The Paris Principle

Clustering and categorizing ideas occurs in nearly every facilitation. Sometimes, participants will argue about what the categories should be. Too much argument over categories is like spending time figuring out ways to slice a pie rather than actually eating it.

The Paris Principle is a way to explain the value of choosing categories that make the most sense to the most people. When queuing up a clustering activity, ask the group,

"If all I told you was, 'Meet me in Paris,' where would you go?"


See what responses you get. Most people will say, "the Eiffel Tower." But there are bound to be other answers. Here's a few other responses I've heard:

  • "Charles de Gaulle airport, because it's easiest to get to."
  • "The Louvre. Going to the Louvre is on my bucket list."
  • "There is this one café I always go to when I'm in Paris. If we're friends and you know me, then you'd know to meet me there."
  • "Paris, Texas. Bet that's not the answer you were expecting, huh?"
  • "I wouldn't go. Not enough information to justify the plane ticket."

Once the group has swirled a little, explain that...

"When you're choosing categories for these ideas, what matters is that they're easily, quickly understood by everyone. You could argue about why Charles de Gaulle airport or any of the other options is the 'best' answer for one reason or another, but what most people will choose is the Eiffel Tower. Choosing a clear organizing structure is especially important if we're going to have to share our work with people who aren't in the room. So, as you think about how to organize these ideas, choose categories that are the most obvious. 'Obvious' is just another way to say 'easily understood.'"

After you've introduced the Paris Principle, draw a poster of the Eiffel Tower as a reminder to point back to. 

paris principle.jpg

PS: If you're facilitating the group through self-work, there will be plenty of feedback opportunities that arise from their answers to the "where would you go" question. Ask the group to connect specific answers back to behavioral models such as the Keirsey Temperments, Myers-Briggs, DiSC, or FIRO-B.