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    1999 Foresight Gathering Leaping the Abyss - Contents

Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend

Leaping the Abyss:

Putting Group Genius to Work

Chapter Twelve

Designing the Ride


Keith Cushman of AEDC: "This process is designed. Most meetings have an agenda. That means you know what you are going to talk about, but not how you are going to talk about it. In a DesignShop experience, you know in pretty precise terms both what you are going to talk about and how you are going to talk about it.

Designing the What and the How begins a month before the actual event. In a Discovery Day session, the sponsor or sponsor team, the Key Facilitator, the Process Facilitator, and other potential facilitation team members gather to develop clear objectives for the DesignShop event:

To create an event for a specific company and a specific problem, the facilitation team will use a DesignShop-type environment and subset of the processes-a "Discovery Session"-for the purpose of designing the main event. Not only is each Discovery Session custom-crafted for each sponsor, but every time the sponsor brings in a new problem to be the focus of its own full-scale event, a new Discovery Session is crafted to accommodate the new problem.

You do your work in a DesignShop-style space set up to accommodate your group size and the kind of work you'll be doing. There is the same kind of facilitation that you would have in a DesignShop.

The session might be designed to start immediately with an in depth Take-a-Panel/Share-a-Panel exercise to get all the viewpoints out on the table. This is the same wide-ranging learning that goes on in a good Scan. Almost immediately, the exercise produces an extremely good set of ideas, lots of information about the company, insight into the problems, and understanding about the participant's points of view.

Using the big work walls to map out the information, the facilitation team will collect information on your culture, intentions, and contradictions about your industry and the problems you face.

The sponsor team brings technical depth: intimate, intricate knowledge about their business, the industry, the issues, and the nature of the problem. The DesignShop team has to soak up this unique knowledge from the sponsor and meld it with their knowledge of the process of bringing people through to a creative solution.

In addition to learning the content which the sponsor can provide, the facilitation team also has to determine the boundaries of that content. The sponsor and his company are already experts at solving problems in the context within which they normally operate. The "unsolvable" problems are those that require them to operate beyond that context.

The key to discovering what needs to be learned about culture, intentions, contradictions, and what constitutes going beyond normal context lies in the art of asking the right questions. Many questions will have the goal of finding the hidden boundaries and assumptions around a perceived problem-questions that bump up against the profile of your work rules, assumptions, and processes for how you do things. Imagine placing that profile on a map of all knowledge. What parts of the map are well covered? Which areas are Terra Incognita? These are the places of the most promise in which to go exploring. Which tools or processes are present in your tool kit? Which are missing? According to Chip, Matt will often "introduce really way-out ideas to a conversation to see how the sponsor teams react to them, to know what they will or will not accept, and what their blind spots are."

In addition to understanding the company's culture and the problem, the facilitators want to build excitement about the challenge. This excitement creates focus, increases energy, and helps drive the creativity required to get to a good design of the DesignShop activity.

The dialogue continues all morning.

Over lunch, you might do a version of the Authors exercise. Every participant would select a book from the big pile on the table. Some of the books may be related closely to the topics that will appear in the DesignShop session, but most of the books have a more vague relationship. The only common theme is that the books all deal with complex systems in a range of different fields. The bibliography at the end of this book has some titles you might find on the table.

You skim your book while you eat lunch, and then the group reconvenes. Each participant then plays the role of his author and tells the group what he has to say concerning the problem to be solved by the group. This can be an effective tool.

Rob Evans gives a colorful description: "You can think of this as crop rotation for the mind-for people who have been chewing on a problem and not getting anywhere."

This exercise further helps the facilitators understand the client's situation from many vantage points, and it provides the ability to see the problem in a systems context.

Together, the sponsors and the DesignShop team are going to design the event. As Chip says, "It's not something that the design team 'does to' the sponsor." It's also not something that the sponsor does to the design team. Neither the answer nor the process is canned and off the shelf. The design must provide a challenge to the client, yet also accept and work with the client's thinking style.

By the end of the day, you'll have crafted a first iteration for the design of the three-day DesignShop event. Crafting a DesignShop session is not necessarily an easy or comfortable process for the sponsors. The process is non-linear, so crafting an agenda is unlike a typical conference or meeting planning. You can tell how well the sponsor meeting went by how effective the DesignShop evemt is that you were able to create...


