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    1999 Foresight Gathering Leaping the Abyss - Contents

Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend

Leaping the Abyss:

Putting Group Genius to Work

Chapter Eleven

Tactical Planning at Warp Speed


It's Friday morning, the last day of the Wharton DesignShop. Outside the hotel in mid-Philadelphia, there's sweltering heat, high humidity, and occasional thunderstorms-which do nothing to break the heat. Combine the weather with the high-crime environment outside the hotel, and it means that many of us haven't been outside in several days. To participants from more human-friendly external environments, it seems that the DesignShop event is an oasis constructed in hell. The two long days behind them and the nine-hour marathon ahead don't seem to have tired anyone out. The participants come in gladly, picking up breakfast as they head toward the large group meeting area.

As people ingest their doses of caffeine, Matt and Gail sketch out the tasks ahead. Today it all comes together. Each organization will leave with a detailed and critiqued action plan. For two days you can see some people have been resisting the urge to say, "Yes, that's all very well, but what exactly are we going to do?" and "That goal is too ambitious-how could we possibly accomplish it?" Implementation issues have been deliberately ignored in order to get the right goals set and the participants speaking a common language. Now it's time to figure out how to get there from here.

Or rather, how to "bring there to here." The key is to envision the preferred future state, and then see how to "bring that preferred future back to here every day, in every action you take." Who would guess that this simple reformulation of the implementation challenge could make a difference?

Gail Taylor points out that, "Today will be 80% of the work." What does she mean by that? The whole group has been working their tails off the entire time. Sure, it's been a non-standard kind of work-different from what they do back at the home office-but it's been intense. So what could "80% of the work getting done today" mean? Maybe it means that all of the "real" work will get done today, because today is when the action plan-the most concrete product-gets written.

We asked Chip Saltsman of Ernst & Young what he thought Gail meant by this. Chip's numbers are a little different, but the idea is the same:

If on the first day we get X amount done, then on the second day we'll get 2X, and on the third day we'll get 4X done. On the third day, if we say, "We're half way through," people say "huh?" But, we'll get more done on that last day than we did during the prior two days. Once the group is aligned on what their answer is, they are capable of incredible output, working in parallel.

As everyone prepares to separate into organization-based teams, Matt has a final challenge:

When I was a builder-architect and said we could build a building 10% faster, people would say "So what?" But if you said that we had nine months, but would do it in six weeks, bam! A big change is easier to get alignment on than a little change. Don't exhaust yourself in the little changes. We have to make deep changes, or be victims of change.

Matt's advice as they launch themselves into work helps add to the creative tension. Chip adds,

You want to be building up creative tension. If you are shooting an arrow, and only draw back the bowstring halfway, the shaft barely travels. If you pull the bow back to your ear, the arrow really flies. Creativity comes out of the conundrum of the need to be organized and flexible at the same time. People who say, "I need to work under pressure, I need to be worried"-that's creative tension. Many of these insights are well described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity. He points out that, in creativity, a state of tension exists between being:






For the next three hours, the various organizations work intensely and creatively on their plans.


Transitioning from Focus to Act

In what ways does the strategic and tactical work about to be done in the DesignShop session differ from the same type of work done by the same people back home? Chip offers,

At a DesignShop event, everything is happening faster. The work is much more collaborative. This may be a group of executives who have never come together before to work on these issues, but the communication is outstanding, because you've begun speaking the same language. They may be deluded that they all speak the same language in their work life but, in fact, they speak 'dialects' depending on location and function.

How do you tell when you are ready to move from Focus into Act? And what is that moment like when all are focused solely on one company and its issues, in contrast to the wide range of groups gathered here at Wharton? Chip explains:

In a large group, the transition to Act usually comes around some kind of an emotional synthesis conversation. They have to talk it out in a long, emotional discussion-an intense conversation. In order to reach their destination, they have to walk away from something. It's obvious that the group has reached a decision, and it is now time to act on it. Sometimes you feel the "we gotta do that" feeling.

