15% Solutions

What is made possible? You can reveal the actions, however small, that everyone can do immediately. At a minimum, these will create momentum, and that may make a BIG difference. 15% Solutions show that there is no reason to wait around, feel powerless, or fearful. They help people pick it up a level. They get individuals and the group to focus on what is within their discretion instead of what they cannot change. With a very simple question, you can flip the conversation to what can be done and find solutions to big problems that are often distributed widely in places not known in advance. Shifting a few grains of sand may trigger a landslide and change the whole landscape.

Five Structural Elements – Min Specs

1. Structuring Invitation

  • In connection with their personal challenge or their group’s challenge, ask, “What is your 15 percent? Where do you have discretion and freedom to act? What can you do without more resources or authority?”

2. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

  • Unlimited number of groups.
  • Chairs for people to sit in groups of 2-4; no tables required.

3. How Participation Is Distributed

  • Everyone is included
  • Everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute

4. How Groups Are Configured

  • First alone
  • Then in pairs or small groups

5. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation

  • First alone, each person generates his or her own list of 15% Solutions. 5 min.
  • Individuals share their ideas with a small group (2 to 4 members). 3 min. per person and one person at a time
  • Group members provide a consultation to one another (asking clarifying questions and offering advice). 5 to 7 min. per person and one person at a time

WHY? Purposes

  • Move away from blockage, negativism, and powerlessness
  • Have people discover their individual and collective power
  • Reveal bottom-up solutions
  • Share actionable ideas and help one another
  • Build trust
  • Remember unused capacity and resources (15 percent is always there for the taking)
  • Reduce waste
  • Close the knowing-doing gap

Tips and Traps

  • Check each item to assure that it is within the discretion of the individual
  • Be ready for BIG things to emerge via the butterfly effect
  • Reinventing the wheel is OK
  • Each 15% Solution adds to understanding of what is possible
  • Clear, common purpose and boundaries will generate coherence among many 15% Solutions
  • Make it a routine to ask for 15% Solutions in meetings (15% Solutions are otherwise commonly unnoticed and overlooked)
  • While introducing the idea, tell a story about a small change made by an individual that sparked a big result

Riffs and Variations

  • Natural fit with Troika Consulting, Wise Crowds, Open Space, Helping Heuristics, and Integrated~Autonomy
  • Returning to a group, you can ask, “What have you done with your 15 percent lately?”


  • For any problem-solving or planning activity in which you want individuals to take initiative
  • For inclusion in the conveners report in Open Space sessions
  • For any challenge that requires many people to change for success to emerge
  • For generating small “chunks” of success that can be combined into a simple prototype that is easy and cheap to test (low-fidelity prototype)

Attribution: Liberating Structure developed by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. Inspired by professor Gareth Morgan.

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