Designing How

The art and craft of constructing the exercises and determining the actual sequence of events is an education in itself. Rob Evans says, "It really requires working side by side with someone in the process and learning from experience."

Rob, who is now developing a group of facilitators for E&Y's center, has been training with MGTaylor, taking facilitation workshop classes, working on support teams, co-facilitating Ernst & Young events, as well as cofacilitating with MG Taylor in MG Taylor WorkShops that teach E&Y and MG Taylor knowledge workers this system. Rob is describing something that is very like a Guild, the same way that doctors continue to learn medicine-with lots of hands-on experience, lots of exposure to how a senior practioner does it. It is a passing of the craft.

There is a logical structure that underlies the creative and design process, but there are important elements which are strictly judgment-based. You might almost call them aesthetic criteria. Like any complex process, there is a large body of knowledge on how to successfully work with intricate sequences and processes. Reading theory is an excellent foundation, but learning by doing-trial and error, modeling off a successful pattern-is essential.

A DesignShop event is usually built on the pattern of an intellectual model.

The Wharton DesignShop event was built on the model of Scan/Focus/Act, the most commonly used model for these events. Scan/Focus/Act is also the easiest model to use. Many large DesignShop sessions are three or four-day events, so for the Wharton three-day event, day one was designed as a Scan, day two as the Focus, and day three as the Act.

Each day of the DesignShop session will repeat the pattern model as well: so Day 1 will have its own Scan, Focus, and Act components, and so will Day 2 and Day 3. Chip includes: "By using this matrix as a rough template, a facilitator can construct a robust design to help a group achieve high levels of performance and surprising creativity."

To get additional richness, the design plays several additional models together against the company's situation. So, while participants are involved in Scan, they will also start working with some additional model. The model we are going to look at playing against Scan/Focus/Act is the Creative Process model.


Creative Process Model

The Creative Process model is one of the three or four pieces of knowledge which almost every facilitator would choose to have with them on a desert island. It is the easiest model to dismiss as a waste of time, creative sentimentality, self-indulgence, too touchy-feely, fluffy, and modeling overkill. The only thing you can say in its behalf is that it keeps showing up again and again in successful DesignShop events, and seems to be the key to devising a way to get companies to solve their problems. So, if it weren't for the fact that it works-you could feel free to ignore it.

This model of the creative process has two halves. The second half, Designing, Building/Engineering and Testing/Using, is where we are usually the most comfortable, because that is where we already know what our mission is, and all we have to do is build it. Action-oriented folks, or people who can't tolerate the anxiety that goes with the first half of the cycle, want to head for the building stage right away.

The first half of the cycle holds the uncomfortable stuff: Identity (Who are we as an organization?), Vision (What are the opportunities? What can we accomplish?), and Intent (What do we want to do?). Often by reframing these issues into the larger context provided by Scan, solutions that were not apparent before become clear. As a result, it produces a phase called Insight.

Just to show how the intangible, fluffy issues of Identity, Vision, and Intent get in the way of a logical, can-do attitude, look at this example of a recent DesignShop event:

Gail Taylor and Chip Saltsman were key facilitators for a major conglomerate, a company that brought together things as disparate as imaginable under one roof. In the DesignShop session the participants struggled miserably, as they clearly did every single working day, with the issues of what did these different things have in common, where are the synergies, how do they fit or not fit together? The words that they used to describe their problem were, "We can't make decisions; we just have trouble making decisions."

Had they analyzed the problem correctly? Was there something wrong with their ability to make decisions?

The company was good at talking and generating ideas, and even good at selecting action. But they were miserable at actually doing something. Part of the problem was that the firm was a hierarchy, but not everyone knew who owned who and where responsibility lay. They tended to go through a lot of motions, but no action resulted.

As Chip listened to the participants talk, he said, "I heard no passion in the report-outs." The only passion was arguing over parking spaces!"

Gail observed the same thing. She fed her perceptions back to the participants: "Here, I see a company whose vision is to make money, and you want to do it with some integrity."

It brought the participants up short. "That's not what we want," they objected. Shortly afterward, they started talking to each other and communicating more freely about issues of passion and compassion. The team was hungry for more meaning in their life and in their work.

On the second day, writers came up with a scenario that helped them crystallize their search for meaning.

It was called: "Do or Die."

A variant of the Backcasting Exercise, Do or Die time traveled the participants two years into the future. Here is what they were faced with: "The worst of all possible things has happened, and your entire company has tanked. You are standing in line at the unemployment office, and the guy next to you asks what happened. Tell us the sad story. Tell us about what went wrong. Tell us how this became all screwed up."

Like Backcasting a positive outcome, Backcasting a negative outcome has a profoundly powerful effect. In this case, it is to bring your worst fears to the surface and release you from the emotional constraints that never let you talk about them before. After all, the worst has already happened: the whole company went down in flames, you are all out on the street, and the reasons for it aren't taboo any more-they are being written up as business gossip in the newspaper. It's time to come clean: "We were all so busy protecting our own turf, that we never saw what was coming at us. We can't stand listening to ideas that weren't invented here."

There was nothing wrong with these peoples' decision-making skills and abilities-they were fine decision makers. They were bright, talented, and competent. But they were treating "inability to make decisions" as the problem, when in fact it was merely a symptom of the real issues of Identity and Vision.


The Creative Cycle Never Stops

At first glance, we might assume a company runs the Creative Cycle only once: when the first decisions are made about "who we are as a company, what our mission is, whether we have the will and motivation to do it." From there, the company moves on to building product, testing it in the market, and never looks back.

But is that really it? Even if you brought the product to market with wild success, are you now finished forever?'re back to "what do we do next?" Over time, as your product evolves and the environment changes, the old identity and the new reality no longer sync up. AEDC's identity went out of sync as soon as the environment, via Congress, wouldn't let them be the same people they had considered themselves before. Carl's Jr's "we are a sandwich concept" identity meant they couldn't be a dinner business unless they changed their identity or convinced America to eat sandwiches for dinner. That's the pesky thing about life- the challenges and the questions just go on and on. Matt:

There are still many organizations out there, looking for the one-time change. They can get suckered into the idea that this one technique, this one right answer is what will get them out of their current jam. Instead, they need a way of learning how to stay out of jams permanently. The new task of learning is to catalyze changes, renewal, problem reformulation, and innovation.

To grow, you need to be continually learning, and in the process redefining yourself in a spiral that moves ever upward. In movies, theater, novels, even fairy stories, we get to see the whole Creative Cycle play and replay. In any story about an individual hero, or the basketball team, or army platoon, or math class, the dynamic is one of repeat challenges. The hero needs to show growth and transformation, because the alternative is decline and death. Each challenge is a new step up the ladder, the problem set is tougher, and it demands new resolve- new Identity-from the hero.


How Do Scan and the Creative Cycles Interplay?

OK, it looks like the Creative Process Cycle is going to be around for the long haul. So how do you get two models to "play against each other"?

On the first day of the Wharton DesignShop event, the participants launched into Scan with the initial Backcasting exercise. They were assigned to groups and asked what were the important discoveries and innovations, themes, basic assumptions, and paradigms by which they had lived their lives over the last century. This produced lively group debate, disagreement, and, in the process, learning.

When the entire group reassembled and reportouts were requested, note that the answers the groups had prepared were not requested. This learning was instead folded back in to provide the basis of what came next. The participants were asked to stand as individuals and select the one event in the last century which had the most personal significance to them. This kind of question touches directly on the issues of the Creative Cycle: Identity, Vision, Intent, and Insight. Who am I? What do I care about passionately?

There was unexpected richness produced by this-people learning about themselves, people getting insights into other points of view, theoretical things like "paradigms" suddenly became full of personalized meaning.

Going through the process as a participant didn't feel dizzying. But when you start to think about designing an event with cycles running inside other cycles the room starts spinning. Why all this cycling?


Nonlinear Process : Growing an Idea

In a knowledge economy, people should be able to design a process that produces an idea as a result, even when the system they are dealing with is inherently too complex for one human to understand. This process needs to be nonlinear, especially when working with the first half of the creative cycle.

