Artefact Cards and the Mandelbrot set - Warren Church

Hello Warren. As game show hosts say, "tell the nice folks at home where you're from and what you do"... 

Well I am from Ontario, Canada but live in the states now - Cincinnati, Ohio. Apparently that's known as being a 'closet Canadian'. I've had a rather random walk of jobs, from economist to copywriter to planner to lots of things to brand strategist to now a CD at Department26... which I started with a long-time creative partner 2yrs ago... we work behind the scenes inside large companies to decode, translate, and dramatize change efforts. 


We'll decode that big fat McKinsey deck and translate it into something that motivates people to get behind the big things that really can move a company forward. People aren't really hungry for information, they're hungry for drama - and a chance to participate; to make a real contribution. It's a challenge that uses everything we think we know ;) 

So where do the Artefact Cards fit in to that? 

I think out loud by writing, and that's usually big sheets and small ones and lots of notebooks. When I got the cards I first tried to work them into the mix as a replacement for some of these, but then they just sort of led me to a new place. Their size allowed me to take the best bits from the larger sheets, and visually oppose these ideas with facts in a whole that you can see; then you can try to explode out in all directions. Sometimes this just creates a story out of nowhere. And sometimes it's just rubbish, but then you start again. 

I've even taken all the constraints of a problem and written each one on a card and built houses out of them to look for a new angle on a way in. I like writing by hand because of the agility and speed and the cards just facilitate that sort of mindplay. And of course their portability means you can pull them out at the pub and keep working. 

When we've talked before, you've mentioned a difference between internalised and externalised ideas; the ones in your head, and the ones written down. 

Well you're always thinking or daydreaming or just going sideways and you end up with a lot of stuff in your head that might be helpful but I think it doesn't really become an idea until you write it down by hand. 

The cards, because they are kind of precious in a way (not disposable), sort of make you bring the idea to them. Which then gives them more life because you've over-committed - you're no longer thinking it to yourself - it's out there on the table and now everyone is not only seeing them, they are playing with them. 

You can leave them out on the table or the floor and people will just naturally start in, or pick one up and take it away. They spread easily. I have also been using them on twitter - just handwriting my message - very nice way to avoid the keyboard and the awkward 140 character thing.


Is this something you've started thinking about since getting the Artefact Cards, or has it been a recognised factor in your work for a while?

I've always had a hard time thinking in front of the computer, it's just not the way I work best. I experimented with different things - whiteboards, electronic whiteboards, etc., but in the end it was markers and whitesheets and paper all over the walls. 

The cards are just an extension of that method. But I also think they can change the way that you think - in the McLuhan sense they are a "cool" medium - they invite you to participate in new ways. I think if people started their day by writing the one thing that came into their mind when they woke their day would be better. 

What is the Mandelbrot set ? You mentioned that there was something of Artefact Cards in it... 

The Mandelbrot set deals with complex numbers and Julia sets but what I think what they have in common is a very complex structure that arises from the application of simple rules - there's a simple iterated equation that produces the Mandelbrot set (most people will likely have seen the fractal images that it creates when plotted). 

The cards are like that - you can start with one idea or revelatory insight or constraint, and create any number of iterations which create complex structures which are connected. And these can in turn reveal a simple truth. There is a fractal nature to them. 

Any other miscellaneous things?   

- I have been putting a single hole in one end and using a ring to hold a bundle of them rather than using the pack...
- Part of me wants a slightly larger version - like 150 x 250mm? 
They can be used to build charts - so you can plot the emotional rhythm of a presentation directly - with the words so you can see the "this is the world as it is" and "this is the world as it could be" lows and highs 
- Artefact presentation contest - done of course only on cards
- Light square grids on one side for those of us who strive to be neater

Thanks Warren... Grids, you say?  I think we might have a treat in store for you come the winter special edition...

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