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Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend


Leaping the Abyss:

Putting Group Genius to Work


Authors' Preface

 

Since this is a rather unusual book, you deserve an explanation of how it came to be.

A while back, we got an email from someone saying they were using our first book in some kind of management seminar called a DesignShop. Now, that first book was about nanotechnology, not business, but this email implied that they were finding the book useful in getting people to think creatively about the future and change their companies' strategies to adapt.

Well, this was flattering, but we couldn't figure out how it would work. What could this mean - that DesignShop participants were using our book - and what is a DesignShop? We put in a phone call to satisfy our curiosity, and so discovered MG Taylor: Matt Taylor with his background in architecture and design processes, Gail Taylor with her experience in accelerated learning and creativity with individuals, and how this combination evolved into DesignShops.

The techniques, environment, and thought underlying their work were fascinating. Now we were more curious than before - could reducing barriers to performance make as much of a difference as they claimed? Did environment really count so heavily in structuring group dynamics and promoting-or inhibiting-creativity? How could a short workshop make such a dramatic difference to organizations? Our list of questions only got longer. But we heard enough examples of solid success to want to understand the process better.

The more they told us, the more curious and interested we became. They were pulling together insights from fields as diverse as architecture and brain chemistry and applying them to business. They were also incorporating insights from the best business theories around. They seemed to have brought it all together in a completely unique three-day format that sounded challenging, fun, and actually generated solid work product.

Could this be real? Could complex problems be solved that fast? It was hard to believe. We decided we had to see this in action for ourselves. Enquiring scientific, journalistic, and business-oriented minds wanted to know whether this had really delivered hard-core, bottom-line results as claimed. So we went and checked it out.

Our initial reaction to this first event was to start a thought experiment, applying this process to past situations. It was definitely a case of "If I'd known then what I'd known now, here's what I would have handled differently." Our second reaction was "Here's how I'm going to start using this knowledge today." Then the next thought was "We want our friends and business colleagues to know about this." Practically all the interesting people we know are trying to accomplish something difficult - from CEOs to non-profit executives, they are all working on challenging problems, and we felt they could make great headway by applying the DesignShop process.

Those who are in Fortune 100 companies may well encounter DesignShop-style processes as MG Taylor and their colleagues at Ernst & Young carry it into the corporate world. But most managers aren't in Fortune 100 companies, and a way was needed to get the word out. The DesignShop concept takes a while to explain, so someone really needed to write a book.

We suggested that MG Taylor write the book. They suggested that we do it. Eventually, we saw this made sense, for two reasons:

  • First, our background in nanotechnology: we already knew that an immense technical, business, and social tsunami is coming along shortly, so we're always looking for great new techniques to help people and organizations cope with change. And here in Silicon Valley, companies are already being forced to deal with a blinding rate of technological change. This speed-up will likely increase, and definitely spread.
  • Second, we've been around in business for long enough to know that it's tough out there, and we all need whatever help we can get. In high-tech startups, no matter how smart, talented, and hard-working you are, you need to use every possible advantage to succeed. In more traditional companies, such as large military contractors, it's tough to continually reinvent what you're doing instead of fighting fires and sinking beneath endemic problems.

So we agreed to spend a month writing this book. Instead, it took two years.

But it's been worth it, because - for a change - this is something really new, really profound. Even if all you take away from this book is a handful of techniques and insights - even if you never use the full-scale DesignShop process - knowing these techniques can make a big difference for you and your company.

When we ran the book draft past our favorite B School professor, who's seen every piece of change literature since Noah got off the ark, she said "wow, this is actually new!" Part of what's new here is bringing insight from other fields - such as architecture and education - into business. The other part is synthesis - taking the well-known insights of business theorists like Drucker, Deming, and so on, and getting them to play together in a new way.

So there are ideas here that you can extract and use immediately. We've provided some pointers to the sources of inspiration for the DesignShop concept, but this is not an academic-style tracing of the intellectual roots of the process or its components. You'll find some supporting theory to show the logic of the process, but this is not a textbook. Instead, the purpose of this book is to bring to your attention this new tool and some examples of its success.

You'll find that we focus on MG Taylor, the company that originated this process. That's because the original work was done largely by Matt and Gail Taylor, and by the facilitators who have worked on their team for a long time. To tell you this story, we wanted to go to the source - the originators - and give you as immediate a feel from them as possible.

You hear a lot about Matt and Gail in this book, but they've trained up lots of other facilitators, who are now training more. Soon, you be able to get great facilitation from a variety of sources. Which is a good thing, given how many organizations need this process, and urgently. Nobody needs to tell us all how increasingly desperate everyone feels: swamped, overloaded, operating right on the edge - or over the edge. And it's only going to get worse. We wrote this book to help.

So: have fun with the ideas, and use them profitably.

Gayle Pergamit and Chris Peterson

gayle@pergamit.com, peterson@foresight.org

Palo Alto, California

April 1997


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