During the last century, the Western world became skilled at working with linear processes. There is a real urge to fit everything into a linear mode. Rob, who already comes from a background rich in facilitation, teaching, and exposure to many of these issues, sees how skilled and comfortable we are with linear work. "People are used to putting together linear meetings where they can show how each piece of the meeting contributes a bit of the final solution. And we're pretty good at meeting skills: make an agenda, push the agenda, manage the discussion."

But the problems that stymie us are those with overwhelming complexity. These are precisely the places where the linear solutions fail us. People let linear methods undermine them when they say, "My problem is so complex that I can only consider one or two options."

"You can see the whole DesignShop process working best," says Chip, "when what you have is a big, complex problem, with lots of people geographically dispersed." Chip goes on delineating complexity after complexity, gleefully describing a business nightmare.

Rob points out how difficult it is to describe nonlinear processes to all of us who are so accustomed to the straight and narrow:

The nonlinear design processes are the hardest to translate. They are a lot more like growing a garden than putting together a clock. It's a little like understanding the role of scaffolding or concrete forms in creating a building. You could say, "Why are you wasting your time putting up scaffolding or building forms, things that don't match the final shape of the building, things that you build and then just tear down?" But the forms are what we use to pour the concrete for the real thing. To get the real building in the right shape, we do a lot of things that don't match the final shape, but they contribute to the end product.

But this is a whole different process. This is more about designing an outcome, an exercise in assembling complexity. In Kevin Kelly's book Out of Control, he talks about the difficulty of trying to reclaim farm land outside Chicago and returning it to prairie. "It is difficult because..."

Chip picks up: "In the natural world, you can't assemble complexity into what it's going to look like in its final state. You don't build a prairie by putting in this plant species and that bird species. Prairies emerge from processes. For example, they need fires periodically to clear out competing species. The seeds of some prairie species will only germinate from the heat of fire."

In complex environmental situations, the linear approach of "go in and directly construct the desired endstate" doesn't work. For the complex, multidimensional problems that we increasingly face in the business environment, nonlinear processes are the only way to deal with the complexity.

So, like restoring a prairie, the process of creating an idea is to go through the cycles of winter, spring, summer, fall; flood, fire, rain, drought. Yes, we may need to reimport water if the spring that fed the area was diverted, but much of the task is providing a rich enough matrix and allowing the process to cycle through to reestablish balance.

Maybe the best way to describe this is as "the process of growing an idea."


Growth During a Nonlinear Event

The DesignShop equivalent to winter/spring/summer/fall is recursion and iteration: repetition. Running through a process again. And then again. Each time from a different perspective.

"Recursion" or "iteration" or "repetition" does not mean Goldilocks-and-the-Three-Bears testing, where the first bowl of porridge was too hot; the second bowl too cold; and the third bowl of porridge was just right. Goldilocks is testing only; she isn't redesigning and learning to make Perfect Porridge.

The notion here is to build, test, tear down. Redesign, build, and test again. That is why the sessions are not brainstorming. In brainstorming, you generate ideas, and then you go off to implement them. Here, you bring the ideas all the way to test, then fold them back in and design again.

"It's like plowing the crop back in." Like a farmer raising alfalfa with the deliberate intention of plowing it back in to enrich the soil with nitrogen for the next season's crop.

Like the process of learning to create using clay on a potter's wheel:

You use the mass of your whole body, transmitted through your hands, to guide the clay to what you believe is the center of the large, horizontal potter's wheel. You start the wheel spinning rapidly and your hands shape the clay into a cone. At high RPM, you do a visual test. Do you see a perfectly symmetrical cone? Or, do you see a wobble, a distortion in the shape? If you do, you are off center. Maybe you test again-holding a fine pencil tip steady, does it trace an even line around the perimeter of the sphere? It looks okay, you think.

You start to build, using your hands and the wheel's centrifugal force to open the interior and raise the walls of the pot. The pot climbs up to fulfill its mature height and shape. In that instant, your hands feel a slight wobble-barely detectable-a centering flaw. The distortion becomes wilder and wilder. The flaw amplifies, yawing wildly out of control and into collapse.

Growth tested the stability and structure, and they were found wanting. The pot is gone, but not thrown away. You fold the structure back into the pliable clay. The learning that produced that pot-its short-lived beauty and its flaws-has been experientially folded into you, the potter.

