Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend
Leaping the Abyss:
Putting Group Genius to Work
...And Expanding Your Universe
"The first thing the facilitators do
is explain the design process we were about to go through. It is a very
powerful thing. The Scan/Focus/Act sequence is similar to Deming's 'plan,
do, act, check, and act' but it gives you a broader perspective," says
Elsa Porter, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce.
The first step-Scan-goes beyond "plan"
in emphasizing learning as the creative foundation on which good decisions
are made. Scan begins by looking very widely at the environment: scanning
target markets, competition, economic and business trends, social and management
trends, leading edge science and technology.
The creative process has a front half and
a back half. In the front half of the process you do the work which will
enable you to make a good decision. Learning is the nature of much of the
work that is done in the front half. Planning as Learning by Swartz and
Shelf shows that one of the major functions of planning and of design is
as a learning tool.
Businesses are beginning to tolerate the time
needed for learning-this first part of the design phase and creative process-although
they say "it sure feels better when we get to engineering and building."
Once a model emerges that the people involved hold in common, then they
can move forward more comfortably to engineering, building, doing, acting.
Scanning, when uncertainty and therefore anxiety
is high, is profoundly uncomfortable for most people. Yet staying in Scan
a long time is exactly what is most needed to generate new solutions to
At Wharton, where Scan extends for almost
two days-two thirds of the total time-the group challenge was designing
the 21st century organization. All the work now going on is in some way
relevant to that challenge, even though the actual problem has not been
addressed and won't be for some time.
Participants are now assigned to completely
new, five-person teams. The five people you came to know from Take-a-Panel
have scattered. New team membership has again been determined for maximum
diversity, combining people from different organizations or from very different
parts of the same organization, with as wide a mix of age, gender, ethnicity,
educational, and work experiences as possible. Also taken into account are
the different books read in preparation for attending the DesignShop. The
groups are provisioned with a diversity of leading-edge theory including
information theory, systems science, and change management. Each team is
joined by a facilitator who is there to scribe for them, provide insights,
ask provocative questions, challenge assumptions, encourage collaboration,
or support in any way needed.
The first task is understanding the environment
and the demands of the 21st century. Each group has been given a different
Backcasting cut on this question. Some focus on social questions, others
have questions about technology and processes. When these groups reassemble,
they will represent in-depth thinking about highly different parts of the
same question. Viewing the same issue from different vantage points is a
reliable way to get powerful insights. Carl's Jr. received valuable insights
when they worked with the different stakeholder vantage points-customers,
suppliers, franchisees. The teams here at Wharton are working with different
theoretical vantage points.
All the questions channel thinking away from
the details of today and into "big picture" abstract issues. Compare
the questions put to just two of the different groups. One group's question
places them in the present looking backward to 1895. Here is the challenge
Looking Back: As the millennium approaches,
your team has been asked to provide a synopsis of the last century for
the history channel. Important discoveries and innovations were made during
this period. What were the processes, tools, and environments that led
to these innovations and discoveries? What were the basic assumptions and
paradigms? What did we learn to take for granted? What principles were
employed in designing all organizations? What did we learn to be reality
and, from that perspective, what accumulated baggage did we take with us
into the next century?
The next group's question places them in 2095,
looking backward-a very different perspective.
Looking Back: The year is 2095. The virtual
history channel is planning a major retrospective of the last century.
Your team has been asked to identify the major threads to be covered in
the program. Specifically, you've been asked to consider the following
questions: What was the character of the century? The theme(s)? The style(s)?
What did it feel like to live then? Look like? Sound like? What did we
learn? What were the major drivers of change, the innovations and discoveries
in all areas of human experience, and how did they change the way we understood,
planned and lived our lives?
Groups get right down to work-time is deliberately
tight and there is a lot of ground to cover. Resources include books and
articles located in the portable library, computer search capability on
the Web, and an ever-changing body of information going up on the Knowledge
Wall. The most valuable resources are the ideas and experiences of the team
members. As they work on these questions, the teams learn about the others
on their team: their knowledge, how they think, what they think is important,
what they get worked up about. Because of our practice in the Share-a-Panel
exercise, the process is active and participatory, with each person jumping
up to talk or to write on the whitewalls to express points.
