Spotters and synthesisers: How teams use Shooglebox to crack complex challenges
Shooglebox is a simple and powerful collaboration tool for teams who need to gather lots of information and explore it together to find insights or spark ideas.
It might be a team tasked with coming up with a creative proposal; or going out to collect visual input and inspiration for a project; or trying to understand something complex and fast-changing to inform critical decision making.
We developed Shooglebox – and the techniques for using it – after watching teams struggle with existing ways of collecting, sharing and exploring information from multiple sources in different formats.
At its simplest Shooglebox is a visual card-based system that makes it easy to quickly gather online and offline material in one place. Everything you collect – web articles, social media posts, photos, videos, notes, documents – is turned into cards in a box for each of your projects. The visual nature of the grid of card fronts forms a picture at a glance of everything you've gathered. And the much larger back of card contains the full material you've saved on each card plus any context, links and tags.
It's a useful and inspiring way to gather and review personal research but Shooglebox becomes even more powerful in the hands of a team who know how to get the best out of it.
As illustrations we'll show a team who have been challenged by their director to come up with recommendations for what their organisation should be doing on TikTok.
But the process applies to anything where a group is working together to make sense of something where there are more questions than answers, and lots of potential information to digest.
1. Assemble a diverse team of "spotters"
Whatever your project or challenge, the starting point is an effective way of gathering as much information as possible to feed thinking and decision making.
There's huge value in using the combined eyes and ears of your team to go out and find the material you need – but there are some ground rules to get right up front.
The bigger or more complex the challenge the more important it is to ensure your team is made up of individuals with different mindsets, personalities, interests and experiences. It's something Matthew Syed in his best-selling book Rebel Ideas calls cognitive diversity – benefiting from having a group of people who are capable of surprising each other instead of falling into groupthink.
A common pitfall when gathering information as a team is moving too quickly to narrowing avenues of investigation based on groupthink and ending up with blind spots.
If you've assembled a team of diverse thinkers the first thing to do is make sure everyone understands the challenge and the potential gaps in collective understanding that we need to go out and fill. The second thing is to let each individual work on their own seeking out and saving information without the initial influence of seeing how others are approaching the challenge.
When you use Shooglebox to gather information as a team we usually recommend each individual starts with their own separate box to fill with the things they find – a place for your own personal "workings".
In our TikTok example the core team has been augmented by outsiders – including some teenagers – who are spotting and saving very different things from the "insiders". It's quick to save things like TikTok videos to Shooglebox as you spot them while browsing on your phone. You often spot the most useful information when you're doing something else rather than actively searching things out. So give the team as much time as you can at this stage
2. Share your workings with the rest of the group
Once everyone has completed their initial individual trawls for information it's time to share your box with everyone else. Shooglebox provides a single at-a-glance view of very different types of material in a way that brings it to life and makes it inspiring to browse each other's findings.
Because it's so easy to throw things into the box and make the front of each card visually appealing, it avoids wasted time trying to structure, explain and review things in shared folders or documents; or pull together slides to present to each other.
Some teams find it's so easy and intuitive to review other people's boxes there's no need to involve everyone in the next stage of the process. But there's value in getting everyone together to talk through their findings, highlight any initial insights and identify questions or gaps to be addressed through more collective "spotting". This doesn't have to be in person. Shooglebox works well with Zoom and Teams – where individuals can share a screen of cards for discussion.
It's likely this will throw up new and better questions to go out and answer in the next round of "spotting".
The team exploring TikTok have all gone down different avenues and surprised each other as they start to identify and share things no one considered at the start of the process.
3. Identify and develop your strongest "synthesisers" in the team
You'll probably start to build up a lot more information than you will ultimately need – particularly if you're using AI or automated feeds to pull in data from multiple sources.
This is where you need good "synthesisers" in the team – people who are naturally adept at spotting connections, identifying key insights, separating the wheat from the chaff, and looking at wider context.
You need two or three experienced "synthesisers" in the team who ideally have a track record of working with cross-functional teams, and are good at challenging assumptions (including their own) and asking the questions others don't consider.
They can lead the rest of the team by example through the process of collecting, processing, and analysing information in a way that provides insights and questions to feed the next round of collecting, processing and analysing.
It's a continuous cycle:
Drawing conclusions to drive the next cycle – or to form outputs to share more widely.
Using a combination of tools and human "spotting" techniques to gather information.
Sifting and synthesising information to spot patterns and insights and look at wider context.
Understanding the challenge and gaps in the information you need.
The team looking at TikTok had two or three initial turns round the cycle to get heads round the wildly different things people were seeing and finding before they had enough to share their findings and come up with initial recommendations.
One of the beauties of Shooglebox is that you're able to back up your findings by sharing an interactive box of cards to show how rigorous you've been in your exploration and understanding.