This is a culmination of a pattern that started back on Day 1 during Scan. You've spent two days getting them loaded up to do the work on Day 3. The linear types want to do Day 3 when they walk in the door-they want to solve it first. However, the creative process doesn't work that way.

During Scan and Focus, you are also working through the questions of identity and vision. When you are dealing with identity, you are asking, "Who are we? What kind of problems and conditions are we are dealing with?" You look at it from many different vantage points and develop lots of different ways to see the problem.

When you are developing vision, you ask, "How do you see it going into the future? What does "there" look like? What's the difference? What is it about the new "there" that allows different operating conditions?" You get your hands dirty sometimes when you're busting some cherished beliefs. "Who said anything about bicycles? Why do we have to be a bicycle company? Why not a transportation company? Why not a toy company? A racing company? Who said we have to do it that old way? [It's like Carl's Jr.-are we a lunch concept? a sandwich concept? what are we?] Expect that there will be moments of "What the heck am I doing?"

In working with intent, you have to see if you have the resolution to go through with it. When the group has that conviction, you hear, "By golly, we are going to solve the problem." You can ask yourself the test questions-Are you excited yet? Do you have the juice to make it happen?

You have got to have a problem to solve. And the group has to feel that this is a problem worth solving. Often it is up to the leader to articulate this, to stand up and say, "We aren't going back to the old way. I'm burning the boats behind you." Very often, you need to achieve Intent before you get the Insight on how to do it.

Insight is the ah-ha! the Eureka! The moment when everything slips into place. In the rest of our lives, we use words like "breakthrough," "epiphany," "getting religion." It's the moment you imagine a design and allow for a new thing that will make the future happen.

How reliably does the insight, the ah-ha, the answer, show up for people? Do people know when they have the answer? Here is Chip's perception:

Most commonly, they have the answer, but they don't know they have it.
Next most common, is that they have the answer and know it.
Third, is that they don't have it, and they know they don't.
Last is that they don't have it, and they think they do.
The most mystifying is the common state of "they have the answer and they don't know they have it." What on earth does that mean?

It sounds unlikely, but it echoes as a common pattern through the various DesignShop experience stories. It means that someone in the room has spoken the golden solution, or scribed a golden solution up on the board. But so far, everyone is still hunting around rough pebbles and fool's gold, passing by the nugget again and again. Remember back at AEDC, Matt was saying, "What if it wasn't the law? What if it wasn't the law?" like a broken record, but no one could hear him. This was completely obvious to all that were outsiders to the situation, but when you're right in the middle of it, those habitual barriers and mental strings that we don't even recognize any more can block our view of a beautiful, effective solution.

The habits, mental strings, and old concepts have to be left behind.

The facilitator's job is to keep participants in the struggle, keep them engaged, moving forward, working the problem. The facilitation team is thinking, "What are the barriers that we need to remove to get them to insight?"

What the facilitator is not thinking is, "How do we force them into this particular answer?" As a facilitator or as a sponsor "voice of authority," you may just be itching to jump up and yell: "Look! Here's the solution to the whole problem! Just drop all this other nonsense and get with it." Resist this urge, because people don't learn from being told, they learn from the experience; they need to experience it.

The facilitation team continues vigilantly providing direction toward the goal, easing the way, but allowing the result to emerge on its own. It's analogous to how a butterfly hatches. If you think that the chrysalis is a barrier that needs to be removed and decide to help the butterfly out by slitting the chrysalis open, the butterfly will crawl out the doorway you have made. But you'll find that it will never be able to unfurl its wings, never be able to fly, never be a butterfly. Struggling to free itself from the chrysalis is an important part of the process of becoming a butterfly. Biochemical changes go on in the butterfly as it struggles, rests, and then struggles again to forge its way out of the container of its old form and into the shape and mobility of its new life. Without the biochemical learning of the struggle, you don't get the desired result.

When the group emerges from its chrysalis after the struggle, it's got wings, the energy to fly, and the deep learning that will continue to help guide each individual as he or she performs tasks during the upcoming Act segment, and also months from now and miles away.