If "major drivers of change," "basic
assumptions and paradigms" sounds pretty theoretical and just the stuff
for an afternoon tea party, think again. It gets hot and lively right away.
One participant states with certainty that the major threads looking back
from 2095 will be pollution, overpopulation, starvation, disease, and war.
Just as certain is the participant who tells her that the Club of Rome projections
of doom and gloom are analytic nonsense, and that it is much more likely
that things will be lush, green, and fruitful. The diverse nature of the
groups is bringing people smack up against completely different points of
view, different experiences, and different knowledge. Not tea party kind
of stuff at all. In the limited time available, how will they ever come
to an agreement?
When everyone regroups, the curving work walls
are now labeled in segments for each decade from 1920 to 2020, a chunk of
space for after 2020, and a chunk of space for before 1920. This next exercise
will be a Report-Out on the work they have just been doing. Matt, acting
as facilitator, defines how that reporting will happen:
Each participant will go to the radiant wall
and put up one piece of information on the event they think was most important
during the 100 years at which they have looked.
They also use the opportunity for introducing
themselves, giving their names, company affiliation, the kind of work they
do (but not job title), and making a statement about the importance of the
event they selected.
This exercise suddenly and deliberately shifts
from the abstract, team-created points of view of the previous exercise
to a specific event presented in each participant's personal voice. The
results are fascinating. Because it is still early in the first day of the
session, when new people take their turn at the work walls, most fellow
participants are meeting them for the first time. You are getting to know
this person in a very different way than if you had been conventionally
introduced. Instead, in a moment, you get a glimpse of their unique knowledge,
the details and the systems that they think in and recognize as important,
their individual history, values, emotions, and their discomfort in struggling
with future issues.
In an information economy, made up of knowledge
workers, the most valuable resources are what other people know. Their most
valuable skills, talents, decision-making abilities, or areas of creativity
may not be defined by either their job titles or by their degrees. So how
do you find out what someone has learned from a hobby, from a different
culture, even from an accident? Gail Taylor: "We tell participants
to go find out what they don't know about each other."
This information now emerges in a riveting
way, presented as personal insight merged with history by people who are
older than you, or younger-people whose lives were profoundly changed by
something that you've always regarded as a minor or distant eventuntil now.
A man with silver hair and intense eyes talks
passionately about the advent of the jet engine in the 1940s and how it
has made the world smaller through international travel, commerce, and war.
His description provides context and meaning. Personal revelation-bringing
your personal passion and insight to explaining an event-is combined with
the historical, objective timeline.
Gary, who works with Orlando Regional Health
Care System, chooses 1980 and the work of Deming: "Deming's theories
showed how important it was to drive out fear. When people are fearful,
they spend all their time defending their current position."
How interesting: when manufacturing people
or computer industry people talk about Deming, this has not been the main
message that they have extracted. Moments ago, Gary was a stranger. Now
you want to know who he is, and what experiences and knowledge have led
him to focus so clearly on the impact of fear. Even a long-time co-worker
would learn something valuable here because this exercise makes the implicit
into the explicit, makes it visible, makes the abstract concrete-so that's
why he's so adamant about that point. Now I see.
As each new person explains, as he or she
searches for the words and images, the speaker is clearly learning as well.
In reviewing experiences, stories, and principles, they are further articulating
and understanding what their experience meant.
In 2002, says a co-worker of Gary's who did
his assignment from the perspective of 2095 looking backward, the trust
fund set up for Medicare and Medicaid goes bankrupt. "Remember,"
says Gail Taylor. "We're talking about the past. Did you, as a health
care provider, go bankrupt too?" He thinks it over for a few seconds.
"Yes," he says. "We did."
From the Air Force, a very young-looking man
(who turns out to be a Major) was also looking back from the year 2095.
