An experiment with a client by Justin Fenwick
Saturday, November 14 – Ypsilanti, Mi
Setting the Stage
I had landed this client just as school was starting. It was thanks to the recommendation of someone
who participated in a strategic planning process I led with another community organization. I
jumped on the opportunity when I ﬁrst heard of it, especially being my ﬁrst
consulting gig. I was ﬁnally a real consultant. Plus, I really needed the money.
What I got was the busiest time of of my life. As life continued, so did my
doing the minimum for the client. The overall goal was to assess their whole
program and help them with three deliverables: (1) The start to a strategic plan
that they could begin to act on short term; (2) facilitate a process for their
Board of Advisors and staﬀ to better understand their roles; and (3) draft a mission statement.
Keeping track of the project had been diﬃcult. A stakeholder meeting was planned for November
14, as it drew closer I jumped on it as an opportunity to run a creative session. Seeing it as an idea
generation activity, I though it would be perfect. I asked them, as a change in plans, to invite any
outsiders who’s ideas they respected, even if they weren’t familiar with the program. As the day
arrived we discussed the agenda and the question we would ask. After some discussion about order
and expectations for the day, we felt ready.
In which ways can a culture of entrepreneurship ensure youths’ success and ability to contribute in a
9:00 Introductions and Breakfast
9:30 Creative Session
In which ways can a culture of entrepreneurship ensure youthsʼ success and ability to
contribute in a changing economy?
This creative session will help provide the substance of the B.Side visioning process.
This activity embraces the spontaneity and imperfectness of creativity, the goal is to get
as many ideas on the table as possible. Often times “crazy” ideas serve as a useful
stepping stone to something more valuable. This time will be used to embrace diversity
and expose the many opportunities available to the B.Side for success and growth.
Time will be given to both write and speak. Every “voice” will be present.
Expect play, open minds, and new perspectives.
The participants will provide speedy feedback through a simple voting process on
multiple items that asses the current and potential operational structure and activities.
Every participant will provide a “gut check” on what staff, and others, associate with the
success of B.Side.
Expect clarity, lots of different options, and effort to try and stay in touch with your “gut”
All participants help create a visual representation of what it is that B.Side does. From a
strategic standpoint, it will expose leverage and driving points that better inform where
time and energy should be spent to be the most effective. All aspects of current B.Side
activities and goals will be encouraged to be included.
Expect structured mess, epiphanies, complexity, and deeper awareness.
This is the only time where judgement and discernment is expected. Lots of information
will have been brought to the table. The group will create criteria from which to organize
and prioritize the information created.
Expect tension between want and need OR reality and fantasy.
The Day Of
The Myth of Planning
I arrived early that Saturday morning, excited but nervous. The youth of the program showed up,
which was great. Attendance actually ended up being more than expected and
nearly 20 people were in the room. I had been assured
beforehand that everyone had been sent the question the
night before to sleep on. Also, a large number of participants
were supposed to leave at lunch, leaving me with the most
dedicated participants to ﬁnish sorting and planning. The day
started, I felt ambitious trying out this new thing, excited for
the opportunity. There were some big community names in
the room. I led by asking everyone to stand up and literally
shake oﬀ the week. Then was a quick creative activity, asking
people to make some leaps by associating something seemingly
unrelated to the client. I began to lose people as confusion
brewed. Believing in the creative process, I pressed forward, assuring people the value of everything
and anything that occurred. “Yes and” was used. I tried to move the group between silent idea
generation and observation but got stuck in a rut of large group conversation that was moving too
slow for my liking. I kept trying to get concrete ideas out by asking about what was good in an idea
or for solutions. Then it happened, a few people couldn’t hold it in any more.
Scrapping the Agenda
Grunts, sighs, and some very open “what are we doing?” statements...I was outwardly managing and
facilitating, it’s what I do, but internally I was a wreck. I don’t think any one read their agenda, let
alone the question. Later I realized it was only a select few, but at the time it felt like the whole
room. The emotions were so strong that by lunch, the agenda was scrapped in favor of new needs.
Seeking creative destruction
What went wrong?
It is obvious that if you don't have full control over
the participants, that you loose control of fully
engaging creativity. My reliance on the client to
communicate with participants meant that they
arrived ill informed and expecting something with a
concrete conclusion. The broad goals of creativity did
not allow for this development. If it wasn't for the
passive channel to contribute the quantity of ideas
collected would have been small. In addition, failure
to communicate left certain personality types out of
the conversation. One man, with many years of
entrepreneurial experience, had very strong mental
models of what a planning process looked like. The
creative process was unfamiliar to him and even my
framing did not welcome him in. At one point he even
pulled me aside and said he might leave. Only after
extensively validating his point of view did he
The question was too broad and needed to have been tested with more people. My client and I must have
been too wrapped up in our heads to see the awkward situation we were putting the participants in. They
felt both confused and bothered. Yet at the same time apologetic for potentially blindsiding me. Some key
stakeholders were blindsided as much as I was and we were all scared by that. It was my mistake to run a
creative session with 100% stakeholders who have buy-in. This was also done directly in the face of one of
my objectives, helping the client bring clarity to their advisory boards role. The lack of of it was apparent.
What went right?
All in all I got around 150 idea cards. Despite the negative energy, enough people in the room felt
validated and excited enough to keep contributing. I described “Yes and” well enough that people kept
using it. All of this brought to the forefront issues and confusions that existed in the organization and I
often was able to ask enough questions to get to something concrete. While it wasn’t part of the creative
session, I was able to change the entire agenda on the ﬂy to squelch the negative energy and keep the
ideas ﬂowing. I did this by continuing to ask what people needed and oﬀering solutions with a light foot.
Yet most exciting to me, this multi-hour process kept the youth engaged the ENTIRE TIME. They even
said that it was fun. The creative session gave them voice, validation, and room to participate.
Trends and Themes
My favorite way to sort this type of information is by frequency. The most popular or common ideas
serve as my main platform from which I develop much of my planning for the client. I had also
asked people to star ideas and leave me with a top 3 list before they left. The following are some
aggregated themes, trends and ideas.
A theme of being fully responsive to the youth. Listening ﬁrst.Youth make it happen. Youth self
Local business partnerships
Is the program an example of ambiguity, risk, self, relationships, etc?
Making a real youth business happen
Assessment of available resources
A program developing life skills
Themes and Ideas:
Need to get innovative fast or lose board members
Youth language - focused on understanding the youth "beat"
Help facilitate youth on boards and other roles in the business community, involved in decisions
Following gut and impulse training
The creative business plan
Look up tech town
Designing program around skills that youth feel they are missing
Focus on business outreach
Quality over quantity…focus on one youth venture, one real opportunity.
Respond to what business WILL look like, not traditional models
Entrepreneurship is limited, not for all
Entrepreneurship centers inside schools
Products for the Client
So far the client I have been able to create two deliverables (B.sidemission.doc & B.side
strategic.doc), they serve as a summary of the best ideas and my “Appendix A.”
Link to Raw Data
If you are interested in viewing all of the ideas generated that day you can view them here: