00:32:28] **Gerry Scullion:** So what's, tell us all about this because I'm on the newsletter as well and you know I'm following kind of the journey that you've been going on.

[00:32:39] **Gerry Scullion:** Tell us, he takes a drink of his tea, like here I go. I bet I'm about to do the pitch.

[00:32:47] **Dave Gray:** I'm waiting for the question.

[00:32:48] **Gerry Scullion:** tell us all about the School of Possible, Dave.

[00:32:52] **Dave Gray:** Well, it's the same as the first, when you first asked the question, you know, what, if, what, if I look back over the last, [00:33:00] 20, 30 years, what have I been doing, this. the name for it that I have now for it is I've been practicing the art of the possible, the art of the like, okay, what is the most out of all the possibilities that are in front of me right now?

[00:33:15] **Dave Gray:** Can I see ones that other people might not see? Can I see possibilities that, will get me closer to the ideal vision of the life that I want to live? Then what everyone else is pointing to, you know, and like some of it is simply just like, This may sound, this may, sound like common sense, but it, when I articulate it, it's going to sound like common sense, but it's not common, you know, had a, I was teaching, I was working at the newspaper, I wanted to get a teaching job, I thought, oh, you know, I went to see some guy give a lecture and I was like, oh, wow, this guy gets paid. He has, it's his hobby. It's a very obscure thing [00:34:00] about Roman freezes. Like, you know, like, bar relief on the side of Roman. I thought it would be interesting, but it was boring as hell. And, but I realized the guy is getting paid. This is his hobby. He's kind of really interested in this thing.

[00:34:17] **Dave Gray:** No one else is interesting, but they have to go to his class to get graduate, whatever my infantile mind was like, I could do that. You know, he gets paid to do his hobby.

[00:34:28] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:34:29] **Dave Gray:** So I, like I went, they were having an art educators convention in Seattle that year, whereas all the art teachers on the art schools are coming in there where they were going to be hiring.

[00:34:40] **Dave Gray:** And I remember I said to one of my couple of my art friends, you know, I think I'm going to, I'm going to try and. I want to get a, see if I can get a teaching job. And like one guy who was a teacher, these are all men. Unfortunately, one guy was like. Well, Dave, we get 300, 300 applications for every position.[00:35:00]

[00:35:00] **Dave Gray:** And another one of my friends was you won't, there's no way you can get one without a master's degree. You don't have a master's degree. You don't, even bother. And so,

[00:35:10] **Gerry Scullion:** I've heard this. Yeah.

[00:35:11] **Dave Gray:** well, here's the thing that's, common sense is like, what's more expensive in terms of my time, energy, and money to test that assumption or to go get a master's degree?

[00:35:24] **Dave Gray:** Well, obviously. It's much easier for me to apply for a job and see it's a, this is an, you know, an experiment, it's not that hard. I mean, even applying to get a, get into school for a master's degree would be almost as difficult as applying, even more difficult than applying for a job.

[00:35:42] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah,

[00:35:43] **Dave Gray:** So I was like, okay, all right, maybe so. But let's maybe I'm just going to act like an idiot for a little while and just try it and see. And lo and behold, I did get a teaching job. Not, the one I expected. I accidentally applied to Washington university school of art, which was [00:36:00] in St. Louis, and I thought I was applying to a job in Washington state where I lived at the time I lived in Seattle.

[00:36:06] **Gerry Scullion:** You're joking. You're joking me.

[00:36:08] **Dave Gray:** by the time I got to the job interview, I was like, Oh yeah, I would have to move. That's how I ended up in St. Louis, Jerry. That's

[00:36:16] **Gerry Scullion:** Ah, really?

[00:36:18] **Dave Gray:** Yeah.

[00:36:19] **Gerry Scullion:** 30 years

[00:36:20] **Dave Gray:** 30 years later. Yeah. So

[00:36:22] **Gerry Scullion:** Dungeons and Dragons. Yeah.

