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Serious Play for Creative Facilitation with Chantal Schmelz

Chantal Schmelz is a facilitator, strategist, lecturer, and marketer based in Zurich, Switzerland. Chantal explains how she uses the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method to break down barriers between participants and generate breakthrough ideas. Chantal shares consumer insights based on her work in Europe and the Philippines, and contrasts e-commerce in developed countries with what she sees in the developing world – plus how WEConnect connects women-owned businesses with buyers globally.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Chantal Schmelz: A very wise man once said perspective is not what you’re looking at, but where you’re looking from. So shifting perspectives in a team can unleash unbelievably creative solutions to problems that seemed impossible to solve before.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, VP of Insights at Bigeye. A full-service, audience-focused creative agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Bringing together business leaders, politicians, and journalists to discuss current economic and social challenges, the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting is usually held in January in the ski town of Davos, Switzerland. This year, due to COVID-19, the annual meeting was held virtually, but the WEF’s decision reflected the level of global disruption unleashed by the worst health crisis in more than a century, the aftershocks of which will have profound long-term impacts on many aspects of our consumer-led society. And as my colleague, Dana Cassell, described in Bigeye’s webinar and podcast, a return to “business as usual” isn’t an option. Many organizations have been forced by the pandemic to re-engineer some of the ways they operate. But how do you introduce change strategically, and at scale, within an organization? My guest this week is a change enthusiast who resists the idea of only having one profession. Chantal Schmelz works as a facilitator, strategist, lecturer, and marketing consultant with a very diverse portfolio of projects and clients. But Chantal’s projects always have two things in common: they actively drive positive change, and they only work when the collective intelligence of the team is harnessed. Chantal uses agile methods, tools, and processes to enable co-thinking and collaboration. Chantal has worked with McDonald’s, the Innovation Hub of the University of Zurich, and with startups all around Europe. To talk about her work and playful approach to creative facilitation, Chantal is joining us today from her home in Zurich, Switzerland. Chantal, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Chantal Schmelz: Thank you very much for having me, Adrian. It’s a pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Chantal, you are a facilitator, strategist, lecturer, and marketing consultant. Do you typically work with clients who engage you for just one of your skills or are they looking to take advantage of a multidisciplinary approach?

Chantal Schmelz: So, actually, it most often is kind of an unintentional upselling process. To tackle strategy often sounds too big of a task and facilitation is too intangible for a lot of people or fancy-pantsy for them. So actually, often people come to me with a very clearly framed task, like doing a webpage or getting their teams trained on any specific, marketing communication topic. And once we get to work together by asking a few, probably sometimes uncomfortable questions, we started turning stone by stone. And in the end we mostly work on a rather strategic project together with the help of agile methods. So I’d say most of them are not specifically looking for my multidisciplinary approach unless they have already worked with me, but get to see the value of connecting all these dots and thus creating better outcomes once they’ve overcome the fear of tasks that seemed too big to tackle.

Adrian Tennant: Would you say that you are equal parts facilitator, strategist, lecturer, marketer – or do you favor one role or specialism over the others?

Chantal Schmelz: What a lovely question. I’ve always been a kinesthetic learner, myself. One of the characteristics being that connecting things and spatial thinking has always come very naturally to me. But I had an awfully hard time at school as the system implies that there are natural boundaries between physics and English where in my brain, there are none. All dots are somehow connected. So frankly speaking, I’ve never much questioned whether I’m now working as a facilitator or a marketer only. I like to listen and watch closely and then bring all skills to the table that might help the process. So I see myself rather as a human being, with a toolbox full of very differently shaped tools that all have their benefits and timing and also limitations. Using them resourcefully, that is more important to me than whether a client is referring to me as their marketing consultant or their facilitator. However, I’m not down talking on the difficulties that one faces when, especially I have to position myself clearly, as in this podcast. Ironically, that is something that I try to avoid, against the advice I’d regularly give to my marketing clients when I tell them they have to have a very clear positioning!

Adrian Tennant: Hmm, I like that. So, Chantal, what types of projects have you been working on lately?