People have to work on the problem enough to make it their own. Not until you've wrestled with it, do you own the problem and own the solution.


How Does the Facilitation Team

Prepare for the Moment of Insight?

The facilitation team has been concerned with how to get the participants to the moment of insight. They have also prepared the next set of steps for moving into Act, once insight has been reached.

How do you prepare for a decision that hasn't been made yet? You can do it because, most commonly, the participants have already created the solution to the problem, even though they may not recognize it yet. The pattern of the solution is more apparent to the facilitators, or to anyone who is not wrestling to rid themselves of a conceptual barrier.

In a DesignShop session being held for a single company, the fifty to eighty participants will break into teams during Act. So using that pattern as a guide, Chip describes the continuing process:

The night before, we'll have chunked the work into six-plus-or-minus-two bits of work. We'll select the ones we think we're going to work on.

At the moment of insight, we have created topics around which to form teams. Once the teams have crystallized around a "there," or made their decisions, we use those topics-usually on hypertiles-to validate that those are the topics that need work. Sometimes we eliminate some or add others on the spot. The participants "vote with their feet," join the topic that most interests them, and then they get to work.

In one DesignShop session for an E&Y client, the chunks related to a series of product lines. But for another one done for E&Y internally, some of the topics for the groups were:

Often, a synthesis team will be coordinating the work of all other teams. After all, there can be as many as eighty people in a DesignShop event.

The facilitation team will ask themselves, "How do we put closure on this, so that people can resist the day-to-day pressure?" Therefore, you will often have a team working on a covenant or contract.

Sometimes during Act, a new team will materialize. At an E&Y event, for example, we realized that we had to assign account execs to 300 clients. So a team came together, made the list, and then went back to their original teams.

On the last day, the morning of Day 3, the facilitator's job is to stay out of the way. By now there is usually violent agreement about what needs to be worked on. Very often participants aren't assigned to groups. They sign up for topics for which they have a passion.

Now we are in the second half of the creative cycle: building and testing. The work is engineering: you design, you put the skeleton together, and flesh it out. You need to go through a couple of cycles of design, build, and test-multiple cuts at the same problem coming from multiple directions. You need to bring it in front of others to test it: "Well, have you considered this?" "Well, no." So they go back to their group and continue to flesh out the problem.


Reaping the Benefits from Focus

Wait a minute-doesn't this all sound just too rosy? Too easy? Unrealistic?

The reason the work goes so very quickly and yet maintains excellent quality is because you paid your dues yesterday in Focus. During Focus, every group looked at the whole solution-not at parts, the way you are now working in Act. During Focus, you did repeated stress tests of the whole situation and of entire proposed solutions.

You can stress-test an idea along many dimensions. Having two or three groups working separately on the same thing is a great way to test their solutions.

The stress tests were to look for fatal flaws and essential elements. The search for fatal flaws either went on implicitly, as in building a 3-D model, or called out explicitly, as in these examples from Chip:

Try solving the problem, but without a key thing that they think they need. So, for E&Y it was "design a consulting practice that has one third of the people you think you need." Solving the problem without a key element brings up, "What's gotta go in the lifeboat?" You get down to the real essence.

"You are bought by a corporate raider. You have six months to hit aggressive targets or you're history. What do you do? Can you take away the things you think you ought to have, but don't need?

This forces them to think about it not working. Since they are going to be thinking about that anyway, you may as well have it addressed explicitly and use it to test and improve the solution.

After that, every group works on different pieces of the problem. Often you get a lot of insight by having two or three groups working on the same thing. There is a constant reshuffling of teams and, with that, a constant amount of idea sharing. Either implicitly or explicitly, because they have reported-out, the ideas are exchanged throughout the group. Repeatedly, there is time to take what they are developing and stress test it. We will test the structures that the groups are proposing. We suggest: "We can divide up the work this way."


Back to Act

"Usually we have one full group check-in session." Chip explains, "The facilitators do very little talking. We facilitate the conversation so it's not dysfunctional. We test to make sure the participants don't have more to say on a particular subject. To test, we'll say, "Let's move on." Well, sometimes they have a lot more to say! When they weren't getting any more out of it, then we would move on to the next group."

The first big payoff of the ruthless stress-testing, design, and redesign in Focus is that the plan evolves like lightning. There isn't any of the standard stuff such as appointing a committee to research and plan for six to twelve months.

The next payoff is that every responsible party has already kicked the tires. If you have pulled representatives of all the stakeholders together, then the entire value web is already educated and signed up to work on the plan. Because you put the time into developing a common set of experiences and a common language, everybody is finally talking about the same thing. The standard business of months of education, selling the plan, watching it get misunderstood and distorted isn't there. In three days, start to finish, you're ready to fly with a new course of action.


E & Y Clients Do a DesignShop

Chip told us about a DesignShop event for an E&Y client, a major consumer products company. They had done an excellent job during Scan, so good that at the end of their Scan on Day 2, they had covered the work walls with 30 or 40 product ideas that were worth $100 million or more apiece.

Their Focus and Act segments illustrate how testing can locate weaknesses which can then be fixed in the midst of building the Tactical Plan. It also provides an example of another issue that concerns facilitators: how to achieve closure so that people can resist the day-to-day pressure of the old environment.

As this company moves from Scan to Focus, they are looking at the work walls covered with a plethora of $100 million product ideas. Chip, standing up in front of the walls, would point to an idea and ask, "How many people here think that this one idea is easily achievable?" And then hands would go up. Eighty percent was Chip's cutoff point. Anything that got less than 80% of the participants' hands up in the air wasn't a candidate. For some ideas it was 100%-a sure thing.

At one point he stopped pointing out ideas. He turned to the participants and said: "On the board behind me is a billion dollars of easily achievable business, right now."

The room became completely silent.

Potential victories covered the walls in front of them.

Then the participants broke into groups for the next exercise: to start testing for areas of weakness in this pie-in-the-sky dream. Each team was handed an abundant supply of Post-It Notes and given the same mission: Explain "Why We Can't Do It." They had to write as many Post-its as they could, listing barriers that would prevent them from moving forward.

While the participants were off at work in their groups, the facilitation team implemented an architectural change that was going to create a major mood alteration. Using kids' building blocks, the team built a big brick wall that stood as a barrier between where the participants would be sitting and their $1 billion of sure-fire new products on the work walls.

When everyone came back for the last exercise of Day 2, there was a brick wall between them and their goal. Then, things got even worse. The next exercise was the report out dealing with "Why We Can't Do It."

Group after group showed up with their pile of yellow stickies and read through all the reasons why the company was never going to reach the goal of a new $1 billion in products. They were all cultural, organizational reasons: "We won't work together." Each yellow sticky in turn went up on the brick wall, until the surface was covered with them. It was a visual representation that the cultural issues were what stood between the people and the achievement of their goal.

With all these problems staring at them, blocking them, the participants were told that they were finished for the day. Time to go home.

The president took the barriers like a real blow. The participants went home a sobered bunch.

But, they were asked not to think about the problem that night. Instead, they were asked to sleep on it, and write down their first idea upon waking the next morning.


Day 3: Moving from Focus into Act

When they showed up in the morning, the brick wall and the yellow stickies were gone, but the tension of what it all meant hadn't dissipated. This was deliberate. The designers wanted the tension created by the brick wall to be the springboard for moving from Focus to Act. It was.

According to Chip, "After about two-and-a-half hours of discussion and they were ready to go Act. Teams formed around eight promising product lines, one on option prioritization, synthesis, barriers and vision. After a one o'clock check in, the president huddled with his executive team to polish the vision while the rest of the teams plowed on."

The final report-out of the day was staged so that the product lines went in order of increasing drama.

The second to the last report was done by the Barriers team. The Barriers team built another brick wall, smaller than the original monster, but replete with the emotion and symbolism of the first. With the wall lurking there, they presented a vision of how they would like the company to be, a plan for getting there, and a personal committment to follow.

Now it was time for the last group to report. What could this group possibly say or do that would overcome the crushing weight, the impossible barrier of all those reasons for failure?

Suddenly, bricks and yellow stickies went flying as the president smashed his way through the brick wall. The whole group was on its feet, cheering, applauding. "Here's our vision!" he said, the work that he and his team had been doing to guarantee success. The president worked his way through the new operating imperatives that had been created that day, swept the barriers aside, and presented the new vision.

People came out of the DesignShop event pumped up. The group left on a huge high.

"Later, we got a call from the president. He said, 'The corporate jet doesn't need fuel to get back home.'"

The wide-ranging work of Scan and the stress-testing of Focus left them stronger. The stress-testing of cultural issues was clearly uncomfortable. But the way out of the problem is through the problem-and, in this case, "through the wall" as well. This group left the session with a dynamite plan, and the path smoothed of obstacles in order to help that plan succeed.

The unmistakable statement of the physical presence of the wall and the unmistakable statement in the president's smashing the barrier did more convincing than hours of discussion or debate could. It put an intellectual, behavioral, and emotional seal on the work that has been done.

Symbolic acts have a strong, powerful emotional impact. At another DesignShop event facilitated by Ernst & Young, they performed a symbolic act to indicate that the past was gone. On a red card each participant was to write the thing that they were leaving behind. On a green card, each wrote the idea that they were bringing home. Leave this old attitude behind-take this new idea home.

"Hmmm," said Chip as he thought about it. "We should have burned the bad thing, maybe used flash paper, do something to blow it up. That would have been even more effective."


The Eagle in Action

Back here at Wharton, the progress in the groups is strong. People are working intensely. Ideas and iterations happen quickly. There are no pauses in work process, no lulls. It really is fast-paced action.

The F-15 group with Col. Bill is having a great time. They work like those old DesignShop pros over at the AEDC breakout.

The DesignShop process spread into the military the same way it has spread among commercial organizations-through word of mouth by people who have seen it work. In this case, the motivating force was the migration of Col. Bill Rutley from heading up AEDC to leading the System Program Office (SPO) for the Air Force's F-15 fighter aircraft.

He had been the force behind getting DesignShop environments, tools, and processes established at AEDC, and he brought this enthusiasm with him to the SPO. In April 1994, shortly after taking his new post, he sponsored the first F-15 DesignShop event.

Col. Bill had good reason to want the best tools available. The F-15 is in a difficult position. This plane has been flying for twenty years, and it's getting old. And yet, its successor, the F-22, has been delayed so many times that now it looks as though the F-15 may have to fly until the year 2020.

How can you keep an aircraft that old flying well enough to fight wars? Especially since there appears to be some kind of rule saying that a class of aircraft can't be upgraded when it will be replaced within five years by a new aircraft. With the F-22 being delayed by small increments, this means that the F-15 design could be forced to stop evolving when needed.

Moreover, the funding cycles for the aircraft are messed up, leading to instabilities in the flow of dollars. Somehow, the Air Force has got to keep winning wars until 2020 with an old aircraft and unreliable funding. Quite a challenge for Col. Bill and his team attending the Wharton event, despite their intensive training in DesignShop processes.

Col. Bill had great success introducing DesignShop techniques at AEDC, but since that command changes hands every couple of years, he'd had to move on. We were curious about his next command-are the techniques being as well-received at F-15? Col. Bill:

Here we have worldwide responsibility for over 700 airplanes and a prime contractor, plus subcontractors and international contractors. We are on the road all of the time. I am on the road 250,000 miles a year.

Compared to AEDC, the DesignShop work with the F-15 program has had a tougher road because there are much more complex organizational needs-but it is having a serious, positive effect.

The F-15 challenge is more difficult because it has a beginning and an end. AEDC has no definable end whatsoever. But by the year 2025 or so, most F-15s will be out of service. There is a complete life/death cycle and no return after death. Also the F-15, like AEDC, had not thought about where it was going to be in the future. It will now have twice the life anyone anticipated. But due to the short lifetime expectation for the aircraft, no one thought beyond one to five years out. SPOs [System Program Offices] have a very short reach.