[00:36:24] **Dave Gray:** it was like, the common sense thing is when you're faced with stuff like that, instead of saying. Agreeing with what you, I might call the limiting belief, the boundary.

[00:36:34] **Dave Gray:** Instead of saying, okay, well, someone says the boundaries there, I guess I trust them, there must be a boundary there that I can't cross or a moat or a canyon that's too big for me to cross. You know, sometimes it's, if you just do the math. It's easier to just test the assumption, test it,

[00:36:53] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:36:54] **Dave Gray:** test on the boundary.

[00:36:56] **Dave Gray:** And I mean, that hasn't always served me well in every aspect of [00:37:00] life, but in the main, I mean, sometimes, you know, you, poke at a boundary and, somebody gets really upset and, or,

[00:37:09] **Gerry Scullion:** Pokes you back. Yeah.

[00:37:12] **Dave Gray:** if you're, going to be in the habit of testing boundaries, you've got to be ready for some kind of occasional, you know, Flare up kind of reactions, but in the main, I think it's just served me really well, you know, just being able to poke at, the assumptions about reality and just doing the math. Okay, so what's, you know, how much time and energy am I going to invest in this? Absurd idea. Well, maybe it's worth, I do a sketch and I post it on LinkedIn just to see,

[00:37:43] **Gerry Scullion:** Absolutely. And you have on your LinkedIn you're a possibilitarian, which, I was like, it's a great word. Is this really what you're hoping to make more of with the School of the Possible?

[00:37:57] **Dave Gray:** yeah. I mean, the school [00:38:00] has a lot of meanings, right? It, the school can be a place of learning. A school can be, a community, school could also be, a shared idea or a philosophy that a group of people share a school of thought. And, yeah, I didn't come up with the term possibilitarian, by the way.

[00:38:16] **Dave Gray:** I got it from my friend, Greg Petroff.

[00:38:19] **Gerry Scullion:** Oh, yeah. Yeah.

[00:38:24] **Dave Gray:** Peale wrote about possibilitarians back in the, like, early, I don't know, maybe 100 years ago or something. but I do love it and I do encourage anyone to adopt it. I don't, you know, once someone asked me not long ago, hey, how would you feel if I, you know, Change my LinkedIn to say possibilitarian.

[00:38:44] **Dave Gray:** Would you be like, what do you feel like? I was like, no, I want, I w I would love to see everybody on LinkedIn calling themselves a possibilitarian because it means something to me, as much as, you know, as much as [00:39:00] your religion or your politics means something to me. Possibilitarian is a,

[00:39:05] **Gerry Scullion:** State of mind.

[00:39:07] **Dave Gray:** it's a big idea.

[00:39:08] **Dave Gray:** that pokes at the, at the nature of reality and the nature of belief and suggests, I think that if you can suspend your disbelief, then all kinds of realities become open to you, all kinds of possibilities become available to you that wouldn't be available if you, allowed the limiting beliefs of your, Society, your team, your organization, your culture, your context, if you allowed them to, prescribe or, you know, to be the boundaries of your reality, you're missing a lot.

[00:39:48] **Gerry Scullion:** Sure. One of the things that I've heard from my coaches is the required resilience [00:40:00] needed to work in the space of where you're constantly sort of facing those non possibilitarians, the people who see the antithesis, the sort of, the anti version of the possibilitarian. Can I ask you to do it? With the work of Mike Parker in liminality and leaning into that, and even the Pomodoro liminality kind of approach of just having regular breaks, how has that worked for you?

[00:40:32] **Gerry Scullion:** what does this, what, behavior has it changed for you? Like, how has it helped you?

[00:40:37] **Dave Gray:** Well, if you think about your reality as like, a landscape,

[00:40:43] **Dave Gray:** can think about it as a, scary forest. you can think about it as a rocky, uphill path.