Chantal Schmelz: Multidisciplinary ones! I know that’s not the answer you were looking for, but it’s somehow true. So last week, I ran a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop with 50 people that all work at the overlap of innovation and education. And we worked on the topic of gamification. So it was all mixed and tangled up: multidisciplinary. And I also currently work on two bigger projects with clients that always remind me of Renee Mauborgne’s Blue Ocean Strategy book, because both are existing within long-been-there industries with clear standards and procedures, and also a clear set of thinking or mindset. However, both have unique approaches that lay way outside of the industry norm or what has been known so far. So one is a small fashion label that manages to produce circular fashion. So not just hopping on this sustainability train that the bigger fashion labels have onboarded over the last few years, because it was trendy – where they do textile recycling, which mostly only consists of collecting old clothes, shredding them, and reusing as insulation materials. This small label has managed to really retrieve the raw materials from their clothes and make new ones out of them. And the other one is an even older trade – it’s retail. So it’s a hard discount retailer that is built up in a very similar way to the ALDI concept, from years back. So, old-style retail. However, while ALDI has mostly stuck to industrialized countries for their expansion, they are expanding into the Philippine market with its very unique demographics in a time where the communities there – not only by the pandemic – have already been widely digitalized. They have the need to educate their consumers while not making them feel that they’re being educated. So excellent use cases for multi-disciplinary tasks where I can bring all my skills to the table, not simultaneously, but over the course of time, all of them will be used.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Well, you mentioned the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method. I know you’re a facilitator and certified in the method. Could you explain what it is and how you came to be using LEGO® in facilitation?

Chantal Schmelz: I have two boys at home, so we were playing LEGO®, not very seriously, at home already. And I’ve seen the benefits with my children talking over LEGO® already. I also have an education degree and with all my consultancy customers and clients, I always hit the same brick wall where they just got stuck because you handed them a blank sheet of paper, where they had to note down bullets or ideas, or, had to, come to decisions based on just talking together. And I felt with the education knowledge in the background, that there must be more opportunities to unleash the potential that lays in these discussions. a friend of mine started doing LEGO® and she was like, that’s going to be that solution for unstacking those discussions. So I took upon a challenge and got certified and have ever since had the most amazing experiences with customers, people just wanting to test the method and being really like, “Oh, I didn’t know all these people in the room, but I now somehow feel connected and we could really, without knowing each other, with very different backgrounds, we could work on one topic together in a very appreciative, highly participative way”. So this is for me is the beauty of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. And, also how I came to use it in the first place.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common preconceptions clients and participants have about using- I nearly said playing with – using LEGO®?

Chantal Schmelz: Oh, we always say “let’s play,” because I mean, everyone knows it’s a play and playing comes very naturally to all human beings. So, why not to managers and CEOs? However, especially when it’s a highly hierarchical or highly disturbed team there, you always have people [with] crossed arms, eyes rolling, “Oh, yet another team-building event. And I’ve been to tons of them.” And we try to always just say, “Give it a try. If you don’t like it in half an hour, leave it.” And it doesn’t even take half an hour because most of the people, because they know LEGO® from their kids’ rooms and the painful experience when you stumble upon it then, most of them really think you’re gonna childishly play with LEGO®., but it’s a serious play. So there’s a process behind, there is a dedicated outcome you want to achieve. and it’s just enabling discussions in a very easy way that also perfectly works cross-culturally so I’ve had all these crossed arms and funny faces when I tell them we’re going to do LEGO® now, however, in the end, all of them have been rather fascinated by how easy discussions run throughout a day.

Adrian Tennant: Do you typically work with a regular set of LEGO® bricks or is there one particular set that you give to each participant?

Chantal Schmelz: That really depends on whether we play physical, like in locations on-site or whether we do online sessions. If we play online LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, we go by the standard LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® exploration packs because then it helps that everyone who’s only connected via screen has the same set in front of them. When you have large groups, around big tables, I just really put masses of LEGO® on there, to have them explore everything because there you have another context. So both work with limitations, whether virtually or physically.

Adrian Tennant: What does the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method certification process look like?

Chantal Schmelz: Actually, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® was invented by LEGO® themselves as they were looking for a new innovation process that would enable them to get to new products and innovations faster. They used that for a couple of years and in 2010, they decided to make it available under the custom commons license. So there are, of course, they’re supplying the bricks and have kind of part of the earnings on that, but they are not the ones doing the facilitation. There are various companies, master, chief, black belts, LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® gurus that do certifications, but you’re not certified by LEGO® you’re certified by each of those institutions that do certification rounds. However, you get a “how to use the LEGO® brand” custom creative comments manual that you have to follow once you tell the world that you are now officially a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after these messages.