Here's how life is at F-15: You get a phone call from Washington, and someone is mad and wants something today, and so that item is shipped. You get a call from England, and they have a jet down, and you work that now and drop everything else. There is a higher level of fire-fighting and near-term focus than at AEDC.

AEDC has a sense of history. I was able to capitalize on that by using the DesignShop experience to remind them of it. Now at F-15, there are also some things to capitalize on. There is a real loyalty to the airplane. It is like the World War II Spitfires-very emotional. There is a sense of the history of the airplane and what it means to the war fighter.

I constantly point out that, of the people who will be flying the airplane, some have not been born yet. We have a tremendous responsibility to make the right decisions in the next few years. Because of the way our budget cycle works, if we screw it up today, the recovery will not occur until close to the end of the life of the jet. The critical investments are being made from now to the year 2000, and we have to make the right decisions.

A budget downturn is necessary, and what we have to do is to reengineer, reconfigure, reinvent the box it will fit in, and redo this thing with our contractor teammate so that the war fighter never knows the difference. The fact that things are changing back here is irrelevant to them. All they want is a plane that does the job every day, every place.

With the F-15, we have already had breakthroughs. We call one the Eagle Enterprise, which addresses the problem of how to neutralize geography, time, and cultural differences. We recognize that we are scattered all over the place, and we have to have technology and ways of thinking about each other and working with each other that neutralize time and culture differences. Deacon is the head of that. He is a bright young guy making a lot of headway. That is evolving.

The broader effort with Matt and Gail has been two-fold: One, to effect the cultural evolution of the F-15 program and to aid that. This combined command is only three years old, although the airplane is 20. Previously, there were two separate commands in separate locations. Although the F-15 SPO still has two locations, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Robins Air Force Base, they both work for the F-15 SPO Director. Now they are all one organization working with the same mission.

There is still a lot of that left-over culture from the two organizations. They are not completely one organization. It's a merger situation in which our predecessors kind of stapled the organizations together. You can still see the cultures of the old organizations, with really large differences. It used to be that the group at Wright Patterson did not even speak to the people at Warner Robins. Now, due in large part to the DesignShop series, Wright Patterson is beginning to understand what Warner Robins is doing, and Warner Robins is beginning to understand what Wright Patterson is doing-it is starting to be more and more one team.

We found a facilitator at the Wharton event who had also been at the key F-15 "merger" DesignShop session. While not as colorful as burying a hatchet, Gunner Kaersvang recounts, it was indeed a dramatic change which emerged as a natural part of the process of working in this environment and having a common experience:

I was at the particular F-15 DesignShop session when they were integrating the north and south sections. There was a lot of animosity between the two groups. All of a sudden, it clicked. They had a fuss they called a "furball." Then the two groups were milling together in the middle of the room, and they were so excited that they were talking so loud that I could hardly get them to hear me. It was incredible.

Col. Bill is now having some success with using the DesignShop processes to work with those outside his direct command:

We are also bringing in more and more people who work on the F-15 who do not work for me. I do not "own" about 8000 people out there who do things for us. Engines, for example, are technically out of my control. In fact, they work very well with us and work to our requirements. They are coming in through the DesignShop approach as well.

Here's part of the reason--If you sit down and are separated by tables, like in a routine staff meeting, everyone is already in a fixed position when they come through the door. There might be utility in doing that for routine things. There is no utility in doing it for serious thinking-serious D&D [dialogue and debate]. Everyone has to get his passions, questions, and feelings on the table without being called an idiot. It worked that way at AEDC, and it is working that way here.

And, in fact, here at Wharton we can see that it is working just fine. It would be understandable if everyone associated with the F-15 was burned out and frustrated-they have been working for so long to keep an old system working, with resources that alternate between sufficient and insufficient, seemingly at random, based on politics in Washington rather than on the needs of the war fighter whose life is on the line. This is more than enough reason for morale problems, one would think.