[00:40:57] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:40:57] **Dave Gray:** I think it's helpful to think [00:41:00] about it as a garden. Think about your reality as kind of like a, and your friends, you know, your acquaintances, some of them might be like weeds.

[00:41:08] **Dave Gray:** You know, you need to prune,

[00:41:09] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:41:10] **Dave Gray:** you need to like, do some weeding and your social circles, maybe a little bit, or, you know, find it. And, you know, some weeds might be so pervasive that you can't quite eliminate them, but you, maybe you can find ways to make them less pervasive in your life. I do think that, you know, the company you keep is important, you know, like you will, everyone has friends and their friends will, We'll lie to you in lots of different ways.

[00:41:38] **Dave Gray:** Friends will lie to you and say that they like stuff that you did when they don't, because they want to spare your feelings.

[00:41:44] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:41:44] **Dave Gray:** Oh, what a nice jacket you chose today or whatever, you know, friends will also lie to you because they're jealous. They don't want you to be successful. Friends will lie to you because, well, if you quit smoking, then I'll have [00:42:00] to quit, you know, so you only have, you know, or, you know, if you quit drinking, then what am I going to do?

[00:42:04] **Dave Gray:** Who am I going to go drinking with or whatever? You know, so friends will lie to you for all kinds of reasons. Okay. Now, this is where I think it's important. You know, when you think about cultivating your garden of your reality, one of the most powerful let's say beliefs that I have ever discovered is the belief that you can create, customers and not necessarily be looking for a job, but be, even if it's a job, be thinking about people as customers, because, Customers don't lie to you

[00:42:38] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah,

[00:42:39] **Dave Gray:** if a customer is frustrated, if a customer is not happy, if you're a cook and they don't like the meal, a customer, your friend might pretend to like it.

[00:42:47] **Dave Gray:** Your customer is not going to pretend anything they're going to be telling. So,

[00:42:52] **Gerry Scullion:** paying for this. Yeah.

[00:42:57] **Dave Gray:** around you. Right? start [00:43:00] spending time with people who are willing to pay you to be around them. You're going to find that you're going to learn a lot. you're going to learn a lot about what things you're doing that people like and don't like. You, that you wouldn't learn from your friends. You're going to learn a lot about what's possible that you wouldn't learn from your friends. You know, like, go to those places where people have no particular reason to like you.

[00:43:22] **Dave Gray:** They're not related to you. They didn't grow up with you. They have no reason to like you and figure out. What you have that can make them happy, strangers are going to be the key. Like, and so over time, if you practice that, you know, you practice really not just being selfish about like, I want to do this cause I want to do it.

[00:43:44] **Dave Gray:** And it makes me happy, but I want to do this because I enjoy it. But I also, because other people. Get value out of it. If you start to approach your life this way, now you're planting seeds in your garden, not just weeding away negative things. Now you've got like actual fruits [00:44:00] and, strawberries and peaches and beautiful things growing in your garden that tastes good.

[00:44:05] **Dave Gray:** Now, it's easier to weed out the weeds because you have something that is, is positive. So, you know, I think you can spend a lot of energy, waste a lot of energy, just trying to remove the negativity. If you have something positive that you can cultivate and grow, then you're just going to naturally fill that space and eventually, you know, you're the people who are like, you're going to figure out when your friends, you know, what the real motivations are between your friends saying they like something or they don't, or they don't think it's possible for you or whatever you're going to, you can take those things with a grain of salt.

[00:44:43] **Dave Gray:** And I think it's very easy to get, let your social environment. define the parameters and the beliefs and the boundaries of your existence. And that's, I mean, that, I don't want to be, [00:45:00] I don't want to be, overdramatic, but I think that can lead to depression and even

[00:45:06] **Gerry Scullion:** Yeah.

[00:45:07] **Dave Gray:** death

[00:45:08] **Gerry Scullion:** No, definitely. Like, we had, Hector Garcia who wrote the journey to Ikigai, he was based in Tokyo on the podcast a couple of months ago. And aligning to your purpose. Is something that I truly believe is really, important, but he had a really interesting statistic that people who retire without any purpose are, I think it's 65 percent more likely to suffer.

