Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend
Leaping the Abyss:
Putting Group Genius to Work
Inventing the Problem
The Scan phase emphasized divergence. Now
it is time to shift from Scan into Focus and begin to concentrate on each
organization and its problems.
Scan emphasized reaching out, learning, and
exploring ideas far outside our usual range of expertise, outside the usual
time horizons, above the usual level of complexity. The fact that it was
a goal-driven divergence with all parts contributing value in ultimately
solving a problem was masked. There was an explicit avoidance in drawing
direct connections with the problem that brought the different organizations
Now the challenge is to carry forward the
acquired attitudes, skills, and information into Focus. If the Scan has
been effective, participants will be able to view their businesses and their
problems from completely new perspectives.
The goal of Focus is to generate options,
from no risk options to wacky ones, and to explore the ways to decide which
is the right one. Instead of zeroing in on the problem right at hand, everyone
will construct big-picture views. They are able to do different takes, and
come at the problem a couple of different times. The problems may look completely
different than they did 48 hours previously. Many new possible solutions
should emerge and become grist for new cycles of design-and-test iteration
until the strongest solution strategy emerges. There is a quote floating
around about this: "If you do seven iterations of coming at a problem,
looking at it, and redesigning it, the results will be a thousand times
As everyone separates into organization-based
groups, the physical space has once again been reconfigured to accommodate
the new task. Individual break-out areas are set up for each company-a large
area for the large AEDC group, a small one for the three-person team from
Carl's Jr. Each area includes an informal semicircle of chairs and is stocked
with objects ranging from 3D modeling kits to extra writing space in the
form of rolling portable whiteboards.
As the teams begin their work, we drifted
in and out of hearing range, monitoring progress. Gayle taped her impressions:
Every group has at least one facilitator
in full-time attendance. What the staffer is doing changes, adapting his
or her function to the needs of the group in order to move them forward
in their task. Bryan is acting as a coach one minute, then a scribe, then
an artist, then into Socratic questioner-mode to help the group clarify
a point. All the facilitators are working intimately with groups in the
same fashion: challenging participant assumptions, drawing individuals
out, really understanding and addressing the most critical business issues.
You cannot tell the difference between a facilitator and any other member
of the business team based on commitment, involvement, or understanding.
Despite the long hours of work they have
been through, the participants are alert and refreshed. Physically, these
folks look ten years younger. There is an intensity of concentration that
can be seen.
Over at the Ernst & Young group, they
have four guys standing up and working on the board at one time. These
formerly uptight, sophisticated, and stressed-out guys are now bouncy,
squirting each other with the bottle of board-cleaning solution, and they
are bursting with ideas and insights. Michael, their knowledge worker,
is scribing vigorously. He has converted a bunch of their comments, scrawlings,
and illustrations into neat models where he has really brought things into
perspective. The E&Y guys look at this and said, "This is great.
You should be a staff consultant at E&Y."
E&Y has already come up with an idea
on how to approach their business problem, and are ready to flesh it out
into a real model. Michael asks them if they want to get into modeling
their solution as a business per se, or as a presentation. Then he goes
off to collect additional modeling tools to help them through designing.
While he is gone, the E&Y team is revisiting solutions and cycling
plans. They are iterating carefully between one and the other.
Meanwhile over at the Carl Jr.'s team, the
three hamburger guys have sketched out a diagram stretching from the customer,
through multiple levels of information, and flowing back to the CEO. One
of the guys has circled the middle level and said, "Look: I think
we could eliminate this whole level and go from here to there." Now
they are really working on restructuring the units. Jon, facilitating for
the group, is in there pointing out that certain functions still need to
At the F-15 jet fighter group, they have
written up on their wall, "Downsizing is not a problem. It creates
the opportunity." And "How do we make the F-15 needs match the
taxpayer needs?" After working along for a while, this group is so
pleased with their progress that they have asked for a tape recorder because
they need to make sure everything is being recorded, not just what is written
on the walls.
They have asked for some change models, and
now models are coming in from Frances, their knowledge worker support.
Frances has taken rough diagrams from the board and is creating second-generation
models. There is a discussion of resources-designers, technical people,
technology in hand, and new technologies needed.
Here at the AEDC group, they are talking
intensely, swapping back and forth, really listening to each other. Absolutely
everybody is writing and scribing and modeling with rapt attention. Some
senior AEDC members are sitting on the floor with their markers, pen, and
papers, working intently. There is a steady energy, a charge of vibrancy
here. The atmosphere is supercharged.
The goal for this stage of the process is
being met-the teams are addressing fundamental issues in their businesses,
using models to help them think about complex problems, and getting hard
work done fast. They are rethinking the problem they thought they had, and
designing systems solutions to address the new problem statement made possible
by a new, broader perspective on the businesses and the surrounding world.
The very title of this stage of the process
encourages taking a radically new look at the original challenge-this segment
is called "Inventing the Problem." They are to re-create each
problem in a new way, and not design a solution until the next day.
Somehow during the jam-packed event schedule,
Bryan Coffman found a moment to sit down and recount his first encounter
with the DesignShop process, coming from the client side. It's a classic
story of how concentrating first on "Inventing the Problem," rather
than trying immediately to solve the problem, enables a group to achieve
surprising benefits that go far beyond what was initially envisioned as
the desired outcome:
When I came into contact with MG Taylor,
I was in the Army Corps of Engineer Captain Training Program. Our mission
was to redesign the training for the captains. We worked with the University
of Florida and designed a course with a huge flow chart, lasting 36 months.
The commanding officer said that was nice,
but we had to trim it to under 18 months. The guy in charge of the program
had heard about MG Taylor in Colorado. So we went out to Boulder and redesigned
the program. We did that in four days. Then we came back and implemented
it in less than 18 months and under budget.
From Bryan's description so far, it sounds
like what they did was in fact solve the problem with which they had walked
in the door: how to get the training program done in half the time. How
did "Inventing the Problem" enter into it? Were there additional
benefits besides the improvement in the schedule?
That wasn't the main achievement. The big
advance was that we changed the way the material was taught. The way they
had been doing it was that you would sit and listen, and guys would talk
at you and show you flip charts. Then you would take a test. And if you
passed, you passed, and if you failed, you failed. It was just that modality
of learning-stuff it in and fetch it up.
As we went into the DesignShop session, we
knew we needed more than that, but we really did not know what. The achievement
of the DesignShop process was to add the experiential side of learning-real-world
learning. Basically it was like training you would get in the field. There
would be a simulated war environment. This allowed you to be put under
the stress of the real situation, and see how you would apply what you
know and what you don't. You got to work together as teams and play different
Of course, there was still classroom work-usually
due to budget limitations-but we put in quite a bit more simulated wartime.
For example, we would call you up at four in the morning and you would
report and go and simulate war for a while. So if you were learning to
build an airfield during combat, the situation was more real. There were
two types of simulation: there was the "big picture" scenario
in which you are the senior command, and the narrower scenario in which
you are troops.
Or let's say you get stuck in a command vehicle
and your only contact with the world is radio. We had messengers coming
in delivering stuff to you as if you are getting radio communications.
We simulated as much of the real situation as we could. Best of all, because
we changed over to simulation, we could more rapidly change the curriculum
in response to an actively-evolving understanding of America's place in
Using simulations may not sound like a big
deal today, but remember, this was over ten years ago. It was a very innovative
program at the time. We were the first to develop an approach to training
of this sort in the Army. It was a model program for other branches of
the Army to use for their company-grade officer training programs.
Designed in four days, implemented in 18
months, under budget. Yes, I'd say it was a success.
Coming from a Scan of the broad environment,
and a newly-shared understanding of how to train leadership for the Army
Corps of Engineers, the group "invented the problem": find the
very best way to quickly, effectively train captains, given the range of
real-life situations to which they will have to respond, and the rapidly
changing environments in which they will have to perform. In the process,
they pioneered a teaching method for leadership training throughout the
entire Army. (The experience also led Bryan into a completely new career
as a specialist in knowledge work support and DesignShop center management.)
Some of the innovations at this "Invent
the Problem" stage of the process can be surprising, even shocking.
"By now," says Gail Taylor, "people can often work comfortably
at a high level of abstraction-the abstract thinking mode." They are
able to put aside their emotions and look objectively at their organization-even
to the point of considering the elimination of their own current positions.
Jon Foley, who at various times has played the roles of sponsor, facilitator,
and staffer, described an example.
We held a series of two DesignShop events
for the same company-The Learning Organization-and at the end of these
two activities, we had 45-50 participants acknowledge, accept, and embrace
a concept in which they were going to give up their jobs. They had come
together and decided that most of the structure that we currently had in
the organization-most of the jobs-would not be useful to the organization
the way we designed it.
They agreed that the work should be designed
first. We should throw all of the jobs into a pool. Then, once the work
was designed, we decided to have some sort of structure to support the
work. Everyone in the room said, "Yes, I know I may not have a job,
but this is the right thing to do." It was interesting to watch people
recognize this fact-that they were designing themselves out of jobs. There
would be an emotional burst when they would see they might be out of a
job, but then they would decide it was the right thing to do. We were talkingI
don't remember how many jobs. In essence, we agreed that five departments
should be combined into two, and there would be only about half the number
They came to understand that a job is not
guaranteed, but the work is, and you structure to the work. Once they get
that, they really get that.
Is this heartless-encouraging people to design
themselves out of a job? It is just the opposite. Enabling individuals to
take part in the redesign of their organization maximizes their chances
of remaining employable, either there or elsewhere. Redesign will happen
anyway-whether it is called "downsizing," "re-engineering,"
or "restructuring." The DesignShop process enables broader participation
and a greater likelihood that whatever happens will at least make sense
for the organization. That's more than can be said for many redesigns today.
DesignShop participants are much more likely
to get a clear picture of what exactly it is that they bring to an organization,
and to see how-and where-they can continue to contribute. As economists
point out, one of the most valuable uses of our time is figuring out how
we can make the best use of our talents-i.e., selecting a profession, looking
for a job. A DesignShop experience is, among many other things, a crash
course in giving participants the broader perspective they need to do this
But let's return to the recognition that these
participants from The Learning Organization were willing to take-a profoundly
radical perspective, which included the possibility that they would be left
without a job in their organization. What we should pay attention to here-what
is of significance-is that these people were now capable of thinking and
acting in a way that would have been impossible two days previously.
It's only now, halfway through the Wharton
DesignShop, that participants are ready to deal with the really tough issues,
such as revisiting the official areas of concern that brought them together.
Why wait so long to address the problem? "If they 'invent the problem'
too soon," says Gail Taylor, "they'll be blocked." These
are bright, talented people- people who have often spent more than a year
trying to solve their organizations' complex, virtually intractable problems.
Whatever methods they have used to date haven't produced a satisfactory
answer. If their pathway to a solution has been blocked for a year, why
should they now be able to generate an answer in the two days remaining
in this DesignShop session? Why is there reason to hope they can now avoid
the traps that have blocked them previously?
This delay in tackling the problems head-on
does not seem to fit with the action-oriented approach we've all been trained
in, and it makes everybody nervous. Uncomfortable. Antsy. On the first day
it was easy to see the gnawing impatience of many managers here, straining
to attack their problems by the jugular vein, showing with the body language
of folded arms and frowns that "Time is Money," and that metaphors
about rivers weren't bringing them any closer to solutions.
As Gail Taylor says, "You don't solve
a problem, you dissolve it." For the last day-and-a-half, these managers,
engineers, and analysts have been resolutely held in an expanded information
pool, undergoing accelerated learning, scanning their environment for new
knowledge about co-workers, systems theory, the past and the present, and
speculations on the different kinds of futures their organizations may face.
They've been unforming and reforming a wide variety of paradigms, metaphors,
and systems concepts. They have put these new tools to work to solve the
various problems posed in the DesignShop work sessions. They still have
their old tools, but they now have added a broad range of new ones. And
by working together with people from whom they are normally separated, each
group has access to a lot more intelligence, knowledge, and experience than
they had when they first walked through the door. The names are still the
same, but these people now make up very different teams than they did at
the start of this event.
Every person who has participated is now grounded
in two important areas:
1. A commonly-constructed language of education,
business, and process.They are now using the metaphors-high-level models
from different disciplines-to think much more creatively about their own
enterprises. They have been acquiring business insights in the course of
learning about the rainforest, the garden, and so on-these complex, intricate
biological models transfer directly to enterprise.
The importance of this language is hard to
overemphasize. Our brains, our culture, and our professional tools aren't
set up to handle the complexity we are dealing with in our present world,
and most of us have not had formal training in complex systems theory. The
metaphors are vital tools.
2. A broader awareness of issues-more sophisticated
perceptions of the world surrounding their enterprise and how it could
change in the future.
When many participants first arrived, they
were working with conventional, negative visions of the future: massive
unemployment, exhausted natural resources, and so on-simplistic ideas from
the mass media. Today we are seeing the same people displaying a broader
perspective on a more complex world. They are also displaying another payoff
from looking into the future-they are now able to think about their organizations
and themselves in new ways.
Sparking this difference has been the Scan
learning exercises. Many participants are drawing from parts of their intellectual
tool kits which haven't been touched in twenty years. In other cases, participants
are learning from outside sources. Recall that every participant received
a large pack of ReadAhead material selected to provide missing tools and
data of value. Each participant also read one specific book, usually selected
for the important paradigms presented. The small-group work during the early
exercises, such as the Backcasting scenarios tracing the trends of the "past"
century, brought much of that information out into the open and let people
really get their hands around it in a working context.
Iteration: Design and Test. Design and Test
By midafternoon on Thursday, each business
team has taken a shot at inventing the problem facing their organization.
Everyone now reconvenes in the larger group to hear and do a first critique
of these initial results.
Design. Test. Redesign. Test. Redesign again.
Test. This continued iteration, going from the drawing board, to stress-testing
the solution, before heading back for another round of invention, is a key
part of the design process. We first saw this iteration during Scan, when
concepts of the future were designed, then critiqued, and then worked with
again; these concepts of the future are being further refined as the groups
continue to work on Reinventing the Problem. Now, the Problem is also entering
the cycle of iterative design and testing.
The testing questions put out by other participants
and facilitators are probing and razor sharp. Not surprisingly, the organizations
at Wharton that are new to the process-such as Orlando Regional Hospital-are
challenged with the most fundamental questions, and rightly so: "Are
you sure this is your problem? Are you jumping too fast to your solution?
Have you redone your mission statement?"
The newcomer groups share similar patterns
of problems in their thinking: they have abandoned complexity, fled ambiguity
and broad perspective, dropped down into an impoverished simplicity, limited
their set of solutions, and set themselves up for difficulties. They tend
to try to move directly to a solution; they haven't spent enough time in
redefining the problem and searching the idea space. These were the people
who during the Backcasting exercise had said, "Medicare goes bankrupt
and so do we." Where is the redefinition of who they are and what they
do that is going to let them survive the tsunami of change that they themselves
One group has quickly reverted to the definition
of the problem which they brought with them from home. ("Of course
we know what our problem is. That's why we're here!") In the process,
they have identified one troubling symptom and want to insist that the symptom
is the only problem. It's like a doctor noting that the patient has an elevated
temperature and concentrating on making the reading go down by placing the
patient in a bath of ice water, instead of doing a thorough evaluation and
appropriate diagnosis of the medical problem. It's the newer groups that
show this "thermometer fixation" instead of looking at the whole
In this dogged insistence on holding on to
their old problem definition, on defending this intellectual chunk of turf,
something stands out clearly: the ego attachment to a particular agenda
rather than the open, calm curiosity that marks other teams who have focused
on working for the greater corporate good.
The group is questioning these folks because
they are still trying to use the standard "jump to the bottom line,"
"cut to the chase" style of working. Previously, you would have
called this "facing reality" or "business sense." Suddenly,
these wanna-be business solutions sound glib, hollow. Although professionally
delivered, the answers are unconvincing, a minor remodeling of conventional
fixes. Clearly, the hospital team hasn't really dug into the complexities
of their situation. The larger group is forcing a deeper exploration by
asking the foundation questions of business, "Where are you delivering
value? What are you building?"
Another newcomer group turns out to be unclear
about who their customers are. One of them is stuck in the rut of focusing
strictly on the short-term interests of their current stockholders. Here,
the bottom line reigns to the point that breakthrough thinking is completely
inhibited: "We have to show that this model is more profitable than
the other model." Unless a fledgling idea can immediately show its
numeric superiority, it is kicked out of the nest. By asking pointed questions,
the larger group encourages them to break out of these mental ruts and dig
The key word in Inventing the Problem is invent.