You reshape the clay and put it back on the wheel to center it again. Next time, you will do better. Your new knowledge will transmit through your body, into your hands, into the clay, until at last the vessel you envisioned in your mind stands before you.


Designing the What

Let's shift from looking at the How of the DesignShop process, to looking at the What. "What" is the technical content that we want to offer to people to help them solve their problems.

Rob offers this explanation: "In Scan, you are trying to get insight into pieces of given solution and patterns of the whole that will lead to a solution. We need to understand what do they need to Scan and take on board to come up with a robust enough solution. You have to understand different vantage points, the patterns of the ultimate solutions, along with specific information that they can't forget. What do they need to learn to make progress?"

What do people need to take up during Scan? What do they need to learn? They will need information, data, and theory in order to create a context for action. What new information and new concepts will spark participation in their process of design?

We generally start with the things that the client needs to think about, and then we come up with metaphors to help them think. What issues are they going to have to grapple with?

This part of the issue is more familiar turf: straight analytic stuff such as, "What larger system is our company or problem a part of? How does that system behave?"

In selecting metaphors through which to understand the problem, the team is searching for an "unrelated" system to the situation at hand. The two-fold purpose: to actually learn how other alien or obscure systems manage similar processes, and to see your own situation from a radically different vantage point, since we know that is a powerful technique for generating creativity.

When the facilitation team was designing for Wharton, they thought about the problems facing organizations in the future. One problem is that the future looks chaotic, turbulent, swept by strong forces. But somewhere, there have to be patterns. Somewhere, there must be adaptive processes that let entities survive or thrive despite the turbulence. A great metaphor to study-the ocean.

Many businesses attending the Wharton DesignShop event are tied into other interconnected systems, the way Orlando Hospital is tied in to Medicare, technology, changes in the legal climate, and demographics. All those conditions are changing, and your business is being dragged along. How do you survive it? Or how do you change course? A great metaphor to study: rivers.

Metaphors that derive from complex systems are rich sources of knowledge. The Wharton participants found many of the key issues intended for discovery by the writers of the Metaphor exercise. The participants discovered other valuable information beyond that intended by the writers. In different settings for different problems, these same phenomenon could be thought about and used in very different metaphoric ways.

Look at the notion of the rainforest. In the Wharton event, the facilitation team selected the rainforest as the metaphoric system against which to study the problem of how a business copes with the interdependence of constantly renewing systems. And in that situation, how do some species gain competitive advantage through strategies of designing for state change?

In another DesignShop session the key customer question regarded bundling and unbundling. There they also worked with the rainforest as a metaphor, asking the question, "How many things can you take out of the rainforest before it doesn't work any more?"

The complex systems in nature are not the only fruitful source of metaphors. The more colors you have on your palette of metaphors, the better choices you'll be able to make.

Chip, who generates marvelous historical metaphors, shares a few: "If the issue to be understood is leverage, don't read about the ant. Instead, ask yourself: 'Who else has achieved amazing leverage?' Rob came up with the notion of Cortez, and I just ran with it: How did Cortez conquer the Aztec Empire with just 400 guys?" We had great results working with that metaphor.

In another DesignShop activity, speed to market was identified as a central issue. Very early on we introduced the notion of the Mongol Horde. It was very inspiring."

In the simplest of terms, you could say that when you overlay what content and skills need to be learned, with how the participants need to travel through cycles of growth offered by the underlying models, you have the pattern for your DesignShop event. Now, you create or select exercises which best serve as structure for each moment of the DesignShop session-as the many stories throughout this book have shown.


Robust and Reliable

How much of this complexity does a sponsor need to scoop up before doing a DesignShop event is possible? If the DesignShop session is to succeed, the sponsor must bring to the party an in-depth knowledge of the complexities of the situation. Sponsors handle the complete complexity of the What, and generate much of the valuable content there.

The How-the process of building creativity-is another matter. It's nice, it's useful, but it's not necessary for the sponsor to understand it in order to use it to solve business problems. Historically, lots of sponsors have fabulous DesignShop session results while never really coming to terms with the nature of the DesignShop process.

