The Hot Seat

Solving wicked problems without shooting down ideas!

I learned about The Hot Seat from Jens Otto Lange and Pauline Tonhauser in Berlin during a design thinking meetup. The technique is simple:

  1. Have participants write down problems they want to solve on sticky notes.
  2. Have the group vote in order to find the problem that will become the focal point of the conversation. There’s one rule, you can’t vote for your own idea!
  3. Put the person who had their idea chosen into the ‘Hot Seat’
  4. Set a timebox (use your discretion based on the number of people and how gnarly the problem is) and have the participants ask as many questions as they can in order to explore the problem. It’s a good idea to have scribes record important details.
  5. Have the person in the Hot Seat face away from the group
  6. Set another timebox and have the participants throw out solutions…the key here is that the person in the Hot Seat cannot respond! Again, have scribes document Options.

Here you have choices to make. One choice is to use a Change Options Canvas and weight the cost versus value tradeoff for turning the Option into an Experiment. After that, choose one or two Options to turn into Experiments and create measurements.

Another choice is to place the Options into ‘tried‘ and ‘not tried‘  columns. Using this technique, however, brings additional choices! You can choose Options from the ‘tried’ column and have a focused retrospective around that Option. For example, ask what was tried, what worked, what didn’t and how you could tweak that Option and try again.

This technique originates from Andrew Carnegie, who pioneered the US steel industry in the late 1800s. According to the book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, Andrew would surround himself with experts and take in their advice.

Since then, this technique has been adapted by various coaching models and has been tweaked in a number of ways.

Stories and Examples

LCM Podcast EP 2: Solving Wicked Problems with The Hot Seat

This episode features Salah Elleithy, Agile Coach, Trainer and founder of Spark Agility. Salah joined an open session with me at Agile 2015 where myself and a few other people tried out a technique called The Hot Seat.

Salah recently tried this out with a client and in this episode we chat about why he wanted to try it, how he did it and what happened.