Inventing and designing are often messy. The experienced groups dive in
and work broadly, stretching the definition of what is included in the problem.
Even groups like AEDC, secure in their identity, with a clear vision of
where they are heading, and with strong motivation and intent to fufill
that vision, constantly cycle back to the fundamentals of their identity,
their vision, their intent, and other key factors when testing out a new
problem design. In contrast to the deep exploration that the more experienced
groups are producing, it is clear that "cutting to the chase"
and trying to keep the problem neat and controlled is not providing useful
Testing Continues: Build a 3D Model
As the critiquing session wraps up in late
afternoon, the participants split up into organization-based groups again,
and are assigned the unusual task of building a three-dimensional model
of the 21st century organization. They are to include features that deal
with feedback, growth, and other characteristics we've been talking about
in the past two days. Many of the groups have already been drawing 2D models
on their work walls. But now they are told, "Make your model concrete,
make it mechanical." Finally, everyone will see whether an organization
based on this 3D model works to address the organizational problems defined
in the previous session- a tricky and complex assignment.
Initial enthusiasm for this difficult task
varies, with the organizations having the most DesignShop experience launching
into it quickly, while some others are a bit intimidated by the 3D model
kits-which look an awful lot like expensive, high-tech variations on Tinker
ToysTM or LegoTM or MeccanoTM. Also, those old inhibitions have come bubbling
back with thoughts of, "What does this have to do with real business?
I've already done a 2D model. Besides, I don't know how to make 3D models.
This is embarrassing."
But as usual, there is reason behind the task.
This assignment is yet another cycle of design and test, and it gives a
different insight into the solution than that of the last exercise. Then,
the job was to design the problem in the abstract. Now, modeling with 3D
parts gives the business problem or solution an actual physical shape and
structure. Modeling in three dimensions suddenly gives people access to
ideas from physics, architecture, chemistry, and mechanical engineering
to generate solutions.
What do you use to represent the marketing
department in your model: a wooden block? A Miss Piggy doll? A pair of giant
spectacles? The inherent message in your choice of materials is quite different.
Modeling also serves as a physical test of
the proposed solution: are there dangling strings? How does this part communicate
with that part? The nature of the proposed solution becomes quite visible....and
so do its gaps and errors. Eventually, with some support staff assistance,
all of the groups were able to embody their ideas in a physical model of
The modeling exercise makes plenty of sense:
in order to come up with a new system, we must build and communicate some
kind of model, either in our heads, on paper or wallboard (2D), or using
a modeling kit (3D). Building the new system model only in our heads makes
it hard to communicate, and 2D models have their limits as well for complex
systems. In the following example, participants at a previous DesignShop
built their model in two-dimensions, when the complexity of their system
could have benefited from a 3D model.
National Car Rental
Matt Taylor tells the story of National Car
Rental's experience with the DesignShop process:
As you probably know, rental car companies
return most of their cars to the manufacturer for resale after they're
through with them. When we started working with National in 1990, domestic
car sales were very slow, and the manufacturers, like General Motors and
Ford, were having trouble selling these used rental cars. There was some
concern on the part of the rental companies that the manufacturers could
even start resisting taking these cars back-it had happened before, somewhere
around 1970. And although the rental companies had their own used car sales
lots, they weren't positioned to effectively market the vast volume of
automobiles that would be created by this change in their basic business.
To put this in perspective, at that time a company like National would
have in effect been the biggest car dealer in the world, because the number
of cars that they buy, operate, and then sell in a year is enormous. So
to be suddenly forced into this new, high-volume sales role was a potentially
big problem for National.
Also, the rental car business was then-and
still is-extremely competitive. The companies were racing to introduce
new technology, new procedures for getting the car to the customer quickly,
expensive new computers and reservation systems, and very competitive bids
for big corporate accounts. This was not the environment for them to take
on this new problem of how to dispose of the fleet.
A DesignShop session was held to deal with
this problem, but what we ended up addressing was how to manage the asset
of the automobile as a total system, from manufacturing the car right through
to when it's a piece of junk. Traditionally, the rental companies tried
to extract all the revenue possible from a car in the first 25,000 miles
of its life-actually a small part of the useful life of an automobile.
