Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend
Leaping the Abyss:
Putting Group Genius to Work
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
- Define the sponsors' goal, the nature of
the specific task on which we will focus. A broader definition opens up
a larger idea space to explore, enabling solutions to be selected from
a more fabulous set of possibilities-which may end up pleasing you far
more than an answer to your original problem. Is the work going to take
the project through one, several, or all steps of the process of design
- Get a general idea of what sorts of products
should be generated during and after the DesignShop session.
- Assemble the right participant list.
- Decide on general logistics arrangements.
- Take a first cut at the design of the actual
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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? No...you'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
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
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
Rob points out how difficult it is to describe
nonlinear processes to all of us who are so accustomed to the straight and
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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:
- Designed the event to allow creativity to
- Helped write the questions that sparked
the debate that led to the Aha!
- Shieldedthe participants from the outside
world so they could focus in a collaborative space.
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
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,
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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?