Rob Evans explains:

Facilitators need to understand the logic behind the environment. Facilitators need to understand the theories. Understanding theory leads to good practice. But a tremendous amount of the process can only be learned through on the job training in which you "shadow," work alongside, a skilled facilitator.

Learning to design a nonlinear event, you have to watch how it works, and try it out yourself-design the sequence of activities, test to see how it works-a level of mastery that can only be gained by experience.

Rob insists on the need for experience in order to understand nonlinear processes, because even very bright people with only intellectual exposure keep trying to find a way to make the process into a single action point or a linear process.

"But what," asked a friend, a VP of Technology Development who was hearing about the DesignShop process for the first time, "did the facilitator say that made them have the breakthrough?"

Our friend is still looking at it in a linear fashion, still looking at the first moment of insight as being the critical instant and at the facilitator as being the critical component. Somewhere in this question is the thought that this is the moment when the magic happens, and if you could just repeat those identical words then magic would happen for you, too.

No -- incorrect analysis.

At the moment of the aha!, the Eureka!, the insight, the facilitator may have said nothing. (All rather like Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles- "the wonder, Watson, is that the dog did not bark in the night.")

Or then there was the CEO who asked, "What percentage of productivity improvement or degradation is produced by making changes in your process, versus your tools, versus your environment?" To a certain extent it is artificial to draw a distinction between environment and tools, or environment and process. Information is embodied in material objects, and that information affects people. It is just a matter of scale. The environment is just the tool that is all around you. The process is the psychological environment. It is seamless and it changes. But so many of us are bound and determined to try to make the distinction.

So, that question might be answered by another question: "Does your car go faster depending on whether the front right tire or left front tire is flat?" The car needs four functioning tires, because it's an interdependent system, just as your business is a system with interdependent environment, tools, and processes. Should you put more investment into your environment? tools? process? Well, which tire of your car is flattest?

The good news and the bad news is that there isn't one secret, magic incantation that works the spell. The way the magic works is this: the participants have spent an adequate amount of time in a properly structured environment.

They have had great environmental conditions and all the right tools to get the job done.

Barriers that impede their creative work process have been continually swept out of the way.

The knowledge, education, and training they need to solve their problem have been made available. They have been soaking up that new knowledge as fast as the fire hose can pour it out, and immediately applying it to problems.

They have worked iteratively with all their knowledge and their designs: learning, designing, testing, and then doing it again.

Project Management techniques have been used properly to schedule the work, to allow participant feedback to change the schedule, to give participants continual, non-punitive feedback on their work.

They have been swapping information and listening to each other.

They have been allowed to explore the full creative cycle again and again.

Their levels of creativity and cooperation have risen to the levels needed to manufacture a breakthrough idea.

The facilitation team:

Over the course of this process, the probabilities of certain events have shifted. The odds of creative insights occurring go up, minute by minute. As information is shared, the odds of pieces of knowledge converging to create a vital conclusion go up, minute by minute. The odds of someone figuring out how to solve a problem go up and up as new tools, new metaphors, new models are learned. Suddenly, it all clicks to produce a solution. And you can say pretty reliably how long the total process will take, and roughly when the group will have done enough work that the insights will start occurring.

What is surprising-at first-is not that this process can happen, but that it is reliable and robust. Create this kind of environment, get the right people together, pour in the right knowledge, use the hidden patterns called out in processes like the Creative Cycle, and you have very high odds that you will emerge from it with the kind of productive results you need. The first enunciation of the "breakthrough words" may have been spoken by anybody in the room-the president, a secretary, a customer, a competitor, a stock analyst. The amazing thing is that after 48 hours of the process, everyone was capable of hearing them.

Look at an example of the reverse. Many dollars and years of research show that if you crowd rats into a boring and hostile environment, you get a lot of stressed-out, ulcer-ridden, dysfunctional rats who fight a lot. It doesn't take skill in forecasting to predict that, on any given day, there will be many rat fights. This means you have built a robust environment capable of producing abundant trauma, even if any individual rat decides he is hanging up his guns and fighting no more.

