Beware the Sparkle Pony

We have all been there. The alignment and definition meeting. Not the brainstorm meeting–where you are opening it up and all ideas are good. But the one where a group is gathered to agree on a brief, define personality attributes, decide on positioning language, or select imagery. You’ve been in that meeting. Everyone blocked 2 hours, the white boards are cleaned, there is a stack of fresh post-it notes, and someone even ordered hot lunch.

You know how this goes: someone sets it up, the next 45 minutes or so are spent with everyone giving their opinion. There are insights, some new ideas, and genuine collaboration happening. And there are the long-held personal opinions that everyone has heard before–which usually ends when someone says, “let’s think about the user.” It’s break time. Pack up the lunch, bathroom break, grab a coffee.

It takes a few minutes to get back into the flow– “let’s review where we are.” And then there are a critical 10 minutes–it starts to click, things are making sense, stakes are put in grounds. Smiles. Relief.  And maybe even a high five. Someone takes a picture of the board. Wow!

And then suddenly it happens. The gates are opened. Someone lets in the Sparkle Pony. That trendy, uninvited, good-looking-on-the-outside, no-substance-on-the-inside idea. You recognize it immediately because you have seen it before. It prances in as short statements like, “I don’t see agility in there.”  Or, “we are disruptive.”  Or, “this doesn’t say innovation.” You know these species of Ponies. But, at this point, there is nothing you can do. Everyone is spent. And no one has the energy take it on. The clarity you had is gone. The air in the room is stale.

Another work session ends with someone agreeing to type up notes and send them to everyone for comments. The big idea and the excitement are lost. There is no alignment or focus and things are as muddled or watered-down as ever. But even worse, the team has not made progress and produced a win– and that is the real issue. We all know that feeling. And to think it all started from a little pony. The key is to recognize when it enters the room, address it, and then send it back out to the pasture. You will realize how much you can accomplish when you set them free.

I’m Dean. A partner at Catapult Thinking. I’d love to hear about your experience with this.
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