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This technique entails physical production of a 3-dimensional theoretical ‘sculpture’ of a problem and promoting physical activity, collaborative work and the playful attribution of new meanings to physical materials (originally described by Ole Faafeng of the Norwegian Management Institute).

Reaction to particular media varies widely from person to person, but in reality ‘paper and pen’ representations (drawing, word lists, etc.) for idea-generation are usually the most convenient (see Component Detailing, Drawing, Essay Writing, Story Writing, BrainSketching, Visual Brainstorming). The representation of a problem by the use of any new means (i.e. music or dance) can help bring unspoken imagery and understanding to the surface and supply a wealthy means of expression for discussion and idea generation.

A more elaborate and time-consuming exercise such as 3-dimensional construction might be worth including:

  • If it feels appropriate to introduce a different medium or mode of working, perhaps to create a change of mood or tempo
  • If you want to use task strangeness as a creativity trigger
  • If practical construction is a preferred expressive medium for these participants
  • If a team-building element is needed – group construction work can be good for this.

Of course individuals could construct their own sculptures, but Faafeng describes a group approach. Advance Preparation

Assemble a wide range of materials that could be included in the sculpture, such as:

  • Tools (scissors, felt-tipped pens, pencils, etc).
  • Joining materials (glue, sticky tape, string, staplers, etc).
  • Sculpting materials (paper, cardboard boxes, wire, paper-clips, bits of wood, garden canes, modelling clay, objects like tin cans, small items of furniture like waste-bins that may be to hand)
  • Encourage group members to bring along material they have gathered themselves

A possible procedure

  1. Familiarisation of the problem with open group discussions, including any work they may already have been attempted on the problem.
  2. The facilitator clarifies the task and sets an overall time limit.
  3. Alternatively this exercise could be combined with a walking Excursion (qv) activity in which participants gather materials they find and that strike them as interesting – e.g. natural objects such as leaves or branches, or found objects like old keys, magazines, or used drink cartons.
  4. A little time can now be spent by the group experimenting to see what can be done with the tools and materials they have so far.
  5. The group then starts to assemble a sculpture that is felt to characterize some feature or property of the problem situation. It is probably best if the sculpture simply ‘emerges’ in a relaxed and crude way as the group collectively and individually work with the materials, rather than being formally designed and planned. There is no requirement for an explanation as to why they think it represents the problem situation, and can be as serious or as light-hearted as the group wish.
  6. A break would be appropriate when the time limit is up.
  7. Participants then return to the work area and spend a few moments considering their sculpture, writing down privately any solution ideas that the sculpture and the experience of building it suggest to them.
  8. Once the flow of ideas slows down, those that they have come up with are shared with the rest of the group via a round robin, leading to open discussion and brainstorming.