And they had no economic model of what it meant to get into the business
of dealing with the car through other parts of its life cycle after those
first 25,000 miles. Could you lease the car out long term? What else? No
one had ever systematically thought their way through that: what it meant
to deal with the asset from start to end.
We had people here from sales, from marketing,
from operations, from corporate headquarters, we had people here that ran
the lots. So we had a cross-section of people that probably, in their total
experience, knew the total post-production car industry from one end to
Usually, in a normal decision process or
the day-to-day life of a business, all that information is competing against
itself: someone says we ought to sell the cars afterwards, others say no,
we ought to lease them, or no, we ought to send them back. Instead, we
put everyone into an environment where all of these ideas were respected,
honored, and needed to be brought up. We asked, "What can we do that
we never thought of, or that we thought was impossible? How can we engineer
a total systems response to our situation?"
I remember at one point we asked the team
to go out and do a wiring diagram of the complete life cycle of an automobile,
from beginning to end. And this thing came back that looked like spaghetti.
We have the drawings to this day. It looked like a drawing of spaghetti.
There were boxes with all these lines running back and forth between them,
curving around and jumping over one another, and it was just a big spaghetti
mess. This was a classic case of needing a 3D model.
In looking at the natural economic life cycle
of a car, it turned out there were two places where the car was immensely
profitable-once when it was brand new and then later when it had 75,000-80,000
miles on it but was still in extremely good shape. We then thought about
what do the users want? What do the customers want? What does ownership
really mean to them? And we developed a matrix in which there were multiple
levels of utilization and service, so the user could say, for example,
"I want a car, and I want you to wash it every week. I want you to
change the oil. I want you to give me full service." In other words,
the kind of service that they would get if they were renting the car short-term
from a rental company-this would take advantage of National's immense installed
capacity to take care of these fleets. Or the customer could say, "No,
I want you to do only an annual check of the car." So there could
be minimal levels of service, and in-between gradations of levels, affecting
the cost of the car to the user.
We imagined that cars could come out of the
fleet and be sold with the idea that after the owners drove the car for
two or three years, they would sell it back and get a newer model. Meanwhile,
the first car might go into another kind of rental, termed "replacement."
There is a whole market where you rent cars to body shops that make them
available to people when their car is being repaired. And then the car
might come out of that fleet and get sold or leased again, and so on.
We then started looking at the cars themselves
and what people really wanted. The net result of the concept is that the
buyer or the user could come into these quasi-boutique sales offices and
shopping centers, where there might be one or two cars on the floor, several
display kiosks, and one or two people to help. They could go up to the
kiosks and start looking through-using, say, a CD-ROM-pictures and descriptions
of the various cars in the fleet that are going to be available. They could
put in their own profile: their profile of what they wanted to pay, what
kind of car they wanted, the color, and what level of service they wanted,
and this package could be priced right there. And then the automobiles
that fit into that price range, and overall profile, could be shown on
the screen with a timetable and delivery schedule to meet customer requirements.
So what you have is the ability to totally
customize to the buyers' preferences and offer the maximum number of alternatives
that would be imaginable for them-in a relaxed, non-competitive, non-sales-focused
From this, we developed a huge, comprehensive
flowchart showing all the different ways to utilize and ultimately dispose
of the car. This model changed the rental business from a business of just
dealing with over-the-counter sales to the management of an entire asset-the
fleet. It was immensely exciting stuff, very innovative-it would massively
affect not only the car rental companies, but the manufacturers, dealerships,
and the whole way people think about buying, managing, and maintaining
the asset that is an automobile. In the experience of the participants-and
there was a lot of experience in that room, with many people having worked
for multiple rental companies-this was the most integrated, comprehensive,
and totally optimized system to manage the value and leverage car rental
We literally dissolved the original problem
because, coming out of the DesignShop session, it didn't matter whether
General Motors and the other manufacturers wanted to buy the rental cars
back or not. Obviously, there would have been work to do to get ready to
actually install a system to take on the volume of this kind of work, but
the beautiful thing about it is that our solution was modular. In other
words, to install a sales outlet in a shopping mall with this kiosk would
be a relatively modest financial commitment. It could be tested on the
level of one or two or three units. These kiosk sales outlets could be
put right in the rental car companies' environments, they could be put
in shopping centers, they could be put in hotels, they could be put in
airports, they could be put in anywhere it makes sense to put one. You
could grow the business by doing a series of modular enterprises. And you
could stop at any point that made sense, or you could continue doing it
until you were even taking over other car rental companies' used fleets.
