Organisational learning and paper engineering

You what? OK, its an unusual combination and perhaps the term ‘paper engineering’ needs an introduction. Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by ‘pop-up’ books and cards. In fact I have a big collection of them. Pop up books began as a way of animating stories but pretty soon people began to see their potential for explaining complex ideas. The technical term for pop-ups and similar types of paper objects is ‘paper engineering’. For me, the most wonderful examples of paper engineering are made by Ingrid Siliakus (actually Ingrid is a paper architect, making three dimesional objects out of a single cut and folded sheet). Robert Sabuda has also made some amazing pop-up books (his trilogy of books on dinosaurs, sharks and mega-beasts are, in my opinion, the best ever produced), and his cards for the Museum of Modern Art in New York are works of art in their own right.

I got into paper engineering a few years ago and I have been fascinated with the truly ingenious ways in which paper engineers use such a simple medium to make complex objects. Sometimes the objects are the message and sometimes the objects carry the message.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a three day retreat with my consultant colleagues in Framework. Framework has been holding retreats twice a year for 25 years and I have been to the most recent 24 events. We try to surprise each other with the sessions we organise and one of the most popular opportunities to do this is the ‘check in’ session held at the beginning of the retreat. This time, Catherine used the theme of ‘creativity’ to get us started. She asked us to come along prepared to talk about (and show) something creative that we did outside of work. We were encouraged to tell each other about how long we have been doing our creative activity, why we started it, what it means to us and where we want to take it in the future. Then we were asked to discuss how we think the creative activity relates to and influences our capacity for creativity in our work. I chose paper engineering and it was Catherine’s final question that got me thinking hard. How could I relate paper engineering to my organisational development consultancy work? The result of that thinking are the two objects in these photos.

The first object is a simple pyramid that sits on my desk as an aide-memoire. This one is a reminder of a conceptual model I developed a few years back concerning organisational learning. The model is abbreviated as MMO – motive, means and opportunity – and provides a way of thinking about what we all need in order to learn effectively in organisations. Each is represented on one side of the pyramid. In the photo you can see the opportunity and motive sides.

The second paper engineering object I took to the retreat was inspired by the model that Donald Rumsfeld (George Bush’s Secretary of State) famously quoted at a press conference during the Iraq war that had the journalists present hooting with laughter. However funny his attempt at an explanation, the model he was trying to describe not only makes sense – it is a useful way of thinking about knowledge management in organisations. The model is rather like the JoHari window so I decided to represent it as a four-box matrix that opens to provide some little insights within each box.

My colleagues really liked the models and I enjoyed making them so now I am thinking about other ways to link two of my passions – paper engineering and organisational learning. My next challenge is to work out a way of creating a paper engineering object that represents my ‘eight function model‘ for organisational learning.


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