Structured environments can have as powerful an effect on humans. Chip speaks with a certain conviction of the Marine Corps boot camp and their drill sergeants as the ultimate statement in unforgettable structured environments. As with any powerful tool, they can be used for good or for harm. The religious cults and "self-improvement" movements of the 1970s and '80s would use structured environments with long days to induce fatigue, protein deprivation to dull thinking and judgment, and ritual activities and other forms of control to convert new recruits. In the previous chapter, you no doubt noted the insistence on all those ethical and behavioral rules by which facilitators must abide, all the picky attention to details of food and environmental conditions. These aren't just niceties, they are absolutely critical elements-ethical necessities which must be present to provide a beneficial environment.

OK. So what would you logically expect if you put people into an environment structured to increase their intelligence, heighten their judgment, increase their creativity, speed up their rate of learning, and augment their knowledge?

Chip: It isn't about lighting a match in the powder magazine. Its about stacking lots of the cards in your favor. Oh, yes, you have to say stuff, but the aha! has to come from the participants.

Gail describes it as creating a "saturated solution." It's like making rock candy: you keep adding sugar...and more sugar....and more....and you leave the string in there until suddenly the rock candy crystals start to form. You keep augmenting the environment, and augmenting, and augmenting until a solution to the problem starts to form, and seems to emerge all by itself.


The Day Before

As the month before a DesignShop event goes on, the sponsors and the facilitation team are pulling together the event: getting participants committed, the read-aheads created and distributed, pulling the full facilitation team together, getting the space. During this month, and then later during the event, they fundamentally rethink the event topic and re-analyze what is needed for the client to make progress.

The day before the DesignShop session starts, the sponsor team and the DesignShop crew do a walkthrough session. The DesignShop environment is set up, the space configured-books in the library, art on display, toys available for modeling and playing. Among the team doing this setup are people from the client company, who are going to be working on the DesignShop event as part of the facilitation crew. They have already had training sessions to introduce them to the space, the concepts, and to help them discover what the role of a knowledge worker is all about.

Now, the proposed events of the DesignShop session are recreated from scratch, and then the early sections are designed in detail. This is the same kind of iterative work that happens for participants: fold the old design back into the creative clay and let the next design emerge. The team is asking themselves-is Scan/Focus/Act the right model? Is this the best metaphor, is this the right problem, is this the best solution, could we do it from a different vantage point, should we change the sequence? Day 1 is rigorously designed. Modules, assignment, and team configurations are chosen. Day 2 is a little less fully planned, and Day 3 may be rather sketchy.

A set of action plans map out the expected sequence for Day 1-how the breakout rooms will be resized and arranged; what exercises need to be written when; what toys or props need to be on hand. There are lights, "scenery," music, camera, writers, actors if need be-the facilitation crew is like a professional theatre company that will bring a paper structure into three dimensions, adding depth, emotion, color.

One knowledge worker likened the DesignShop experience to her past experience in theater: "There is a structure similar to improvisational theater. You have a beginning, and you know how you want to end. In between you have a lot of options, and you work with what the audience hands you."


Staying Responsive: Lots of Improvisation

To guarantee relevance and effectiveness, the exercises will be polished or finalized minutes before they are to be used. At its simplest, this means that an exercise might feature articles from that morning's newspaper, or might be built around an idea or wording from a participant in the previous exercise.

But the change can be much more profound than that. Participants can cause the nature of the sequence or the exercise to change completely at any time. Exercises and sequence might have to be reinvented from the ground up.

How can the participants change the schedule, when they don't even know what it is? Remember back when the participants found they didn't have an agenda or schedule-what! no agenda! Well, neither does the facilitation team. Oh, sure, they planned out Day 1, and sketched the sequence out on a work wall. But then the facilitation team pays attention to every step, every minute of the DesignShop process, and asks if what the participants are getting out of an exercise is matching the expected goal for that exercise.

The facilitation team will not actually interfere and ask the participants how they feel, but the facilitators will watch and listen for whether or not the group is learning, communicating, grappling with key issues, making progress.

Facilitators are always asking themselves, "What do the participants need?" If what they need is not being given to them now or planned for the upcoming exercises, then it's time to course-correct and find a direction that will move them through their dilemmas, or take them exploring in a place where they can find solutions. The original plan is always subject to modification if the design goals are better met another way.

Throughout the journey, the facilitation team members are continually asking themselves what is working, what is missing, or what needs to be done to bring that future goal to the present.