This DesignShop experience showed us that
answers emerge when people can share their ideas and develop a synergistic
combination of their ideas, and when they start by looking at a problem
from the necessary perspective, as a system. Then their individual experiences
and perspectives are no longer in conflict, because they are not trying
to persuade each other in the context of a limited set of options, where
one idea has to prevail over the other. They are in effect, as a unit,
creating something new.
Before this plan could be implemented, National
was bought out by General Motors, and the plan has never been implemented
as a total system by a single company. But the plan has proved to be an
accurate projection of the needs and direction of the industry. In 1994,
Ford began leasing used cars through its Hertz subsidiary. In Japan, through
a U.S./Japanese collaboration, you can order new and used cars by computer.
In 1996, new independent businesses like Autonation, being described as
"innovative," were beginning to adopt the restructured approach
to selling used cars described in the DesignShop session: a low key, non-bartering
atmosphere where consumers can select the year, model, and service level
of a used car.
As Matt pointed out, National's 2D model was
good, but would have been better in 3D. Modeling in 3D is a strong form
of testing for errors, oversights, and contradictions. It is applying the
knowledge latent in mechanical objects to an intangible, to an idea. How
do you connect two parts of your company-with a rubber band? with a steel
rod? Whatever material you choose will have implications regarding communication,
flexibility, and solidity of the attachment. When you look at what has been
assembled and say "no, we need to do it differently," your discovery
of the error is pushing you along on the path to the true solution.
Testing Continues: Authors
Back at the Wharton DesignShop session, it's
late on Thursday and time for the final stage of testing each organization's
problem concept: the Authors exercise. So far, participants have tested
in a variety of ways-in their small groups, in presentations to the large
group, by bumping up again physical reality with a 3D model. Now they are
going to test their concepts against people who are specialists in a range
Weeks before the event, readings were assigned
to all participants. From the Taylor library of five or six thousand books,
the staff selected the subset most relevant to the current session's topic.
Each participant was then sent one particular book to read before the start
of the event.
The books were assigned to specific readers
with the goal of providing each individual with the knowledge that might
be the most personally useful. It was not by chance that one of the Carl's
Jr. restaurant participants, with a strong finance background, was assigned
the 1960 anthropology classics of Edward T. Hall on the cultural impact
of space. Anthropology and architecture are not part of the standard reading
for finance and business students, so this is the opportunity to provide
valuable information to someone whose daily business now involves building
and operating "stores."
If the DesignShop team has learned that your
reading habits are usually limited to the major media such as Time, Newsweek,
and the Wall Street Journal, they'll give you more off-beat materials. They
call this Weak Signal Research-instead of wallowing in the same mainstream
data that the mass media dish up for the general public, you get to direct
your antenna to the newest, faintest hints of change. Or if the team suspects
that your company may be preoccupied with the latest fads, you may be assigned
a classic book, directing your attention to the unchanging verities of,
for instance, what makes us human.
Here at the DesignShop event, each participant
is asked to present the views in the book, speaking as the author. Matt
explains that each author is to present a summary of the book. "Then
we will ask our authors to give us feedback on our work so far in this DesignShop
experience. They will comment on the works' viability. Is it going in the
right direction? What can be done to make it more viable?"
What at first looks like a cute gimmick --
having the participants pretend to be the author-actually forces them to
build a mental model of the author's point of view. One value of this is
discussed by Jon Foley in his story of how the Authors exercise was used
at his company, Agency Group:
We sent out the books ahead of time. For
the Authors exercise, the participants would take off their name tags,
and behind those tags would be tags with the names of the authors of the
books. Then we would say, "As you put on this new name tag, assume
the character. From the author's perspective, tell us why you wrote the
book, what could be learned from it, and what our company could learn from
This changed the dynamics of the report.