He talks about how he was influenced by the riots in 1960s. He worries about
civil unrest and rioting in the future if such large gaps between the haves
and the have-nots continue. He marks riots on the calendar as having occurred
Another Backcaster from the 2095 perspective
says, "In 2005 the first company staffed entirely by kids under 16
went public due to their work on the Web, changing the labor laws forever."
One of the Air Force people writes up on the
wall: In the year 2010, we changed the Air Force business to the facilitation
business, facilitating peace around the world.
A most valuable function of the Scan is to
allow patterns to become visible out of seeming chaos. From the information
covering the walls, people identify patterns that they have been missing
previously. Whether revealed during the Scan or later during Focus, this
key pattern discovery is usually what is necessary for success in the ultimate
A good Scan, of which this Scenario exercise
is but the beginning, is designed to:
- include short-term and long-term educational goals, immersing your
organization in the critical techniques, technologies, and facts it needs
to learn to stay up to speed.
- build a real understanding of the environment-the markets, the technologies,
the societies-in which your organization does and will operate.
- develop a real understanding of the talents and knowledge of different
- get team members fired up into creating, focusing on solving problems,
and not worrying about a bunch of extraneous issues.
- get vital information shared between participants.
- challenge the assumptions on which current actions rest.
- develop a rich set of options from which you can make selections and
Throughout the entire Scan, more information
is continually brought forward, worked with, challenged, and learned. Working
over the big walls, with lots of people providing insight-and taking advantage
of lots of support and lots of time-a richer, more complex picture of reality
builds up than you ever get to see during daily life. Some disagreements
or confusions simply go away. Old falsehoods are abandoned, and new patterns
Staying Focused on the Objectives
The goal of the exercise is to build a complex
pattern of information and perception, to open a rich dialogue between participants,
and to create a common experience. And because these were the design goals,
competing priorities-such as agreement or even accuracy-receive lower priority
in a given exercise.
Therefore, as wonderful as these exercises
were, they were also incredibly irritating, especially for people attending
their first DesignShop event. Their difficulty was in trying to stay focused
on the goals set for the first few exercises, and not find themselves swept
away by competing priorities, such as correcting errors in what others are
saying. When similar errors or misconceptions occur in other settings, it
always bodes ill. No wonder alarm bells are going off.
For example, consider yours truly, Gayle and
Chris. Our areas of expertise are future technologies and economic issues.
We have spent many years thinking, researching, writing about, and running
businesses involved with such issues. During this Report-Out, we listened
while some people repeated today's technology headlines, extrapolating from
ideas that didn't make sense even when a journalist first wrote them. Gayle
described her frustration:
The process was driving me wild. I loved
it, but I hated it.
I'd think, "Oh, no! This person doesn't
understand a thing about technology, about economics, about logic. Their
interpretation of the past is flawed and now they're moving on to make
a terminally stupid prediction about the future. And no one is correcting
it! Someone-anyone-has got to stand up and set this person straight.
My training and experience tell me that everything
should come to a halt until these incorrect ideas about economics and technology
have been put right. I feel sure it is going to mess things up further
Previously I looked calmly (OK-smugly) at
those people whose Hot Buttons were triggered about the issue of "no
visible schedule"-but now every Hot Button I own is flashing. I can't
believe I'm listening to this. We'll never get anywhere with this work;
I'm wasting three days; maybe I should leave now. I want to get off the
There are other newcomers to the DesignShop
process who are feeling the same way. Their body language is clearly saying:
"Why am I wasting my time doing this? What does this have to do with
solving my organization's problems? I came here to work hard, not fool around."
Three men sitting in a row, whom we later learned were all from Ernst &
Young, had particularly fierce body language. Another E&Yer told us
that Lee Sage, the senior E&Y partner in that row, had learned from
an early career in pro baseball with a Yankee farm team how to wear the
same kind of facial expression as an umpire: "If he looks at you hard
enough, your face will break." Right now with just a view of his back,
you really didn't want to see what was happening on his face. Any minute
now, Matt and anyone else standing up front was surely going to disintegrate
into a heap of rumble under that glare.
