Catalytic style is a an approach to having conversations that helps the solution emerge from the client rather than having it planted by the consultant. I learnt this approach from Nick Zienau at Intelligent Action, and it is well worth taking the time to practise using it.
The rules of Catalytic Style
- Keep the focus on the client.
- Ask short, open questions to keep them talking (what, how, but not why).
- Offer quick summaries to show you are listening.
- Don’t offer your own solutions – this is about keeping the focus on the client.
Catalytic style helps us build trust with clients and stakeholders. Listening to them shows them we value their voice.
Conversations in this form can lead to better solutions, because the ideas emerge from the specific context of the client. And so, the client is more likely to come back to you to seek your advice.
There is nothing underhand in using a conversation technique. We do it in order to earn trust and therefore the possibility of being able to do better design.
Catalytic Style in Regenerative Design
In regenerative design, the living systems blueprint helps guide us as we transition towards more regenerative practices. One of the capacities of human and living systems that we seek to unlock through regenerative design is enabling these systems to self organise and evolve towards design solutions that are the best fit for that place. This is about letting ideas emerge from the potential of the site, rather than imposing them from afar. This about nurturing seedlings rather than importing saplings.
Using Catalytic Style is a good discipline for helping us to work with a more emergent mindset, helping to build capacity of people and places to develop ideas.