Foresight Update 36

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

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May 1999 Senior Associate Gathering

"Group Genius" Weekend Will Use DesignShop Process

This year's Senior Associate's Gathering will offer something completely different: Foresight's 1st Brainstorming-Planning-Actionfest and NanoSchmoozathon, involving 200 of the most forward-looking minds on the planet — leaders and visionaries in emerging technologies, freedom, and dynamic change. Participants will trade ideas with some allies — individuals who can examine such prospects as nanotechnology, radical life extension, cryptomoney, targeted info/bio/warfare, hardware with far more MIPS than we have, and the opening of the long-promised space frontier — without undergoing mental shutdown.

This unique event won't be held in some boring hotel, but in an equally unique group-augmentation environment: KnOwhere Palo Alto.

KnOwhere is an experienced facilitator specializing in knowledge management: the craft of helping a group identify, explore, recollect, articulate, store, and strengthen its experience in order to become more effective, working both strategically and on specific tasks, associating short- and long-term perspectives, and combining immediate action with future goals. knOwhere coaches organizations to take advantage of their existing resources by invigorating groups to work iteratively and collaboratively.

KnOwhere's facilities provide a "knowledge-conducive" environment. They are specifically designed to foster knowledge shaping, mapping, and sharing, and to unlock creative power. The modular environment can be reconfigured within minutes to support the requirements of a project. The environment is flexible and adaptable as individuals, teams, and large groups cycle through the creative process.

The DesignShop: How It Works

For the event, we're using a highly-evolved process for group genius — the DesignShop, a group-achievement process so powerful, so seductive, that it lured two key Foresight leaders away to write a book about it (see following article).

A DesignShop is not a seminar or conference. It is not business as usual. It is business as unusual, in an energizing collaborative environment designed to provide participants with the best conditions for success. Participants walk, learn, explore, and interact with graphical images, books, toys — and each other.

During a DesignShop event, participants rigorously explore their current conditions and their visions of the future, co-design multiple solutions, assess the merits of their different solutions, and decide which solution(s) should be implemented and how implementation will proceed. Using the power of parallel processing—looking at various issues from different vantage points and synthesizing the results of that examination—participants can deal with the tremendous complexity involved in planning for the future. A large group brings diversity of opinion, knowledge, experience and vantage point, enabling the DesignShop process to release their dynamic group genius.

The design of the event follows the Scan-Focus-Act process:

During the SCAN phase, the participants confront and process a vast body of information and knowledge. Participants build models of emerging social and economic trends. They establish a common language for the group, identifying terms of art, uncovering assumptions, and discovering the unexpected. A context emerges for the area of focus. Judgment and argument are withheld during this time so that ideas can flow freely. The variety of ideas created by thirty, sixty or ninety people multi-tasking allows the participants to design from many different vantage points simultaneously.

In the FOCUS phase, participants systematically examine the ideas generated during the scan. The market, financial, cultural, organizational, and social dynamics of the potential paths are explored. Each successive round of the iterative process provides more discrimination and clarity to the designs and ideas that the group creates. By the end of FOCUS, participants have a clear vision of the route they will be taking.

During the ACT phase, the ideas and design from the first two phases converge. The strong components remain, and design ideas turn into programs and projects which are laid out over time. The group reaches a common vision and engineers a comprehensive plan of implementation through group genius. From the rich body of knowledge developed over the previous two days, the group chooses those elements most critical to their organization's particular needs.

In addition, the experience becomes the model for a new way of working. As a stand-alone event, the DesignShop event can be used to design solutions to tremendous problems. Its greatest value, however, can be found in the pattern of work that the DesignShop process represents. By taking the process with them, participants discover that productivity levels of a DesignShop event can be replicated at home.

For an in-depth look at the DesignShop Process, with case studies, read Leaping the Abyss: Putting Group Genius to Work, by Gayle Pergamit and Chris Peterson (knOwhere Press, 1997).

[Editor's Note: With sincere regret, we have to announce that, as this issue of the Update goes to press, registration for the Group Genius Weekend has already closed, due to a high demand for the available spaces.]

Foresight Update 36 - Table of Contents


About Leaping the Abyss

Gayle and Chris' Excellent Adventure

From the authors' preface to Leaping the Abyss (knOwhere Press, 1997).

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

"We put in a phone call to satisfy our curiosity, and so discovered MG Taylor: Matt Taylor with his background in architecture and design processes, Gail Taylor with her experience in accelerated learning and creativity with individuals, and how this combination evolved into DesignShops.