In contrast, DesignShop veterans are taking
everything in stride. Accustomed to the design process and its priorities,
they know that these issues tend to be sorted out later in small group exercises;
many fallacies disappear. Now, they are being flushed out into the open-so
you know what you're dealing with. As exercises proceed, the big mistakes
go away, the views-including the understandings of economics and future
technologies - become more sophisticated. Not all differences and disagreements
go away. But everyone comes out with a much richer, more accurate vision
of past, present, and future. And everyone has had the common experience
of working together.
Think of this "holding fast to a new
set of priorities" as similar to what happens in starting an exercise
program after years as a committed couch potato. The goal is to get out
there walking or jogging, but you are distracted because the car needs a
tune-up, or because you need to decide how to vote in next month's election.
Granted, civic responsibilities and automobile maintenance are important,
but if you want to get the exercise program rolling you set them aside long
enough to get the program underway. Similarly, with the DesignShop process,
the goals of the design process must be brought front and center, with other
valid, critical concerns treated secondarily.
There are other common reasons for feeling
frustration during one's first .i.an;Scan. Scanning or learning doesn't
feel like action directed toward solving the organization's problem. People
say, "We've been trying to solve this problem for a year, and we need
to come to a decision, we need to act now. We don't have time to learn."
As part of business, learning has a bad reputation.
The belief held by science, educators, management,
and society in general for the first part of the 20th century was that Adults
Cannot Learn. "Adult" meant set in your ways, inflexible, not
capable of learning. You can't teach old dogs new tricks.
Not until the 1940s, when World War II veterans
returned to college on the GI Bill, did academics recognize that, in fact,
adults could learn. Not just be trained-learn.
In the mid-1970s, a Fortune 100 CEO could
still ask Gail Taylor in all sincerity whether adults could learn. Neither
business nor the education establishment in the 1970s had yet adapted to
the notion of adult learning.
Traditionally, education has been excluded
from action-oriented organizations. The notion that learning or thinking
was unneeded by most workers derives from our Industrial Age heritage in
which humans became part of the manufacturing process. Hands were needed,
not minds. Creativity reduced the big prize of the early Industrial Age:
Added to the assumption that "only a
few people at the top need to think," was the next dangerous notion:
the people at the top are done learning or they wouldn't be at the top.
They got to the top because they know something valuable which they are
now expected to implement. So nobody here needs learning-which is a good
thing, because adults can't learn anyway.
Matt Taylor recounts a DesignShop event which
successfully merged two insurance companies. "The executives were very
happy with the results, and we were going on to do additional work for them.
Discussing an aspect of the plan I said, 'By the way, there's a good book
about that. Here's the author and title.' One executive leaned forward and
said 'You don't understand. We don't read here.'"
Fortune magazine estimates that, on average,
CEOs read only three books per year. Think about your own acquaintences-
if you know a senior executive that seems creative, innovative, and a strong
leader, does he or she admit to reading and still learning? And what about
the link between not reading, not learning, and lack of creativity in executives
you know? Linda Vetter, a senior technology executive, has no question about
the correlation. Over her career, she says, "the creative and successful
executives were always reading and learning."
Businesses lack and very much need techniques
that let everyone, effectively, quickly, and economically include learning
as part of their job. One of the benefits of the Scan process is that by
practicing it, your organization can acquire just such a technique and tradition.
Speed It Up
People think individual learning or change
takes a long time-years of back-to-school or psychotherapy. People also
believe that organizations change slowly, saying, "We will take the
next fifteen years to transform." And, if you set up a fifteen-year
plan for change, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Does it all really take that long? Many psychologists
now use "brief therapy," lasting a few weeks rather than years.
The DesignShop process proposes that learning
and change, for both individuals and organizations, can be rapid. Gail Taylor
brings the insight from her experience in elementary education. "I
learned that with kids, you speed up the information-you don't slow it down."
Accelerated learning and immersion learning techniques are powerful.
This insight and practice of Gail's was not
I used to fight with my colleagues all the
time when we would work on our curriculum in development. The pace would
be so slow!
Even today, when we run programs for schools,
teachers warn us, "We want you to come to the school, but don't use
big words, no more than fifteen minutes at a time, the attention span is
thirteen-and-a-half minutes." We say "thank you" and proceed.