Rather than saying they liked or did not like the book, they had to speak
from the author's perspective. If they did not like the book, this would
help them realize the value of it. Other participants would ask them to
elaborate, perhaps on points with which they disagreed, forcing them to
think it through again. It was very normal and natural at the end for people
to be trading books.
At least half the time, people would realize
that most of the books were about the same thing. You might have books
like Unbounding the Future, Paradigm Shift, The Fifth Discipline, and The
Art of War. Participants would recognize that they were all talking about
learning, systems, and change.
Critiquing the work done so far in the DesignShop
session by analyzing it from the author's perspective is yet another reality
test in the iterative cycle of design, test, and design. What would Tom
Peters say about your proposed problem design? Peter Drucker? Lao Tzu? Marvin
Minsky? You already know what the experts in your field have to say, so
if you want a new perspective, doesn't that mean that you should look at
new areas of knowledge?
At the Wharton DesignShop event, there wasn't
enough time to have the "authors" critique each groups' work thoroughly.
But two authors of a featured book, Unbounding the Future,
happened to be present-us, Gayle and Chris. We were invited into one of
the groups to explain our book's topic-nanotechnology-and work with them
on their picture of the future. In the course of our Authors' conversation,
we saw how profoundly a book could serve to help test and evolve ideas in
solving a business problem.
The group that called us in was made up of
members from many different organizations-these were people attending Wharton
as their company's sole representative. Discussing the state of technology
and the nature of the 21st century organization had served to bring out
the group's conflicting opinions more clearly. This was a positive development.
They fired off questions about nanotechnology,
issues of technical development, timetables, shifts or accelerations in
national and international trends, questions about which objects will increase
or decrease in value, become more or less cumbersome. Their design of a
future organization was based on their perception of what that future would
be like. They used their discussion with us as a test session to critique
their design. They used questions and the answers to design and redesign
as the conversation went along.
You'd think that after two twelve-hour days,
everyone would be exhausted. Not so. The intensity and the novelty of the
whole series of modules and learning exercises, now followed by the complexity
of trying to absorb dozens of authors' viewpoints, is more stimulating than
draining. Despite the group's high average intellectual level, hardly any
of the individuals have the time to devote to books that they would like.
One of the benefits of the Authors module is that it provides a crash course
on the most important new ideas of the last decade and review of classic
ideas from across disciplines.
The Authors exercise concluded the second
day of the event. By now, everyone had tested their problem statements from
many angles, including from the viewpoints of many smart people who aren't
even here. Tomorrow marks the move from Focus to Act, and formulating specific
plans of action to take back to the individual enterprises.
1. Record your impressions and questions
as you've been practicing in previous chapters.
2. You have a choice here between two challenges:
a. Head back to the library or bookstore
and find a book you have not read yet in a subject that you may not be
very familiar with. It can be philosophy (Karl Popper, Michael Polanyi,
The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman), a new angle on science (try
The Counterrevolution of Science by Friedrich Hayek, Society of Mind by
Marvin Minsky, Infinite in All Directions by Freeman Dyson, The Selfish
Gene by Richard Dawkins), architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright, Christopher
Alexander, Jane Jacobs), history (Daniel Boorstin, Barbara Tuchman), or
any of a number of other categories. Look for a book whose author has something
of consequence to say beyond the merely technical: something philosophical,
cultural, political, strategic, and tactical. Read the book and then look
at your work so far through the eyes of the author; let the author critique
and add to your design. Be prepared to be surprised at what you learn from
this critique: Bryan Coffman once facilitated a session where the sponsors
insisted that their business strategy be so clear that a fourteen-year-old
could understand it. Bryan surprised them by obliging their wishes on the
third day of the DesignShop: the fourteen-year-old's critique added some
things that the business people had neglected.
b. Head to the closet of some young person
in your family and ask to borrow a set of Legos, clay, Tinkertoys, or some
other form of modeling material. Or head to the toy store, craft store,
hardware store, or your garage and collect a diverse set of building materials.
Make sure you have some means of assembling the items. Then use your kit
to assemble a model of your organization, life, or whatever your focus
has been in these assignments. Show how things are connected, how they
influence each other. Make things spin, roll, move up and down in response
to other parts of the model. Label, describe, and document (photograph)
your work. Explain your model to your kids, or someone else's kids.