Hot air balloon

Making the SWOT sexy again

The hot air balloon (also see the separate post on the model) is a metaphorical method that aims to identify strengths, weaknesses, external forces, stakeholders and goals all in a simple and well-structured process. The exercise is often best done at the start of a session, followed up with deeper, more creative excercises.

The charm is that you’re not relying on another dull matrix (like the SWOT) but actually going through an imaginary journey that engages us to think outside of our typical thought patterns. This will already help to take away some reservations with participants who are dreading another tireless SWOT analysis exercise.

Just gather all participants and collect their input step-by-step in the process.

Hot air balloon

Purpose

Time frame

Group size

Small

Facilitation level

Comfort level participants

Materials needed

Credits

Hot air balloon
Hot air balloon in Miro

Hot air balloon in remote meetings

The Hot air balloon exercise is also really easy to implement in a remote meeting session. With the right collaboration/white boarding tool (e.g. Miro), it is easy to collect the ideas and remarks for each step of the way. It only requires small adjustments compared to the steps below.

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Five Structural Elements for the Hot air balloon

The Hot air balloon is a very straightforward exercise and pretty much automatically leads you through the different steps. The key thing to look for as a facilitator is to not let discussions get out of hand and help refocus on the key obejctive: getting an overview of strengths, weaknesses, etc rather than fully discuss them in detail.

More on the five structural elements

How to read the instructions

To bring some structure to tools and excercises, I borrowed the “five structural elements” from Liberating Structures. It is an easy and structured way to describe the different dimensions of an exercise.

More on the elementsHire me as facilitator
Invitation

Invite people to come over to a wall/whiteboard where you have prepared a sketch of the Hot air balloon with the wind, balloon, spectator, island, etc. This will allow you to invite the group to join you in this hot air balloon that is set towards this paradise island.

Discourage long discussions and make clear a lot of input is preferred in this stage of the session.

How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

It is easiest to work with with a large sketch or depiction of the hot air balloon structure (the wind – the balloon – the spectators – the island) that everyone can see and ass to. Making it large also will ensure you can use it as an ‘anchor point’ or source of inspiration throughout the rest of the session.

Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation

Have a timekeeper stop the time of around 7 minutes per step and go through the method step by step (also see the separate model page for more background on the model):

  1. Wind These are all the external forces that can have an impact on the course of our hot air balloon no matter if they’re threats or opportunities. These typically encompass legislative, social or technological changes that we don’t have any control over.
  2. Sandbags The sandbags are all the internal challenges we are facing and the weaknesses that are literally dragging us down.
  3. Hot Air The hot air on the other side are all the strengths we have in our organization, our product and anything that we have control over to give us a competitive advantage.
  4. Passengers These are all the internal stakeholders that have an influence on the direction of our hot air balloon and in this sense our project.
  5. Observers Observers are all the target audiences and users of our product or service that we are aiming to serve as well as external stakeholders that have an interest in our journey.
  6. Paradise Island This is the dream destination and goal that we are working towards in a 5 to 10 year timeframe. How does the future look like in our imagination?

An alternative is to see the wind as all the strengths we have in our organization, our product to give us a competitive advantage (the proverbial wind in our back) and to see hot air as the ‘fried air’, the bullsh*t surrounding your product or organisation, as an alternative for an exercise like the ‘stinky/smelly fish‘.

How Groups Are Configured

No special configuration needed.

Make sure people are able to see each the Hot air balloon mapping. A large wall or whiteboard is usually best.

How Participation Is Distributed

Everyone can add ideas, either by adding own post-its (and discuss later) or by having people suggest their ideas and have one central ‘writer’ who adds the ideas/post-its to the overall image. Easiest is usually to have the participants stand in front of the whiteboard with post-it’s and pens to gather their input. Whenever someone has a post-it to share they should go up to the whiteboard and share it briefly with the group.

Additional tips and pointers
  • Make sure you don’t end up in long conversations but collect a lot of input from all participants.

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I have 15+ years in changing companies to be less about ads and more about acts. I’d love to hear your story and see how I can help.

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Polle de Maagt

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