We work with the students for the whole day, from the first bell to the
last bell, non-stop. We use the same language we use with executives, the
same concepts, the same simulations. Teachers go nuts because the students
will be hanging in all the way through the long hours, the vocabulary,
the concepts. And teachers ask, "Why is it?" We say, because
at the standard rate that formal education allows, you were boring them.
That's why business meetings are so boring.
The datastream is so slow you can't pay attention and you go right to sleep.
The solution: Make it rich. Compress it. Use
models to help people hold more content in their minds. Use all the ways
people learn: visually, kinesthetically, auditorily. Take proper advantage
of our ability to learn both consciously and unconsciously. Make learning
as experiential as possible.
There it is. Simple.
The time when "information" seems
like noise is when it's jumbled, with little pattern to it. You can hold
onto a lot of information when you've got a metaphor or framework or pattern
on which to hang it. Use a model to give yourself some abstraction, and
you can deal with a lot of complexity.
Visual models enhance your capabilities for
synthesis, relational thinking, and strategic thinking. Interrelating models
come from many fields: biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, systems
science, architecture. A chemistry model may help solve a finance problem;
a biological model may help solve a software design problem. Models make
the intangible tangible. They also allow you to focus on a piece of the
puzzle while remembering its place within the pattern of the whole. They
help you see how you fit into the larger picture. The process of analyzing,
building, using, and communicating models expands the capacity of individuals
and organizations to comprehend, remember, relate, and use new information.
People learn through experience, and we take it in through our favorite
People vary as to which cognitive or sensory
modality they find easiest to use: visual (or graphic), kinesthetic, or
verbal. Some people are Visuals-"Give me a quick sketch" and "Now,
I see what you mean"-and need information presented graphically or
visually to learn it. Still other people need to touch it, feel it, or work
with it physically in order to nail it down. Other people need the words-to
hear it or talk about it or see it in black and white-before they get the
Of the population as a whole, over 30% are
graphically or visually oriented, over 30% are kinesthetically oriented,
and less than 30% are verbal/writing oriented. Less than one-third of the
population is primarily oriented toward verbal and written communication,
yet typically nearly all business information goes solely through this one
While the selection effect of the verbal/written
education process has probably raised the proportion of Verbals in the business
world, there are still a whopping percentage of Visuals and Kinesthetics
in your company. By incorporating visual language, pictures, and graphic
display of information into communication, and by encouraging work processes
that involve more physical movement, more people can engage more completely
in the process of learning and working effectively. But-it rarely happens.
Most "training" or "education"
in American business is still a one-way verbal experience, a lecture in
which a speaker explains the subject matter. Sometimes a weak dose of "experience"
is tossed in, where four people do a case study for a few hours. Explanation
is necessary so that you can intellectually understand the material. But
you can discover the ineffectiveness of explanation unsupported by experience
when you return home, find little or no success in transferring or connecting
your workshop data to the people in the office, and never apply the knowledge.
So where does business use visual and kinesthetic
communication heavily, every single day?-In advertising and in marketing
information. The direct feedback channel of customers inquiring or not inquiring,
buying or not buying rewards us for effective communication, and punishes
us-with lower sales-for ineffective communication.
Some facts or concepts only came to life when
supported by an illustration, chart, or map. As people were speaking during
the Report-Out, artists from the support team were continually illustrating
the discussion using cartoon-style art and salient words on the walls. They
would draw connections between related ideas with arrows. Word pictures
and maps evolved.
Body language and symbolism are other ways
humans actually communicate, ways in which people package information for
transfer to others and to learn it for ourselves. Instead of stripping them
out of the process, include them in the educational design as carriers of
information. People learn by doing. During the Scan, even when addressing
an intellectual question, people are writing on walls, moving around, engaging
their bodies. Learning is physical as well as abstract. They are building
into the body/mind on a neurological level. Actions relate to the concepts.
The knowledge becomes acquired by the body and fixed in the mind.