Instead, we see a highly-motivated, upbeat team which accepts their situation cheerfully and focuses on coming up with creative ways to deal with it. One task for this DesignShop session is figuring out how to better communicate the effects of randomly fluctuating funding to Congress. It is a complex system in which erratic funding cuts can lead to serious waste, not just of money but potentially of human lives as well. Often it is not the exact size of the budget that causes the problems, but instead the sudden changes. It must be like trying to run an industry at the whim of a bunch of emotional Norse gods without memories. Col. Bill words it succinctly for us: "Washington is going down a slippery slope and they cannot see the abyss. This is due to their feedback loops. You have a one-year budget system with two-to-four-year feedback."

The problem should not be so hard for Washington to understand.

Now, up on the F-15 wallboard is a diagram of the F-15 funding, decision making, and work process. The discontinuities, the break points where problems arise, stand out bright and clear. This summary diagram can now be the basis of a new tactical plan for communications with Washington.

This is just the beginning of a more ambitious project that would enable Washington to get a much better feel for the effects of their funding decisions. Matt explains:

The long-range goal, about 4-5 years out, is to take something like SimCity software and actually put the F-15 "game" on it, and then hand it to Congress. Then they can experiment: "If I do this with appropriations, and this with readiness, and this with that over there, here's what happens to casualties and the country's ability to win a conflict."

Bill concludes his story with an explicit discussion of the issue of morale and commitment:

Our entire group should get together every ninety days. I am convinced that to manage a group you should do that. But for us to get together every six months is about all we can do.

Outside the DesignShop process, normally you will have one meeting addressing one topic-but not within any context, unless you are lucky. You sit around a rigid table and get a briefing and send it back to the drawing board. For a lot of things that are routine, day-to-day activities, that works, and you would not want to do a DesignShop approach for them.

But with all of that taking place as individual actions, without DesignShop events you have no idea where you are taking the entire program. It ends up somewhere by accident, and you do not know where the strategic vector is going. People just do not know. They say, "I don't know where I am going, and Rutley is supposed to figure it out."

But when you have people from every corner of the organization together, and bring all that to bear, it forces people who don't want to be accountable to find out that accountability is neat, and they begin to engage. It is fun to watch. There are some who do not want to engage. They do their job every day, but it is hard to get them to engage beyond that. There is a place for that, and it is OK. But using the DesignShop methods, you get more and more people to engage, and it spreads like wildfire. It was like that at AEDC and is getting there at F-15.


Rapid Iteration:

Design, Build, Test. Redesign, Build, Test.

Not only is the Wharton F-15 group going like a house on fire. So is the E&Y team, and the AEDC teamall the groups.

After three hours of impassioned and detailed planning, with each team assisted by facilitators, the groups emerge ready to present their results for peer review and more stress-testing. The comments this time are more content-oriented, less focused on making sure that the presenting team has used a process that digs deeply enough. The comments and questions include:

AEDC is asked whether they can consider offering services overseas; it's clear they've addressed the issue.

Ernst & Young is queried about whether they will be able to get the internal support for their plan; yes, it looks good.

F-15 is challenged: are more resources absolutely needed, or is there another way? After discussion, it appears that, yes, the team is right: given the mandate that the F-15 is ordered to fulfill, there is no other option. It emerges that faulty government accounting systems are at the heart of the problem, and the team is addressing that.

Carl's Jr. is questioned on how they deal with having 400 COOs-the general managers. Their plan is seen to address the issue by giving them more responsibility. This critical issue of balance between the corporate business and local entrepreneurs is addressed further. So is the question of feedback on experiments-that looks good: the results of a given promotion are already available overnight.

Orlando Regional Health System is queried on alliances and outsourcing. The response is reassuring; these are being addressed.

Overall, the teams are feeling confident about their plans, and the peer review has given them some items to recheck. It's time to iterate-the big group splits into organizational units again and takes another shot at their plans over lunch and through early afternoon.

