CoCreation in CERN - or "How to fall in love with the Unknown"

Have you ever been to CERN? I had never been to Genf nor to CERN. So I took the chance to travel into the future, with CERN Ideasquare, Advantage Austria and Terra Mater Studios. I took the train (11 hours) in order to get there, relaxed and inspired by the mountains, the vinyards and the lakes. Curious about how to plan the unplannable or even uncertainty? In this blog I try to reflect and share my key take aways for absorbing uncertainty in order to create value in the NOW and thereby for the FUTURE: within a 10-steps-process.

It´s all about "the Power of the many"!

The key principles of running largescale (in people and duration) and fundamental experiments are addressing challenges we face in these transformational times in all kind of projects. For me the most useful and transforming principles are:

Do not over-engineer Innovation

  • Having a simple and clear vision, put in a Memorandum of Understanding, that is not (!) bindable.
  • The solution clearly is not defined at the start! Otherwise your solution is "only" an incremental innovation.
  • Deconstruct and reassemble existing patterns, principles and solutions in order to create revolutionary new solutions.

Unleashing the power of "BottomUp"

Start a project in small groups, that assemble a kind of "shopping list" for skills an "ingredients" for the way towards a solution. Vs. building hierachical and mechanical organisational structures that kill creativity at all.

There are no problems!

If unexpected outcomes occur and the goal is in danger, teams share their "procedure" for solving the problem with all the other project members or even expert communities in order to invite others to come up with alternative procedures. If promising, parallel teams are installed in order to find a new path.

AT this point the question might arise, how that is possible, to overcome one´s EGO by showing what does NOT work. The answer is:

"We are all in the same boat"

No matter what you contributed to an experiment, you become an author for the solution. What a motivation for each project member to bring in all your ideas, even if they are risky!

DOing projects instead of FINISHing projects

"You know, we really wanna DO projects and not finish them.", is one of my favourite quotes (by Markus Nordberg) from CERN. Being enthusiatic for finding new solutions and being faithful to do so :-)

Inside CERN.jpg

Let´s start step by step - to dance into the unknown future:

Step 1 | Fundamental Multilayer SetUp

For creative processes we always need a good place, a proven and clear process and the right mixture of people. Which was given at the fantastic CoCreation Space at Ideasquare at CERN: IdeaSquare is the innovation space at CERN using collaborative methodologies, access to CERN expertise and cross-connectivity to ideate solutions for the future of humankind. A place where people have the licence to dream.

For your innovative project it is key to find a proper setting, in order to get the most out of it:

  • Inspiring Space: A place apart from your daily business. Fully equipped for collaborative working. Surprising with fun parts, such as an old bus (e.g. at Ideasquare or at the dSchool in Stanford). We lately launched our unconventional future crafting campus, one hour outside of Vienna, where nature and a sustainable lifestyle inspire people to work on our sustainable future.
  • Expertise: Which is in CERN the unique expertise of physicians and experiment leads - principles for running fundamental research and large collaborations. As innovations are mostly new combinations of existing things, it always makes sense to transfer from one discipline to another. What we can transfer from CERN will follow in this blog.
  • Collaborative Methodologies: proven processes lead to unexpected results, as they trigger our unconsciousness and clearly invite us to leave our comfort zone! Which we can experience in design sprints, prototyping & co. "We prototype everything", was the introduction of Markus Nordberg, the passionate leader of Ideasquare.
  • X-Connectivity: teams as diverse as they can be! Connected to various ecosystems they can bring in as experts, advisors or testers.

Integrated workshop, tackling all layers

Step 2 | De-Celerate

CERN is famous for acceleration. And guess what we did shortly after arriving there? We went to visit and learn about Elena, which ist the latest technological infrastructure to slow down antimatter protons in order to use them for experimentation matters.

Isn´t that a nice metaphor? To slow down and be present before starting to work on uncertainty matters :-)


Elena, the latest technology to decelerate anti-matter for experimentation

Step 3 | Inviting antimatter

In the business context antimatter means feedback. The further and more successful we are in our business, the more we forget to invite antimatter, as feedback and challenging of what we do and why we do it. The demand on being curious as a child, which we are familiar with in design thinking processes, is key to come to fundamental new perspectives for our so called, reality - which can only be one perspective. The challenge in the work of CERN is to make the invisible visible - a credo, that made me think about where to introduce antimatter in my visions, my work and my daily impact.