Success of a Scan
Elsa Porter recounts an example of a Scan
that created a problem-solving breakthrough for the Hispanic Chamber of
Elsa's work, both previously in government
and today as a management consultant in partnership with Michael Maccoby,
centers on the quest for human productivity: how people grow and develop,
or shrink and decline. "This has been my life's work," she says.
"What I really wanted to do was to understand what happens to the human
spirit in large companies."
Beginning with the Kennedy administration,
she had seen situations that began full of hope, but then "produced
no results, no real change in society. Inside huge organizations like the
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, I was seeing what happened
to people who were trying to make a difference. They got stuck in boxes
not of their own making. They began to get frustrated. Their spirits began
to be extinguished. You saw a phenomenon of greatness becoming mediocrity."
President Carter appointed Elsa to the Commerce
Before I became Assistant Secretary, I had
directed the Civil Service Commission's Clearinghouse on Productivity and
Organizational Effectiveness. My job was to look at innovations around
the country to see what might help government to work better. That is where
I encountered Michael Maccoby and his pioneering work on the Quality of
Work Life. I brought him into the Department of Commerce where we began
to study what motivated people to grow and develop.
Later, someone told me that MG Taylor was
doing interesting work; it stimulated my curiosity. They arranged for me
to be part of a DesignShop. A California Congressman had gotten grant money
for the Hispanic Community, and they had a DesignShop run for them. This
Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event was just amazing.
"Going into the Scan," recalls
facilitator Bryan Coffman, "there was a feeling of despair. Asian
immigrants were entering California and doing extremely well in establishing
themselves in business, taking places in the university system. The Hispanic
DesignShop participants were asking, 'Why can't we compete with these people?'
The group's feeling was that the Pacific Rim was invading California and
outcompeting the Hispanic community on their home ground."
It was during the Scan, creating maps of language
and population, that things changed for the Hispanic community participants.
During the Scan, they kept looking at the
bigger world-at the Pacific Rim rising in power. It was noted that Hispanics
would soon be a majority of California, and what would that mean for them?
They looked at the language mix around the Pacific, and then the shift
came-hey! most of the Pacific Rim speaks Spanish. We are the Pacific Rim.
We could be the future.
The old pattern, unconsciously learned, had
taught the community to see themselves as stationary, isolated, under assault
by arriving immigrants, outcompeted in a zero-sum game in which the only
resources available were those fixed in California.
By looking at a much larger picture, enough
maneuvering room developed to find a new perspective. New patterns emerged,
and perceptions changed dramatically. Spanish was a valuable asset. Spanish/English
bilingual ability put them competitively ahead. Elsa continued the story.
Before, when one young man had said, with
a certain bravado, that he was going to be President of the United States,
everyone hooted and hollered at him. But now, a spirit of hope had developed!
Bryan explained that, "Coming out of
the Scan, the perception and the sentiment had changed to: 'Not only can
we compete with them here, we can go over there and compete with them in
Japan, in China, and in Korea.'"
Issues that previously may have been too touchy
to address before, suddenly became things that could be freely discussed
and dealt with.
"During Focus,[the step following Scan],"
Elsa explained, "they listed the barriers to their achievement. The
barriers were all internal: lack of self-esteem, education, courage, putting
down of women, macho culture of the man. They knew it was internal information
that they put out there. But for them to acknowledge it and own it was momentous.
The Act day [the third step, focused on action planning] was wonderful.
They were in clusters working with the planning software, laying out what
they were going to do on their projects to inspire, to collectively work
on the self esteem of the community. They were going to be the majority.
They were full of pride."
Everyone leaves a DesignShop session with
a wider range of options than when they walked in. They also leave with
something in their hands that they created-tangible evidence of the experience,
the work they did, and a reminder that something about the environment was
When we left later that day, we had the documentation.
It was marvelous. The documentation is something you can walk away with.
It stays with you. To me, it was very powerful.
Regarding long-term results, Bryan explains:
"A year later, I met one of the Hispanic leaders who had attended the
DesignShop event. He had just returned from China, where he had been establishing
business contacts-putting the new vision and plan that they had created
Why should "discovering" this data
during a Scan exercise make a profound difference in people's ability to
make strategic and tactical plans for themselves? The language statistics
of the Pacific Rim aren't secret. Everybody in the room had already known
which countries on the Pacific Rim were Spanish speaking.