What if someone wasn't confident about the plans? What if the stress-testing by the group had revealed a fatal flaw? What if the questioning had produced an additional flash of insight that would suggest a totally new solution?

Design, test, redesign, test again. This is what has been going on in the small groups all day long. This rapid iteration-quickly cycling through the process again and again, rapidly building a prototype solution, testing, then building a second, third, fourth, fifth prototype-has led to results that are strong, balanced, and able to withstand environmental stress. And if they break under stress-plow them under, and design again.


Wrapping It Up

At Wharton, each team has had its own facilitator with them throughout the day. Their roles have shown a whole different set of variations today: lots of testing, lots of suggesting of content ideas. One key focus of the facilitator is to make sure the participants are putting together action plans, "to do" lists, schedules that avoid what Chip calls "the empty imperative." If you hear a "somebody needs to take care of this," it has to be changed into not just "Who's going to do this?" but "Who is taking care of it and by when?" You want to really get it specified: "Bill Smith will handle X by August 2." or "All phone calls will be returned within 24 hours."

The tactical plans that are being built have detailed schedules, written specifications-things that usually take weeks or months to create.

By 3:30, it's all come together. There's another brief report out session to give each group a chance to put their results in presentation form-always a clarifying experience. Many have done graphics to illustrate their plans; these are extremely helpful.

There is a sense of satisfaction, of completion, and for the first time during the DesignShop, some serious fatigue on the part of the participants. We're coming down off a high. We're thinking about catching a plane out of this hot, humid city and going home to our families.

A few participants, new to the process, are concerned about being able to take home all of their work. They are assured that not only will they get copies of what was written on the wallboards, they will also be getting a list of all the books brought as part of the library, a transcript of all of the large-group discussions, the models underlying the process itself, a synthesis work product that captures the key issues and extends the thinking done here, and even the music log. And all of it will be sent to them, Fedex, on Monday at the latest.

Jim Nicholson, a newcomer to both AEDC and to the DesignShop process, is focused on the specific results attained by his organization: "As a new member of the AEDC team, this was a new experience for me. It let the team members include me quickly. We are not leaving with just the start of a new product-we have a very demanding schedule."

John Poparad, also with the AEDC group but very familiar with the process we've just been through, sums it up: "Part of the joy of DesignShops is the ability to create a world and live in it for a while in a fully creative, non-critical manner, and then withdraw."

A senior executive, with experience as both a participant and sponsor of earlier DesignShop events, summarizes the interactions between the extremely different organizations that have made up the Wharton participants: "At a strategic level, there was a lot in common on the issues. We are all going in the same direction. For everyone, it is the transition that is the difficulty." It's a double transition that everyone is facing-the transition back to the home environment, and the work to implement the transition to the vision of the future that everyone has just detailed out.

The final farewell from Matt may bring closure to the event, but it opens the door to all the work to be done once everyone is back home. With a joke from Col. Bill Rutley and a burst of laughter, participants race to grab suitcases and dash to the airport. Carrying the plans and visions that they have created over the last three days, they are about to bring the future back to the present.



1. Record ideas and questions from this chapter to add to your growing library of observations.

2. It's time to pull together and iterate your vision, and then delineate how you will bring the vision the preferred future back to here every day, in every action you take. It's also time to test again to make sure the vision is large enough to embrace your whole potential and the potential of your enterprise. "Don't exhaust yourself in the little changes. We have to make deep changes, or be victims of change."

3. Go back to all of your work from previous chapters:

Now pull it all into a single synthesis: a whole picture. You can mindmap it, or create a longer document. You may even wish to use a business planning template, but don't attenuate the value of your work by unnecessarily forcing it into some arbitrary form. This synthesis may be difficult and could take a while. That's OK: persevere. Work through it until you get the "ah-ha," and the patterns of the whole system clearly emerge.

4. Test the synthesis for viability and depth of change.

5. Describe and diagram how you will bring this vision back to "here" every day.

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Leaping the Abyss - Table of Contents


1999 Foresight Gathering

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