[00:45:37] **Gerry Scullion:** Heart disease and serious health implications a number of years later. So, what you're talking about there resonates very much with me. I know the listeners as well because actors episode was one of the most listened to episode last year.

[00:45:52] **Dave Gray:** Hmm.

[00:45:54] **Gerry Scullion:** but like Dave, we're actually coming towards the end of the episode.

[00:45:59] **Gerry Scullion:** We could [00:46:00] speak, for another year.

[00:46:03] **Dave Gray:** Easily.

[00:46:03] **Gerry Scullion:** to get you, I'm going to have to get you back on this podcast. See, this is what I said to you earlier, and you found your new tribe. this is the kind of SHIT we love in this podcast. These, digressions, as you call it. When is the School of Possible?

[00:46:19] **Gerry Scullion:** I know you're doing stuff with Mike at the moment. What's the next couple of months looking like for the School of Possible and how can the listeners of This Is HCD find out more and get more involved with what you're doing?

[00:46:32] **Dave Gray:** there's a super easy way and it's free and it doesn't cost anything and except time. And, that is every Friday I host a zoom call. who, Anyone who considers themself a possibilitarian or potential possibilitarian is welcome to join. It's every Friday is from, nine to 10 30 Pacific time, which is GMT is five to 6 30 PM on Friday.

[00:46:58] **Dave Gray:** So it's like happy hour

[00:46:59] **Gerry Scullion:** [00:47:00] Okay, yeah.

[00:47:01] **Dave Gray:** So, right after work, if you, feel like it,

[00:47:05] **Gerry Scullion:** In the pub.

[00:47:06] **Dave Gray:** it's kind possibilitarian, we basically, we get on the call, we spend 90 minutes. there's no agenda other than what's, inspiring you right now. What's fueling your creative energy. What are you working on? That's really fun and interesting.

[00:47:23] **Dave Gray:** And it could be a personal project could be professional,

[00:47:26] **Dave Gray:** we, yeah, we kind of hang out and, get to learn about each other's creative projects. And.

[00:47:34] **Gerry Scullion:** Nice.

[00:47:34] **Dave Gray:** energized and inspired and, like, wow, people, lots of people doing really cool stuff. And, I think there's, this goes to your point of, you know, a big part of what you believe is possible comes down to who you're surrounding yourself with, who you're spending time with and possibilitarians tend to.

[00:47:57] **Dave Gray:** Create possibilities and [00:48:00] also, you know, as they're exploring possibilities, build into more, it's like a tree that just branches into more and more possibilities. And, people connect on projects. they meet each other there and then they go off and then they, create something together or like, Oh, wow, you're doing that.

[00:48:19] **Dave Gray:** And I'm doing this and wow. What happens if we put those together and lots of that kind of stuff.

[00:48:24] **Gerry Scullion:** That's brilliant. It's brilliant. Can we find information on the website about

[00:48:29] **Dave Gray:** give you the link. I'll give you the link. Yeah.

[00:48:31] **Gerry Scullion:** I'll put that into the show notes. Dave, I wrap up every episode by thanking the guests for their time and their energy and their vulnerability of coming on and having a free flowing conversation because not everyone has that.

[00:48:43] **Gerry Scullion:** enjoys being put on the spot and being recorded and have a camera shoved in their face for whatever, like 50, 60, 70 minutes. But, we'll definitely have to have you back on, in the next couple of months, Dave, because we can talk for, we can talk for a long time about a lot of this [00:49:00] stuff. but best of luck with the School of the Possible, School of the Possible.

[00:49:07] **Gerry Scullion:** and yeah, absolutely fantastic speaking with you. Thanks so much.

[00:49:11] **Dave Gray:** Likewise. Thank you.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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