Experience as Learning
When C.S. Forester was talking about creating
The African Queen, he said something with profound implications:
"What experience can I give that person to make them reach their full
Embedded here is the notion that you learn
best by experiencing something yourself, not by having someone try to transfer
knowledge to you by telling you the answer. Why didn't someone go up to
the Cockney and just tell him he was an alcoholic and he needed to stop
the drinking to reach his potential? Why didn't someone tell the spinster
missionary she needed to relax and become less judgmental? Would that have
worked? These opinions were expressed clearly between the two characters.
Neither character was transformed by the mere transfer of this information.
They were transformed by experience.
The participants in the Hispanic DesignShop
event had passively received this information many times before via newspaper,
television, classroom lecture. The difference this time was learning within
the context of an experience.
According to Gail Taylor, "Participants
already know a solution to the problem-they have to learn to recognize it."
True enough, but discovery is very hard work.
Some of it can be made easier. People all learn best by doing, so let them
learn and discover through experience. Some of the difficulty of discovery
can't be avoided-the anxiety that comes with ambiguity.
Tolerance of Ambiguity
You really are lost in the 21st century. You
are lost in the change process. Being lost in a swirl of complexity can
be an anxious time. You have cast off from the shores of the known, and
are heading out to sea with the hope-but no proof-that there is land on
the other side. Back home, in the old world, you knew who you were and what
you did every day. Granted, you weren't happy with it, but it was known
and safe. Now, you are feeling all the risk associated with the future state
that you desire. The ambiguity even extends to the question of your identity:
what kind of person will you be when you step off the boat?
Risk avoidance and shunning of change, ambiguity,
and uncertainty have been bred into us by the long centuries of our agricultural
past. Look at any agricultural society to clearly see our global heritage
of risk-avoidance. There is nothing like a peasant farmer for resistance
to innovation. Innovation is a dangerous thing: you might lose the whole
crop and face starvation. Better to stick to the old, safe ways. That heritage
stays with us today. We run away from risk, from innovation. We try to banish
the things that go with it: variety and ambiguity.
If we can't make the variety and ambiguity
go away, we ignore it. If we can't ignore it, we medicate it away, or use
some soothing substitute to drive it out of our minds: an immediate dive
into work activity.
Placing yourself in a state of ambiguity is
stressful. Everyone has heard of "writer's block." Not just writers,
but creative people of all sorts-artists, musicians, film makers, sculptors,
architects-who do not know how to deal with the ambiguity and anxiety end
up miserably "blocked," often for years. Creative people who are
producing effectively in their craft still experience the different types
of anxiety and stress associated with each stage of the creative process,
but they have figured out ways to work with and through the anxiety to produce
What the DesignShop process offers is a known
path through the anxiety and ambiguity. If you have the courage to show
up, the anxiety will be limited. People hit the creative breakthrough with
high reliability within forty-eight hours. The facilitation team manages
the risk, and focuses on giving you what you need for the creative process
to occur. You can reliably make it to your destination carried forward by
the entire structure of the whole experience-like passengers in a boat traveling
down a river.
Never kid yourself that business isn't creative
work. It is just as creative as what an artist does with brush and paint.
It is, however, even more complex, and the process less subject to control
than that of an individual artist. The discovery process for a business
is as much agony and ecstasy as for a Michelangelo. The works of art created
in business can be as brilliant as those in any other field.
1. What were your discoveries from the chapter
concerning scanning, building scenarios, and education? Record them here
along with any questions.
2. Build a model of education as it currently
is in your company, your family, or your life. How rich and diverse is
it? When was the last time you learned something entirely out of your field
of expertise or zone of comfort?
3. Now build a model of the richest, most
diverse, experiential, and exploratory education system that you could
build into your company or your daily life. How could you work to increase
variety, ambiguity, and risk, and help people understand that? What experience
can you give yourself and those around you to help them reach their full