Solution Designer John Colaruotolo, aka “JC”, is known for his affinity for coffee. JC says his coffee drink of choice is a standard cappuccino—which is “standard” if you are in Italy. In the States you have to ask for your cappuccino dry to get the same effect, or as John says, “if you want to be able to taste the coffee.” John was born in New York, but has lived in Texas most of his adult life. If you are ever passing through the Lone Star state around Christmas, John’s family cooks up a traditional Italian Christmas Eve feast that most of us can only dream about, replete with salmon, stuffed baked clams, mussels, crab cakes and pasta with calamari.
How did you get into this work?
It was a complete accident and…completely fortuitous. I had gone from studying music composition in grad school to working at a transportation and logistics company. I was looking for something that was both creative and practical. I heard about collaborative design work and facilitation from a friend. I quickly nosed my way in, and didn’t want to leave. That was back in 2000.
It may seem like there is no connection between music composition and the creative interventions we do as facilitators, but in fact both center on the challenge of solving a problem. I love being part of taking an abstract vision—whether it be rough sketches of music I hear in my head or an organization’s desire for cultural change—and getting it out into the world for others to experience and delight in.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I love it when a group of people who’ve been struggling with a problem get unstuck and reinvigorated by the new perspectives and processes that we bring to them. Being able to make a difference in how people work together and arrive at solutions is really rewarding work. If I can get really corny, I would say that we are making music everyday with our clients.
I also enjoy scribing (also known as graphic recording/facilitation). It is similar to an improvisational music performance in that you are responding to what you hear and feel around you. Most people think scribing is all about drawing, but to me it is about listening. I love the process of figuring out what to “perform” on the whiteboard. Capturing ideas visually in real-time for an audience—I get kick out of that.
What are a few creative interventions of which you are especially proud?
Our ongoing work with National Geographic has been very rewarding. One of our recent partnerships centered on helping them gain alignment and momentum around their transformational Planet or Plastic initiative. This is an incredibly ambitious project requiring a shared vision and collaboration across multiple organizations as well as the ability to deliver against a tight timeline. We designed and facilitated a collaborative session that enabled all the stakeholders to gain line of sight into one another’s work and to formalize agreements around how best to organize their shared goals. This creative intervention helped National Geographic solve not just a business problem, but a problem facing the planet as they work to reduce the production of single use plastic, much of which ends up in our oceans.
I’ve also been involved with a series of strategy workshops for National Geographic Channel, which have focused on moving toward a future version of what “television” and visual storytelling means to their organization. The stories that they create have been a part of my life since I was a child, so to find myself on the “inside” and able to help them meaningfully shape their future is a thrill I can’t put into words.
What are some highlights of your work in the organizational learning space?
Some of the most far-reaching work I have done within organizations has involved the use of Collaborative Learning Maps—large tabletop exercises that are visually engaging, content rich, and foster small group discussions focused on why the content matters. This is a scalable solution that leads to deep engagement and understanding of material as well as a greater sense of ownership. We have used these for everything from helping sales teams understand complex products to working with health care providers conducting clinical trials to cascading strategic plans throughout global organizations. This past year, one of our clients was so impressed by the impact of using Collaborative Learning Maps with their 2000-person salesforce, that they now intend to reach all 14,000 of their employees.
What is one of your favorite creative activities outside of work?
I’ve stayed active with music over the years. I managed to lead a couple of bands and teach private music lessons until we had our third child. Now I volunteer in my kids’ school music program, which I absolutely love. My two older children are in the percussion section. The last few years, I organized the kids in our immediate and extended family to put on a holiday music production during our Christmas Eve cooking extravaganza. I arranged some standard holiday tunes in different styles, held a few rehearsals, and then the kids performed for the family—it was terrific!