Step 4 | Memorandum of Understanding

As a first step in up to 60 years lasting projects, including up to 4.000 collaborators a very simple Memorandum of Understanding is setup, where a procedure is described how to tackle a problem, without knowing the outcome!

But having the faith that you will find the solution as a team: "We do projects, because we wanna DO them, not because we want to finish them", underlined Markus Nordberg the attitude of CERN.

Which brings me to the COM-B model, introduced by Chris from RedBull: when it comes to behaviour change, which is needed in the innovation context, we tend to focus on capabilities (skills) of people and probably of opportunities to apply or rollout the new ideas. What we tend to neglect is the motivation of people: What is in for me, if I engage for an experiment or a transformation? Why should I support the new? Trust me, it´s worth it to install this WHY in your transformation processes, by changing perspectives.

MoU Web.jpg

The MoU to build the www, 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee

Step 5 | Bottom Up

The secret sauce for having the motivation and the endurance to run fundamental projects is the beginning: with discussions in small groups, while drinking a coffee or tea. Digging for diverse motivations to solve the problem. In order to have the buy-in of all participating people. And a clear "shopping list" for all the ingredients you gonna need along the way.

What I love most at the CERN principles is

  • the fact, that literally everybody who participates in an experiment becomes an author of the project. See picture below.
  • the equal voting rights in order to have everybody on board. And to avoid polarizing.

"We are all in the same boat", is the most frequent remark, used by Markus Nordberg.

CERN Atlas Authors.jpg

Authors of the Atlas Experiment at CERN

Step 6 | Backbone for Innovating

For big experiments (which designing our future observes), we need a solid infrastructure. In CERN one of this is Elena, as mentioned above, which provides the needed input (decelerated antimatter protones) in order to build experiments on that.

In business this means a solid, transparent and reliable organisational backbone which holds the space for running experiments versus organisational energy consuming burdens.

Elena Backbone.jpg

Elena, serving like a "terminal" for experiments

Step 7 | Clearly define your Experiments

At the beginning of a CERN experiment stands a clear goal for solving a question and the 100% faith in solving it. The solution is unclear at the start, otherwise we are not talking about fundamental innovation.

The secret sauce and big difference to our business reality is that there are NO problems along an experiment! If things do not turn out as expected or anticipated, the operating team discloses their procedure and parallel teams are setup. Teams who skill-wise follow "parallel realities" and might discover an important ingredient for getting along with the experiment.

beam me up.jpg

Step 8 | Experience is key

Coming from a more or less stable area we are used to create structures and a purpose for our projects. What really makes the difference in creating the new not normal, is experience. Introducing experience as a third dimension leads us to higher creativity. So we learned from Pablo Garcia Tello how to deconstruct and reassemble a topic. For creating an experience, we choose a category that we use as narrative for telling the story of an innovation. A brilliant example is this video, produced by Pablo´s students, reinventing Biohacking as fashion: Biohacking is Future Beautiful

Step 9 | Dance! or "Alles Walzer", as we keep saying in Austria

A very efficient method to discover new "land" is the Cha(llenge)-Cha(nge)-Cha(rt) presented by Pablo Garcia Tello: you chart the status quo (e.g. restaurants have waiters), reverse the assumptions to the opposite (e.g. there are no waiters at all) and reassemble these components to new, revolutionary solutions for your challenge (e.g. the restaurant is a stylish and smart place to dine, you rent the place and bring and prepare your own food together with friends).

Step 10 | Tell Your Story

Assuming that we are all designing and creating for a sustainable future - which includes our planet, how I treat myself and how to transfer knowledge - we need to tell meaningful stories in order to get our friends, family, colleagues and our ecosystems involved.

Markus Mooslechner from Terra Mater taught us how to overcome our filter of consciousness and enter the land of narrative thinking. Creating and telling stories that reveal our creativity. Star Man from Elon Musk is a great example for that - involving people in his story of conquering the universe by civilians.

Licence to dream

Leaving CERN Ideasquare, we received the Licence to dream. Now I invite YOU to share your dreams with me and us - let´s create our sustainable tomorrow together!

license to dream.jpg

Licence to dream