The French Press of Collaboration

What collaboration has in common with coffee brewing -  And why you should go for a french press rather than a pour over.

 

I'm a big coffee nerd and passionate about collaboration. So, while brewing an Aeropress last week, it dawned on me. There is a big similarity between coffee brewing and collaboration!

In this blog post you’ll learn a few interesting things about coffee and what is key for running excellent workshops.

I’ll work with a simple analogy, do a brief excursion into coffee-chemistry and give you something to talk about in your next coffee break.

 

Percolation vs Immersion: Two types of extracting coffee

I’ll keep this very short and simple. In coffee brewing there are different types of extractions. Two of them being: Percolation and Immersion.

Percolation is defined as the process of a liquid moving slowly through a substance that has very small holes in it. This is the extraction you know from regular Filter Coffee or a V60.
You pour water on a coffee bed and filter the liquid before you drink it.

During percolation the water trickles through the coffee grounds extracting particles while passing from top to bottom before getting filtered. Essentially the water dissolves what it can “grab” from each particle while moving through it. Once the water has “passed”, the extraction stops.

 

CoffeeBrewing

When it comes to immersion brewing, the key is in the name itself. Ground coffee is completely placed in water (or vice versa) and then left to brew until it is appropriately extracted and ready to be consumed.

That way each coffee particle is fully surrounded by water (hence immersions) and can be extracted as long as it stays in contact with the water. The end result is a rich and flavourful coffee with a lot of "body". We know this from the “french press technique”.

How collaboration resembles coffee extraction 


Think of it this way:

1. Your participants are the ground coffee, from whom you want to extract knowledge, ideas and input.

2. The water is your initial situation or problem you want to tackle.

3. The brewing method is the medium/tool you are using.

4. The coffee is the outcome.


This leaves you with a simple question: What is your goal for the format?
Do you want little input/feedback from participants, get a clear but weak outcome or do you want a full and rich experience that extracts more from participants, more ideas out of each one of them with a stronger outcome?

 

Collaboration

If it’s the former: you would probably choose a medium that enables you to trickle down your input and get some feedback. An online meeting where someone presents and you use an online whiteboard to brainstorm, prioritize and maybe define a rough draft for a solution in the form of a one pager.

 

If it’s the latter, you want to fully immerse your participants in your workshop so they don’t get distracted and get everything out in the open. Share ideas, have the freedom to work on them individually or in a group and develop rich and meaningful outcomes with a strong character.


An engaging workshop that activates each participant and gets them hooked from the get go. You would keep presentations and discussions to a minimum and just put your topic out there, use methods that incorporate the whole group and let them do their magic. Just like the coffee grounds being immersed in the water.

Real innovations are not a result of percolation

There is a place for both and sometimes the weaker product can be enough. But if you want to create real innovations and solutions you should go for the full experience.

In simple terms, the more you immerse your participants the more you get out of them. So critically challenge your methods and ask yourself if they suit your purpose.

Too often we see “workshops” that aim to create innovative solutions but are more like meetings. And what you end up with in the cup is a weak underwhelming extraction that leaves you wondering: Was this worth our time or should we have gone for the “french press”?

 

 

Note for all coffee nerds reading this article: I have purposefully left out varieties, roast level, processing, water temperature, grind size and brewing ratios from this analogy to keep things simple.


About the author:
Kornelius is a co-founder of VISPA, the company “coffee nerd” and loves to take users deep into spaces to show them the full potential of 3D virtual collaboration.