Seth Segura: I’m Seth Segura, VP and Creative Director at Bigeye. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as creative professionals. At Bigeye, we always put audiences first. For every engagement, we commit to really understanding our clients’ prospects and customers. Through our own primary research, we capture valuable data about people’s attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. These insights inform our strategy and guide our creative briefs. Clients see them brought to life in inspiring, imaginative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns. If you’d like to put Bigeye’s audience-focused creative communications to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com. Bigeye. Reaching the Right People, in the Right Place, at the Right Time.

Adrian Tennant: How do you identify?

Voices: Female, male, gender fluid, cis-gender, genderqueer, non-binary, trans-feminine.

Adrian Tennant: Society is constantly changing and evolving. To understand how Americans feel about gender identity and expression, Bigeye undertook a national study involving over 2,000 adult consumers. Over half of those aged 18 to 39 believe that traditional binary labels of male and female are outdated and instead see gender as a spectrum. Our exclusive report, GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY, reveals how beliefs across different generations influences the purchase of toys, clothes, and consumer packaged goods. To download the full report, go to Bigeye.agency/gender.

Voices: Nonconforming, transgender, two-spirit, trans-masculine, gender fluid.

Adrian Tennant: GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Chantal Schmelz, a strategist, facilitator, and marketer based in Zurich, Switzerland. Now you mentioned that you’re involved in a very interesting textile company. Could you explain the philosophy behind the Yarn-to-Yarn® process?

Chantal Schmelz: Probably a lot of people already know cradle to cradle as a concept of the Circular Economy and Yarn-to-Yarn® is kind of the adaptation to the textile industry where you say you use materials that can either be easily separated, once clothes are being returned after use. For example, you need to be very careful what patches you sew onto your clothes, what color imprints you use and what tags you use, what buttons, what zippers because they need to be ripped off before the reuse can start. And also, like with cradle to cradle, it’s essential that you don’t mix raw materials in a way that they cannot be separated anymore. So you don’t glue it, you nail it because then it can be separated. And with Yarn-to-Yarn®, you use fibers that can be separated chemically or, with bio enzymes easily. So that in the end you have cotton and polyethylene fibers, as raw materials in the end. So you can have new yarn created out of the raw materials easily. So it’s the same process as cradle to cradle for the textile industry. And at the moment, it’s based on a bio enzyme process that allows to separate cotton and polyethylene fibers, so that they can be totally 100% reused at the end.

Adrian Tennant: Chantal, how did you become involved in this particular technology?

Chantal Schmelz: Actually, it started with Facebook advertising. As I said earlier, a very concrete, clearly framed task someone needed to be done. So for a marketing campaign they needed someone to run the ads for them. And by asking more and more questions, and also being asked questions back, we came to “Okay, there’s more to the strategy that needs to be developed, the storytelling needs to be enlarged, needs to be tailored to certain audiences that are already rejecting fast fashion.” So, it’s really that unconscious or unintentional upselling, how I came to be involved. In the yard to yard and process or project as a consultant.

Adrian Tennant: Chantal, I know you’re also very involved in WEConnect International, Could you tell us a little bit about your work with the organization?

Chantal Schmelz: Yes, I gladly do. So WEConnect is certifying women-owned businesses to give the purchasing partner, the certified buyer. Let’s say Walmart, for example, in the US, they have a hard time figuring out which women-owned business could be a potential supplier for us. So WEConnect kind of bridges that gap, giving the buyer insight into what suppliers they are in the specific areas they’re looking for products or suppliers. In the US, I know because WEConnect originates from the US and you have laws that tell procurement purchasing to what percentage they have to buy from minorities. Whether this is the Black community, or women-owned business, or LGBTQ. So they have like these set rules. In Europe, these rules or regulations, laws, do not exist. At the moment there are so many supply chains in Europe that have zero percent women-owned supply in there. And we try to change that. In my role, I do that for the Swiss market. So I try to first certify the women-owned businesses, assess them, and then also get them in touch with potential buyer-side customers so that we can help to diversify the supply chain as well, because that’s a big chunk of the market that is so far in untapped potential for women-owned businesses.

Adrian Tennant: In which areas of business do you see the most untapped opportunities for women?

Chantal Schmelz: So I think studies have already shown plenty of times that female-led teams or female-led companies, as well as diverse-led teams, sustainably perform with a higher return on investment for investors, for example, than all-male-led teams. So there’s generally a lot of potential in the market for female-owned businesses. However, what we see is that a lot of women directly go into the service area of business: training translation, copywriting, marketing consulting, such as I do. And there is a huge demand for products, med-tech. So the more technical areas where I think that the very mindful approach that women give to building up a company could also not only lead to them tapping into this potential or these opportunities but also sustainably changing industries to more sustainable working.

