Don’t set New Year’s Resolutions. Use Design Thinking, Lean and Systems Thinking Instead.

Originally posted at

New Year’s resolutions are declining in popularity — A Forbes survey showed that about 75% of people over 45 don’t bother with them anymore. And good riddance. Research shows that resolutions are not very effective at changing behaviors — after a month, nearly half of resolvers had failed at whatever they were resolving to do.

Resolutions are driven by what we think we should do

The top ten resolutions should look pretty familiar to you:

Exercise more, Lose weight, Get organized, Learn a new skill or hobby, Live life to the fullest, Save more money / spend less money, Quit smoking, Spend more time with family…

Where Does a Conversation Happen?

What is the medium for the conversation…and does it support the conversation you want to have happen?

All the other elements of a conversation converge in one place: the interface for that conversation. (Learn more about the other elements of the Conversation OS Canvas here)

The interface can be physical. The interface of regular, everyday conversations is the air we breathe. We vibrate that air with our vocal cords, those vibrations strike our ears and we convert those patterns to sounds, sounds to language.

The interface can be digital. We also communicate through texts, emails, Facebook, Slack, Twitter. Some of…

Exploring the Conversation OS Canvas

Meetings are Group Conversations

My work over the past several years has been in learning and applying the principles of conversation dynamics, found in studying one-to-one conversations to complex group conversations. You might call these group conversations by another name: meetings or workshops, teamwork…even cultures and communities can be understood through this lens.

The size of the conversations (in number of participants) is different, but the essential structures are the same.

Conversations have Structure

Understanding the patterns behind things is an intellectual pleasure. But there’s practical value, too. If we know the principles on which something is built, we can build it…

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

And what to do about it

Zoom Fatigue is a term that didn’t even exist in the beginning of 2020. And while the flurry of google searches has gone from a blazing fire to a slow burn, you are still exhausted at the end of the day from all the video calls.

The secret of transformative facilitators

When I coach facilitators, one thing I notice is how overwhelming the job can feel. There’s a lot to keep track of: Stakeholder requirements ahead of a session, bringing together people for a working session (cat herding!), keeping your eyes on the goals and outcomes to make sure that the time was well spent…all while making sure that all voices are heard and included…*and* while keeping an eye on the agenda, flexing and shaving time where needed.

It’s a lot.

If there’s one thing I want facilitators, leaders and coaches of all stripes to remember is this: Never do anything…

a radical approach

I’m going to make this as simple as possible…don’t try to engage with people you disagree with unless you really really have to or really, really want to.

You have other options besides conflict

How I keep it simple for online facilitation

Like many of you, I’m doing a lot more facilitating online. I’ve posted about my set up elsewhere and people keep asking! So, here it is, plain and simple.


When I facilitate in person, I don’t sit much, if at all. Standing keeps my energy up and helps me engage folks. But…sometimes I need a break.

I found this gem and I love it to pieces. It’s really fun to use. Seriously.

Oh…and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.


Since I used to travel so much for my work, I don’t really have a desk. And so, while…

A Simple Guide to one of the most fundamental materials a facilitator can shape.

Time is one of the most fundamental materials a facilitator can shape.

The most obvious ways we shape time is through an agenda. At the end of this article, I’ll share my Process Iteration Worksheet…Eight of my favorite ways to rethink and re-imagine agendas.

How much Time?

One of the biggest challenges for every facilitator is to decide how much time to give to each activity or topic in the agenda.

Alas, there’s no hard or universal rule for how long an activity can or should take…it’s something that you learn through practice (i.e., failure!)

Factors include the group size…

Do you focus on the big picture or the details?

Not literally…I mean, what process do you use when someone asks you how to spell your name?

I was on line at the pharmacy recently and the person before me was asked this question by the pharmacist.

This customer did something strange.

They started listing all the letters of their name. (in order, naturally)

Halfway through, the pharmacist stopped the customer and asked for a clarification of the last few letters. So the customer started over from the beginning with a stream of letters.

This moment struck me.

When someone…

sweet, sweet silence…

Here’s how to change the conversation

Meetings can be completely sidelined in the first 30 seconds. There’s one in every group: the guy who opens his mouth first. (and it’s likely a guy…sorry, guys)

What’s the big deal? Someone has to break the ice, right?

The deal is this: The first speaker sets the tone for the rest of the conversation, anchoring the entire conversation.

After the first speaker sets the tone, the second speaker builds a thread from that first turn, whether they agree with the first speaker or oppose them. …

Daniel Stillman

Host of and @gothamsmith co-founder. Often riding bikes to the ocean.

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