"The DesignShop concept takes a while to explain, so someone really needed to write a book. We suggested that MG Taylor write the book. They suggested that we do it. Eventually, we saw this made sense, for two reasons:

"First, our background in nanotechnology: we already knew that an immense technical, business, and social tsunami is coming along shortly, so we're always looking for great new techniques to help people and organizations cope with change. And here in Silicon Valley, companies are already being forced to deal with a blinding rate of technological change. This speed-up will likely increase, and definitely spread.

"Second, we've been around in business for long enough to know that it's tough out there, and we all need whatever help we can get. In high-tech startups, no matter how smart, talented, and hard-working you are, you need to use every possible advantage to succeed. In more traditional companies, such as large military contractors, it's tough to continually reinvent what you're doing instead of fighting fires and sinking beneath endemic problems.

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

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

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

"Nobody needs to tell us all how increasingly desperate everyone feels: swamped, overloaded, operating right on the edge — or over the edge. And it's only going to get worse. We wrote this book to help."

Gayle Pergamit and Chris Peterson
Palo Alto, California, April 1997

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Two in National Science Competition Win Prizes for Nanotechnology-Related Projects

According to the 13 March 1999 issue of Science News, two of the top-placing winners of the Intel Science Talent Search, a national science competition for high-school age scholars, received awards for nanotechnology-related work. Both students were examining the possibility of creating electronic circuits using molecular-scale components.

The Second Place winner ($40,000 scholarship) was David C. Moore of Potomac, MD, who conducted quantum mechanics calculations to model "ultrasmall electronic switches made from molecules and determine their most effective structure."

The Tenth Place winner ($15K scholarship) was Alexander Wissner-Gross of New Hyde Park, NY, who "simulated the use of soccer-ball-shaped molecules, called buckyballs, for making miniscule electronic circuits."

The First Place winner ($50K scholarship) was 14-year-old Natalia Toro of Boulder, CO, who submitted a theoretical study (again, in quantum mechanics (!) ) of "subatomic particles called neutrinos. . . . Toro used equations from quantum mechanics to derive results indicating that neutrinos swap identities. Her predictions agree with data obtained by physicists using a sophisticated detector." Ms. Toro is the first young woman to take the top prize in the competition's 58-year history.

The full text of the SN article is available on the web at:

More information about the Science Talent Search competition is available on the web at:

(FYI: The Intel STS was formerly the Westinghouse STS competition, but sponsorship shifted to Intel a few years back.)

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Foresight Credits and Kudos

Tracking all those who make a difference to our organizations has become impossible. Here is a sample of those deserving mention this quarter:

Special thanks this time go to all those who helped us meet our $40,000 Challenge Grant (see above). For an organization our size, this is a major effort and we are grateful to all those who participated at any level. As you'll see on the progress chart (, it was a huge last-minute push by you members which put us over the top. Foresight will get a tremendous amount of mileage out of this $80K: the $40K from you and the $40K matching funds.

Equally special thanks go to outgoing Foresight Update editor Lew Phelps, whose editing talent has carried the Update for years now. We wish great success to Lew at the new more-than-full-time job he's now started. Meanwhile, welcome to guest editor (and longtime Senior Associate) Richard Terra, a professional writer and editor.

Thanks to LinuxCare for inviting Foresight to LinuxWorld Expo, and to Tim O'Reilly for inviting us to the 2nd Open Source and Community Licensing Summit.

Thanks to Virginia Postrel of the Dynamic Visions Conference, who by inviting Foresight to speak there stimulated us to come up with new policy ideas for nanotechnology's effect on security, privacy, and openness.

Thanks to our quarterly donor party hosts: Ralph Merkle and Carol Shaw (December), Jim Peterson (March), and Judy and Mark Muhlestein (both). We can never thank our staff enough: Harriet Hillyer, Tanya Jones, Jim Lewis, Marcia Seidler, Carol Shaw, and Elaine Tschorn. Their work magnifies every donation dollar by at least an order of magnitude.

For sending information, thanks go to: Jon Alexandr, Jack Burke, Will Cooper, John Faith, Joe Hovey, Stan Hutchings, Dee Jacobs, Samuel Lin, Spencer MacCallum, Tom McKendree, Anthony Napier, Vic Olliver, Lew Phelps, Bruce Ratcliff, Glenn Reynolds, Jim Seach, Bill Spence, Natasha Vita-More, Russell Whitaker.

Chris Peterson
Executive Director, Foresight Institute

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From Foresight Update 36, originally published 30 March 1999.