Adrian Tennant: Chantal, thinking about strategy, what are some of the biggest challenges you’re finding that clients are facing right now?

Chantal Schmelz: Even though we often say that we do forward-looking, future-oriented strategy work, we mostly don’t. We look at past data or data trends and then extrapolate it, to generate a strategy that looks into the future. Mathematically calculated, gut feeling extrapolated. Now with the pandemic that hit the entire world at the same time, looking at past data, and data trends, doesn’t do the trick anymore. And even if you say we only look at the years 2020 to 2021, the underlying assumption remains that this is just an exception and the trends might not continue. So, companies are facing now the challenge that they have to come up with strategies from within and still make sure that their mindset remains agile, to the point where they do short sprints, evaluating new problems, new challenges, ideation, prototyping, testing, and then redoing it over and over again. And I think that’s at the moment, the biggest challenge because lots of bigger companies are still used to long innovation cycles, where they do all the research properly and data analysts spend hours and hours on evaluating and benchmarking before they put anything in front of the customer. And I think that has gone.

Adrian Tennant: Yeah, it makes sense. Chantal, in what kinds of ways are you typically supporting clients with strategy?

Chantal Schmelz: I’m really hard on you in many! No, seriously, it is like with children, if you have the same age, same background of upbringing, same schooling, you still have totally different kids. And this also holds true for businesses. I don’t have the one typical approach of supporting them with their strategy, but I found three things to be of the essence for every good or successful strategy process. One is enabling all involved parties to form a joint understanding of the challenge. Because meeting culture, mostly renders this impossible. It’s like meetings are more of a talking back and forth, just staring at the wall battle, than a co-thinking process that would allow teams to capitalize on their joint knowledge. So setting the stage to enable, facilitate people, to really use this crowd wisdom, to jointly understand the problem, and being able to tell one story with one voice as a team really helps to move forward fast with strategy work. The second one is perspective. A very wise man once said perspective is not what you’re looking at, but where you’re looking from, and we are often caught up in own perspectives and probably don’t see the opportunities that lie right next to us, because our standpoint is not into the right direction. So shifting perspectives in a team can unleash unbelievably creative solutions to problems that seemed impossible to solve before. And the third one is getting the teams, the companies, to the mindset that they do strategies in small increments, and test them, right away. Get them in front of the relevant user, customer stakeholder. Because the most beautiful PowerPoints are totally useless unless you get the user, the customer to buy into them. So I think giving that perspective on the importance of testing, because before data analytics was like the key discipline you had to master. Now it’s testing. Testing, and interpreting data you get from testing in order to move forward fast.

Adrian Tennant: So Chantal, thinking about all the projects that you’ve been involved with across several disciplines, which was your favorite and why?

Chantal Schmelz: Actually very interesting story of a female entrepreneur. When I started with her, probably four years back, she was neither tech-loving, nor did she have any web page, online shop, anything like that. But she’s selling household products designed very nicely, high functional, so excellent, innovative products for the mass market and she was not on the internet at that point. Two years later, she became Amazon Entrepreneur of the Year in Germany. And the transition we made throughout all this, and accompanying her throughout this journey. She was on television on one of these Shark Tank shows, so a really exciting story to be part of. And at the beginning, I would not have imagined that we would manage that at all to get her on the internet, selling on Amazon, not in my wildest dreams. And she’s very successfully launching one product after the other now.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. Chantal, if IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners would like to learn more about you, and your work in strategy, facilitation, and marketing, where can they find you?

Chantal Schmelz: Most easily, I’d assume, on LinkedIn. Because there I’m available in all languages that I’m able to speak! 

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. Chantal, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Chantal Schmelz: Thank you very much, Adrian, for having me. It was a real pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Coming up next time on, IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Paige Garrett: In a way that advertising used to be where you trust the channel you’re watching, or you trust the magazine you’re reading, that trust is now in those influencers And not like you’re just getting that content. You’re not just getting served an ad. You’re getting served this person’s entire life or whatever it is that their niche is that they’re sharing about. And that is where that trust is established.

Adrian Tennant: That’s an interview with influencer marketing expert Paige Garrett, next week on IN CLEAR FOCUS. Thanks to my guest this week, Chantal Schmelz: strategist, marketer, and facilitator. You’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider following us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, YouTube, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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