Mapping Social Messes: A GLEN Exchange with Bob Horn

Recently Stanford scholar Bob Horn, longtime friend of The Grove and fellow pioneer in visual thinking, led a GLEN Exchange * introducing his “mess mapping” process for exploring social messes and their causes. Author of Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century, he is a specialist in mapping complex social problems. Currently he is writing a book called The Little Book of Wicked Problems and Social Messes. 

Bob Horn during his GLEN Exchange

In mess mapping, a group of diverse stakeholders tackles a challenging problem by taking one set of problem-causing factors at a time, looking to understand and visually represent the complexities and cross-boundary causes. The goal is to raise awareness while also creating a possibility for new social constructions of meaning, potentially with coordinated problem solving.


Defining Social Messes

“I got the idea of ‘messes’ from (early organization-development pioneer) Russell Ackoff,” Bob explained. “Ackoff said, ‘Often many problems are systemically interrelated. We don’t have a word in English for that, so I will adopt the technical term mess.’ I liked that a lot, and I thought it was a deep insight. Because I think that messes are all social, I use the term ‘social messes’ to describe wicked problems, unruly complex problems, important or even urgent problems that affect many people.”  

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Welcome the New Year with The Grove’s 2019 Calendar: 12 Months of Visualizing Change

At The Grove we help people come together to create something new. Clients work with us to begin new initiatives, create or refresh new teams, or set a new direction.

Whatever the facilitative challenge, there are patterns in the way we approach our work. Through metaphoric imagery, this year’s Grove calendar illustrates some of the basic practices that we use to facilitate a creative group process. Please follow along with our visual story, then download the Grove’s 2019 printable calendar for your enjoyment throughout the year.

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5 Neuroscience Tips for Creating Engaging, Productive Meetings

Editor’s Note: Recently The Grove’s Tiffany Forner worked with Dick and Emily Axelrod to create a visual template and Leader’s Guide for their meeting planning process, The Meeting Canoe, which they describe in their book, Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done. We thought the following tips in the Leader’s Guide were so fundamental to good meetings that we asked if we could share them, and the Axelrods generously agreed.



Your brain is constantly scanning for threats and rewards. When the threat response occurs, the innovative, collaborative parts of your brain shut down. When the reward response occurs, the innovative, collaborative parts of your brain light up.

Here are five ways you can support the reward state, to increase innovative collaborative behavior during meetings.

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Visual Consulting: Harvesting The Grove’s Change Leadership

From its inception to the present day, The Grove has helped design and lead large organizational- and community-change projects by successfully applying its visual facilitation, teaming, strategic-visioning, and process-leadership methods. Now Grove founder David Sibbet and Gisela Wendling, vice president for global learning, have written Visual Consulting: Designing and Leading Change, the fourth book in the Wiley & Sons Visual Facilitation Series. It includes several new frameworks and a rich set of practices for facilitators wishing to become visual consultants or consultants who wish to become visual.

Visual Consulting introduces a new model for change, called the Seven Challenges of Change, and integrates an underlying archetypal framework for change developed by Gisela Wendling called the Liminal Pathways Change Framework with other Grove frameworks that support thinking about process. The book grounds its ideas in a case study of a major change project and details how consultants can become aware of the inner dynamics over the course of a change process as well as the outer process structures that support real transformation. read more…

Announcing a New Workshop: The Graphic Recording Intensive

You’ve asked and we’ve listened! We are pleased to announce the launch of The Grove’s new two-day Graphic Recording Intensive (November 14-15, 2018 and July 22-23, 2019) at our San Francisco location. This continuing-education opportunity is for people who have been through our Principles of Graphic Facilitation (PGF) workshop or other related training in graphic fundamentals, and are interested in taking their visual practice to the next level.

This training will refine your skills in graphic recording as well as the graphic aspects of visual facilitation. The class incorporates many demonstrations, including new tips and techniques on lettering, space planning, icons, and real-time graphic capture, with practice time throughout. Unlike the small-group focus of the PGF workshop, the Graphic Recording Intensive emphasizes individual practice and trainer feedback.

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