As a facilitator and process manager, Chip looks to see "if they are engaged, focused in on the project, seriously working on it, hooked and captivated by the problem."

Gail asks, "What can block the information from flowing? What kinds of memes block the information? I'm always thinking, 'I've got to find new ways to making this thing healthy.'"

Bryan Coffman: "I ask, what vantage points are we focusing on? Where are they in the creative process? Have they gone all the way through the complete creative process cycle? To draw from a rich set of possibilities, I'll use the models as an aid to formulate questions."

Michael Kaufman: "I'll walk around with another facilitator, and we'll ask each other if learning is going on. Dr. Deming said continuous improvement was continuous learning. The more learning, the better."

Jon Foley: "I think about the African Queen story, and ask myself: On Day 3, where do they need to be to be at their maximum? What do they need? Do they need intent and insight? Do they need goal?"

Chip: "I ask myself, 'Have the participants done enough work on this phase? Are they ready to move on?' And then I'll test to see if they are ready to move on."

Timing the length of an exercise-steering participants away from premature closure of an idea and bringing them to closure when it's complete-is determined by gleaning feedback from the participants. Have they extracted all the value to be had from this exercise yet? Often the people squawking the loudest about not having a schedule back in the beginning turn out to create the actual schedule by insisting that "there is more to talk about here; we're not ready to move on."

But what keeps the process oriented? With so much flexibility, could the process careen off to some disastrously unproductive end?


Staying Oriented: Lots of Rigor

Underneath all this flexibility and improvisation, the facilitation team is keeping their eyes rigorously focused on the goal. No matter how turbulent the process, the goal remains as the target for the journey.

If events develop in a way that obviates the planned design, the event is redesigned. If the planned design is working, they stick rigorously to it. Matt:

Often, during the process, you'll hear things like "These people aren't happy," or "This doesn't seem to be going anywhere." Maybe the sponsor says he's unhappy or uncomfortable. He's the boss, right? But does he understand the creative process? No, he doesn't. He's the boss, but he is not a sensor of our system.

A sensor measures and feeds back the difference between performance and expectations. The "expectation" is where the boss wants to go. He said the goal is a strategic plan that will get his company to survive the next decades. We have designed an event whose end product is expected to be the kind of strategic plan he defined. Right now, he would settle for a book; but he wants a strategic plan. That is the standard of the sensor of the system.

If something is innovative and new, it changes something or challenges an assumption. Change or challenge to a commonly-held model should generate some uncomfortable feedback-discomfort is a natural part of the design process.

Now, the question is how we choose to respond to this discomfort. If you get upset about being upset, that is bad: a positive feedback loop. Or, we can treat it as a signal informing us of where we stand in the design process. So instead, steer him to the outcome, and not to his opinion of the process or how he feels. It's not a reason to change the design of the process. We designed it, and we know where it is going.

We are going to get a true strategic plan, which means it's going to be uncomfortable. The agreed-upon goal is not to have happiness, but to rethink your processes and develop a significantly different strategic plan. During the journey, we will be hearing about all the ambiguities, uncertainties, and other things that could be "weak signal" threats to our organization. So, I cannot use those anxieties as a feedback. Keeping that in mind, I will make things as comfortable as I can.

Together, we are going to get significantly down the trail to accomplishing this significant task. The world will be different if you have accomplished that. We are going to disturb the universe.




1. Jot down the ideas that captured your imagination while reading the chapter. Add whatever questions were raised as well.

2. Keep a copy of the Creative Process model and Scan/Focus/Act with you, and for a week or so, see if you can find correlations between the model and the way things work in the world. Gather examples not only from your work or home, but from nature and history as well.

3. You don't have to be planning a DesignShop to apply the principles discussed in this chapter. Choose a project from the work you have already specified in previous challenges. Diagram your approach to design and implementation of this project over time using the Scan/Focus/Act model and the model of the Seven Stages of the Creative Process as templates to help your thinking.

4. What questions should you ask in the Scan phase to break out of the box? How will you test the ideas uncovered during the Scan? In the Focus phase, what tools will you use to support implementation in the Act phase?

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Leaping the Abyss - Table of Contents


1999 Foresight Gathering

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